It’s 1989 and the hottest product in the gaming world is about to hit the market. It’s a gauntlet that a player can wear to manage the game through hand motions, rather than with buttons and joysticks. The hype is building, and the marketing is relentless and brilliant.
Right before the product hits the market, it gets featured in a film called The Wizard, and all the most dedicated gamers will watch it. The marketing is a slam dunk — 100,000 of these gauntlets are sold. But the product doesn’t work as advertised, units get returned and sales drop, and suddenly the manufacturer goes bankrupt.
This is the story of the Power Glove. Only two games were ever made to be compatible for it and they were both commercial failures. Everyone else abandoned ship before it left port.
As the saying goes, “Good marketing is the fastest way of killing a good product.”
Hello Cart, Meet Horse
Put yourself in the shoes of Ted, a plumber based out of El Paso. He’s new to the industry and wants to invest heavily to get his business off the ground. Ted buys a new website, he buys SEO, pay-per-click, and social media services, and he even invests in a television ad. The calls start to flood in and with them comes business.
Ted goes to his first customer, who tells him that her shower is flooded with water that isn’t being drained. He runs a camera through her main line and tells her that he knows exactly what the problem is. The main line, he says, has collapsed, and he takes a can of spray paint and marks the exact spot where the pipe has collapsed.
He gives the customer a price, she says okay, and he starts to dig. By the time he finishes digging six feet to the line, he sees that there’s not a collapsed pipe. That is, after about $300 worth of labor, he tells the customer that the problem is actually further down the pipe. She tells him that she can’t afford to do more work now, but that she’ll call him.
Do you think she made the call to have him come back out? No, she didn’t. How can she trust him? This is already an industry beset by problems of trust and the one opportunity he had to prove the quality of his product he failed to take advantage of. That’s one less customer he’ll get repeat business from and one less customer to refer his services to others. And Ted isn’t a hypothetical — this is an experience I had. Guess what, the next company I called out did the job perfectly and they still have my business.
Imagine that Ted is systematically misleading his customers with what to expect. Eventually, business is going to dry up because customers speak. Whether through word of mouth or Yelp, word of the quality of the product spreads and business dies.
In the example, Ted’s mistake isn’t even that egregious. It’s not like he replaced a pipe and it burst a couple of days later. The reason I mention it is to show how an inconsistency can undermine your bottom line.
This is something that’s difficult to grapple with because none of us like criticism. We’re all proud of our businesses, as you should be. You’re a gladiator, you’re a business person who sacrifices blood, sweat, and tears to make your idea work, so that you can pay your employees and make a living. But, good marketing cannot solve a bad product, and if your sales are slumping then you need to look at how your customers are responding to what you sell, and adjust if you need to.
I have a friend who’s an attorney and, for a while, was getting shockingly poor reviews. Her Avvo rating was low and her office had less than two stars on Yelp. She asked me what she could do about it, so I told her to read, truly read and understand, what her reviewers are saying. This is voice of consumer data, it’s coming straight from those who experience what you provided them. What better data is there?
Long story made short, it turns out that a lot of her clients couldn’t reach her right away and there was no system in place to queue them, or at least cater to them in some way until she could speak to them. Her clients felt as if she didn’t care about them, even though this wasn’t remotely true. Based on their feedback, though, she introduced a new system to organize her time with her clients, and she introduced some automation so that those she couldn’t get to immediately at least received some sort of communication. What do you think happened? You guessed it, her law firm rebounded with force.
Read your reviews and take the time to reflect on your product or service. Would you buy it a second time? The purpose isn’t to criticize, it’s to improve and grow — after all, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
People Don’t Buy WHAT You Sell,
They Buy WHY You Sell It
I recently came to Now Media Group from Robbins Research International, which is the team behind Tony Robbins, his events, and his products. As his digital marketing analyst, I saw first-hand how his customers interacted with his products and website — we call this the experience. What was amazing to see is how 80–90 percent of his customers love him, and that’s without exaggerating.
Tony’s customers love him so much that his events and products often sell themselves, through referrals and word-of-mouth. We call these customers “raving fans” — they aren’t buying a commodity, they’re buying what Simon Sinek calls the WHY. If you haven’t read his book I highly, highly recommend it. If you’re not a reader, watch his Ted Talk:
What’s your WHY?
What’s your reason for getting up in the morning? If you’re a business owner, you’re a very bright person — that’s a fact —, and as a smart individual there were several options available to you as far as making a living goes. If you had truly wanted to, you could have become an engineer or a historian or an electrician, right? You’re not a businessman to put food on the table, you’re a businessman — as a dentist, lawyer, plumber, or whatever it is that you do — for a deeper reason, one that gives what you do meaning and purpose.
Your customers buy your meaning, purpose, and beliefs, not your product. People buy your WHY, not your WHAT. This is worth repeating: people buy your WHY, not your WHAT.
WHAT Tony Robbins does is not unique. There are hundreds, if not thousands (tens of thousands?), of people who make a living doing the same thing: Eric Thomas, Dave Ramsey, Tai Lopez, and the list goes on and on. But what makes Tony Robbins so successful? What makes him THE guru? It’s his WHY.
Tony’s mission isn’t to motivate you. He, in fact, hates being called a motivational speaker or a confidence man. The people who come to him already have motivation and confidence. The WHY that drives Tony is his relentless quest to help as many people as possible achieve a level of fulfillment — not success, fulfillment — that they didn’t think possible or that they considered as being outside of their reach. He believes in a world that inspires people to be their best, to be happy, and to feel satisfied with what they’ve achieved. When he speaks to you, when he’s frantically moving on stage with that bestial energy of his, his words drip with authenticity. This is important because it’s the authenticity that marks Tony apart from the competition, and it all stems from his WHY and the fact that everything he does, and everything about the companies he runs, aligns with that WHY.
Let me ask you again. What’s your WHY?
Don’t answer that now. Take some time to think about it and reflect. What truly, at the most primal level, drives you to do what you do?
I believe that entrepreneurship drives our world. I believe that it’s the engine that creates jobs and economic growth. When an entrepreneur connects with a customer it’s an opportunity to create a relationship of value that otherwise wouldn’t be there, and to accomplish this you must connect the right business owner to the right customer. I’m an economist by training and I could have gone into academia or into finance, but I went into marketing because of the WHY that drives me.
I truly believe in what I do and my work reflects my mission. My employers don’t hire WHAT I do, they hire WHY I do it. People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.
What Needs is Your Product Meeting?
There are six fundamental human needs. The first four are our primal needs:
- Certainty: Stability and confidence in the future are perhaps two of the most common traits that people look for. Why do so many employees prefer a full-time, salaried position over freelancing, even if they could technically make more money doing the latter? Because there’s no certainty in their monthly income as a freelancer, so they prefer the security of a job they know will pay them a certain amount of money every month. We seek certainty through religion, the way we structure our days, and how we choose our partners. Those who value certainty value control.
- Uncertainty & Variety: Have you ever cruised on a highway and stepped on the accelerator just a little bit harder than you usually do? That feeling of pure exhilaration is amazing. What caused you to do that do? It was the need for adventure, right? You wanted to break the rules, to do something different. We all need variety and change; we get bored, after all. And you can need both certainty and uncertainty, they’re not mutually exclusive — I married my wife for certainty in love, but we travel and do new things to keep the marriage fresh and fun. In some of us, uncertainty is a larger driving force than certainty, and for others it may be the opposite case, but both forces are in all of us.
- Significance: We all seek out our purpose, the meaning of who we are and why we’re here. We all want to contribute to our companies and to our families so that we can feel important and wanted. Why do people share so many details of their private lives on Facebook? What drives people to anger when they’re ignored? It comes down to a search for significance.
- Connection/Love: What drives us to date? To marry? What is it that makes the connection between our parents and us so strong? Why does this connection sometimes falter? People seek to share and feel loved, otherwise you start to feel lonely. Love and connection are much more intense emotions than significance because it’s a much more unique relationship — it implies There’s no more powerful evidence for the force of love than the fact that so many of us spend so much of our time seeking it.
The last two fundamental human needs are spiritual in nature:
- Growth: As a marketer, I constantly seek to improve, to become better, and to continuously raise my standards, much like how the best companies are always working to increase revenue and reach a larger group of customers. Growth is fundamental. If your relationship isn’t growing, it’s stagnating and dying. If your business isn’t growing, it’s stagnating and dying. It’s biological fact that if our bodies aren’t growing, they’re dying. Those who can’t achieve growth are often unfulfilled because they feel unachieved. Think about it, why do employees tend to move to companies that can offer opportunities for promotion? Because they seek growth. And so do your customers.
- Contribution: Tony Robbins always says, “The secret to getting is giving” (and he puts his money where his mouth is, because last year he helped to feed 100 million people). The more you give, the more you contribute, the more meaning you ascribe to your life and the sharper your sense of purpose is. People love to work at their companies when they feel that they’re contributing, that they’re useful and their role manifests in the company’s bottom line. Similarly, contribution drives people to sacrifice themselves for causes, like those extraordinary volunteers who travel abroad to help complete strangers because they believe, rightfully, that they are laying the bricks to a better world.
If you can meet TWO of these needs, you have a great product. If you can meet THREE, you’ll have a raving fan.
It pays to sit down and reflect on this. What’s your WHY and how is it addressing your customer’s needs? Do you provide them with an opportunity to grow, to contribute, or to feel significant? If not, then what can you do to meet these needs? How can you change the product or service to better reflect your WHY and to better communicate it by tying it to these fundamental emotions that determine the decisions we make?
Let’s look at Facebook, the epitome of an absolutely viral product. It has scaled so much that even though it competes with Twitter, Snapchat, and countless other social media companies, it’s still seen as a monopolist in their industry. That’s a remarkable success story. What drives it?
Considering our six human needs, it’s really no surprise that Facebook does so well. It gives us uncertainty in how it exposes us to new ideas and knowledge, it gives us a platform to seek significance and love, and all the same it gives us the certainty that we have an outlet to speak to others. No wonder it’s so addicting — so much so that people spend an average of almost an hour every day on it.
What makes Tony Robbins events such an acclaimed experience? After all, the idea of six human needs is his, so which ones do his products meet? Let’s think about that. People go to his events to grow, to raise their standards, to achieve new heights. But they also go for love and connection, because the truth is that Tony’s events are just as much about him as they are about the other people in the room with you. What other needs are met? Uncertainty. A Tony Robbins event is always a spectacle and you’re guaranteed to learn new things, meet new people, and get out of the box that’s been holding you back. Just like Facebook, Tony and his products meet at least three needs. Just like Facebook, Tony is an unprecedented success.
Run through this thought experiment with any other product, and see how their success correlates with their ability to meet these core needs. I bet you’ll see that the relationship is strong. Then run the thought experiment for your business. What do you have to lose?
Is Your Product Worth Marketing?
That’s a loaded question, and depending on your answer it may be a tough question to face. But know that I am not judging you and you may, in fact, have a wonderful product. But even wonderful products have room for improvements. Even Team Tony Robbins is constantly working at perfecting the experience, and because perfection is unattainable they will forever be growing and contributing. Even Facebook, a multi-hundred-billion-dollar company, adds new features and removes the ones that their users like the least. What’s stopping you from doing the same?
Marketing is a wonderful investment. Indeed, it’s a necessary investment. There’s an economist, by the name of Israel Kirzner, who says that advertising is but an extension of the product or service, because it serves to communicate the WHY, the HOW, and the WHAT (if you don’t know what these mean, scroll up and watch the Simon Sinek video — you won’t be disappointed). But no matter how good or effective your marketing is, it can’t make up for a product that has no WHY or a product that doesn’t meet the needs of its users.
It’s just food for thought.
I’d love to hear what you think and about your own experiences in the comments below, so don’t be shy!
Formerly at [Tony] Robbins Research International and at Now Media Group as their Director of Marketing, Jonathan has a background in quantitative economics and analytics. Find more of his writing at https://economicthought.net/.