Justin Jacobs has written a provocative post for Hudson, Ink with this message: “You can build a better mousetrap and still go out of business”.
Here’s a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson I’m sure you’ve all heard before: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” That’s elegant, simple and 100% false.
In fact Emerson’s actual quote is somewhat different:
If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods. (Wikipedia)
Nevertheless, Jacobs rightfully asserts that if you don’t promote your business enough that people know how to find your door, you won’t last. Sure, he says, if you are very small, you can survive in a limited market with word-of-mouth referrals and no actual marketing, but you won’t beat the serious contender who pours money and resources into effective marketing campaigns.
As well, in some cases, if your product and service is truly disruptive and new, and requires potential clients to fundamentally change their habits and practices, you could experience the painful reality that just because your idea is better, doesn’t mean anyone will want to rush to be first to change their ways.
However I think Jacobs may under-rate the power of exceptionality in getting your product/service and client right to the extent that clients are truly enthusiastic about your offerings, and if you can combine an outrageously great client experience with a mind-bending competitive price, you’ll probably only need the tiniest amount of paid marketing to bring so much business your way that you’ll probably want to cool things to prevent systems overloads.
Conversely, if you spend a fortune on marketing and deliver crud, you may win some one-time customers, but at great cost.
In fact, there is something of a leveraging scale when it comes to marketing and business development and I would argue that spending 80 per cent of your marketing energies on the client experience/value will produce far greater results than in allocating equivalent resources for external paid marketing.
Related to this process, if you are spending a small fortune on business development (one-on-one sales), you’ll find your cost of sales drops dramatically if your marketing and client experience/value are so good that potential clients “know” you are great from the outset.
These points noted, if you are a contractor, architect or engineer with a great service reputation and plenty of incredibly satisfied repeat clients, to the point that you “don’t need to market” I would advocate that a modest marketing strategy will bring outsized rewards and revenue. Conversely, if you are pouring marketing money down the drain, I’d look at the service and value — you may find less marketing push yields more profits, and Ralph Waldo Emerson — even if the phrase popularly attributed to him is inaccurate — is more right than wrong.