Marketing Basics

April 26, 2015

As a marketer, I consider that my job is basically to explain what our company does for our customers, in a way that helps them understand the value they will get from our products. Said like this, it sounds clear. But based on my own experience, the path to build and deliver a message that resonate with customers is actually full of pitfalls.

If you have not faced it before, I would think that a common mistake is to be overconfident about the product-market fit. Over the last years, we have refined and refined our products positioning. Here's a bit of what we learned and are still learning.


Four pillars of Product Marketing

Product positioning results in a combination of a good understanding of the problem(s) some people you're targeting have and may consider to buy something to solve it. And I believe that a good understanding starts with the right questions, to find the right answers. To me, the four questions below represent a good start to work on the product marketing basics.

Why ?

Why refers to the problem(s) that an audience has. You need to find a reason to build a product (why this product) when you expect customers to buy it.

What ?

What refers to the best answer to fix the problem(s). This is the product / the solution / the service / whatever is the answer to solve the problem.

For who ?

Who refers to the audience that have the problem. This is the target with specific segmentation criteria and buying habits.

How ?

How refers to the specifications of the product / the solution that describe how it will concretly solve the problem(s) that has the audience. This is the description of the what.

Too often, people - and let’s be honest, I still have the temptation too often - pitch their products only with the how. They say "our app allows to do this" or "helps to achieve that". Description is necessary but not a priority. To me, the first 3 pillars are more important at the beginning, because describing the wrong answer to an nonexistent problem for an undefinied audience is not worth doing. Here are two approaches that may help organize how to answer these questions.

Engineering approach vs. business approach

The engineering approach consists to build a beta version of a (supposed) problem solving product (also known as MVP - Minimum Viable Product), put it on the market and try to understand who are the first customers / users. At the beginning, you only have a vague idea of who you're targeting but have the intuition that the product is problem solving, so you invest time and energy with the first customers (also known as early adopters) to define and refine the target definition criteria, the problems they want to solve and their deep motivations. Basically, entrepreneurs that choose this approach are the ones who know how to build a product but are less familiar with customer interactions. For instance, Nathan Barry shared recently that he took about 2 years to reach his MRR goal, especially because he had to iterate on target criteria and problems. Once he had, revenue grew.

The business approach starts with the audience. At the beginning, you spend your time trying to identify an audience wide enough, define segmentation criteria and understand buying behaviors. Then when you feel there is a market opportunity, you go out talk with them about the problems they have and for which you could build a solving product. Basically, the entrepreneurs that adopt this approach are familiar with marketing and business, but they don't know how to build themselves (= know how to code), so they need to demonstrate an audience interest before investing money to build the product. To go futher beyond, read Amy Hoy posts about creating a product people want to buy.

No matter whether you start with one or another of the approaches below, there are lot of examples of success out there from both "sides". I believe that everyone just has to be aware of their own personnality and skills - and the ones of cofounders - to fulfill marketing basics. And you better understand why startup advisors, investors and accelerators say that teams of two or three founders, with a complementary set of skills, have higher chances of success.

As Dexem has an engineering culture at first, we're naturally more comfortable with the engineering approach. And to step up our marketing basics, we start the journey by writing a Product Opportunity Assessment.

Product Opportunity Assessment

For us, assessing a product opportunity comes from a process well-explained by Marty Cagan (ex Ebay, AOL and Netscape among others) in his book Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love. There's an overview on the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG) blog.

Based on the first following questions, the process gives a clear guideline on how to start finding answers for the marketing basics and identify (or not) an opportunity before spending weeks and weeks in product development and customer acquisition.

  1. Exactly what problem will this solve? (value proposition)
  2. For whom do we solve that problem? (target market)
  3. How big is the opportunity? (market size)
  4. What alternatives are out there? (competitive landscape)
  5. Why are we best suited to pursue this? (our differentiator)
  6. Why now? (market window)
  7. How will we get this product to market? (go-to-market strategy)
  8. How will we measure success/make money from this product? (metrics/revenue strategy)
  9. What factors are critical to success? (solution requirements)
  10. Given the above, what’s the recommendation? (go or no-go)

I do feel comfortable with this framework. Writing Opportunities Assessments can take a while and should be an iterative process. We're used to write Opportunity Assessments for every new product we think about, for new features we consider to build and launch, and for updating existing products with new market feedbacks / opportunities.

The process definitely helps us to define our maketing basics, which is fundamental to build predictable marketing strategies which yield revenue and user growth.

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