What is the most important business function?
For many, the answer is clear: leadership.
The argument goes like this:
“I mean, come on, leadership affects everything, you know?”
Okay, hard to argue with that.
After leadership, people will often say something like “product excellence.”
In today’s competitive market, delivering a great product/service experience is truly the determining factor in business success.
What if that’s wrong?
What if that’s not only wrong, but a catastrophic misvaluation?
What if overemphasis on product quality and underemphasis on marketing activity is the decisive reason why so many small businesses fail?
A hard truth I’ve learned the hard way:
Businesses with great quality products die all the time.
From our personal experience as shoppers, we should all know this: The biggest brands we encounter aren’t necessarily the best brands.
How often have you been surprised to learn that your favourite little coffee shop, boutique store, or restaurant startup had to close down, despite having a wonderful and passionate owner who had created something you felt was clearly deserving of wider attention?
In the classic “Scaling Up,” Verne Harnish states:
“The #1 functional barrier to scaling up is the lack of an effective marketing department.”
Ironically, many small business owners are reluctant to spend money on marketing, thinking it will save them money over the long run. The reverse is true.
The great Peter Drucker once said: “The business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: (1) marketing and (2) innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
The marketing function is what is most directly responsible for driving customer acquisition and growth, thereby keeping a business oxygenated with sales revenue while it performs all of its other tasks and duties, including innovation.
If that oxygen supply shrinks, the business shrinks, along with its departments, budgets, capabilities, employees, shareholders, and (eventually) its leaders.
Without marketing, you don’t have visibility.
Without visibility, you don’t have customers.
Without customers, you don’t have sales.
Without sales, you don’t have revenue.
Without revenue, you don’t have a business.
A great leader who is an ineffective marketer is a great leader at the head of a dying business.
Around 90% of startups are dust within 5 years, not usually because of an inherently inferior product but because of inadequate marketing passion, insight, and investment.
It doesn’t matter how good your product is if it’s invisible to the market.
You can be the best at what you do, but if you aren’t known for being the best, you simply don’t exist.
Great marketing can take an ordinary business and turn it into a big brand, just as poor marketing can transform a beautiful business into a cluster of fine dust particles.
In “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” the billionaire investor behind PayPal and Facebook, Peter Thiel, emphasises this very point:
“Superior sales and distribution by itself can create a monopoly, even with no product differentiation.”
That is, you can have virtually identical quality to every other competitor — a product with zero product differentiation — but if you have superior marketing, you can turn your average product into the dominant brand. That’s the power of marketing.
Unfortunately, many small business owners have zero marketing training.
They are trained to do what they spent years studying and practicing: their job.
Accountants are qualified to do accounting.
Dentists are qualified to do dentistry.
Personal trainers are qualified to do personal training.
In “Traffic Secrets” Russell Brunson notes the story of a meeting chiropractor who told him:
“I went to college for 4 years to get my degree, then spent an additional 4 years at chiropractic college to become a chiropractor. In all that time, not once did they ever talk about how to actually get patients to come to my clinic.”
In a fair world, the best brands, like the most decent, skilled, hardworking, and kindest people, would always rise to the top.
In the world we inhabit, we have to remember that marketing activity is at least as important as product quality.
It would be nice to provide you with the typical advice found in motivational books — telling you to simply believe in yourself and your product and everything will work out.
This is not a Disney movie.
Believe in yourself and you may still fail.
Bring forth a great product and your business may still die.
Build it and no one may come.
The best laid hopes and plans may be met, not with thunderous applause, but with a deafening silence.
The ghost ship of failed enterprise is crewed by the souls of the strong and songs of the ambitious.
Let that ship not take your brave and beautiful dream with it.
Build a great product, by all means.
Great products are what the world needs.
But don’t just build a great product alone.
Build a marketing machine.
Great products can only change the world when they’re seen.
Light up the world, not with a factory of whispers, but with a powerhouse of bangs.
Broden and the Yakk team
PS. we offer a limited number of free 30-minute marketing strategy sessions every month. Book a spot, drop in, have a coffee, get clarity on your online marketing, see how your website is ranking, and/or talk strategies for getting more leads in the door. Whatever you want to discuss. Book your marketing brainstorm session here.