How marketing kills innovation

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istock_000004713771xsmall.jpgAs a guy who lives and breathes marketing, I really hate to admit this.

But, it’s all a big, fat lie!

Here’s a simple fact-all too often, marketing is where you put all your energy when you’re too lazy to innovate. That goes for bloggers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, service-providers, actors…and, it even applies to your love-life!

In fact, for far too many, here’s what marketing really stands for…

  • M – March
  • A – Around
  • R – Ranting &
  • K – Kvetching
  • E – Enough to
  • T – Trick
  • I – Impulsive suckers into
  • N – Needing your
  • G – Garbage

Marketing is what you do when your product, service or content isn’t self-evidently unique and impactful enough to sell itself.

Problem is…very little out there today truly changes lives!

If what you’re offering is pretty regular stuff, then marketing’s going to play a huge role in fabricating enough differentiation to drive interest. It has to, because your product, service or content really doesn’t change lives enough to get you paid for the impact. So, you’ve got some convincing to do.

If what you’re bringing to market is radically life-altering and, by it’s very existence, conveys this to the world, traditional marketing plays a back seat to beating the press off with a stick and stuffing your cash into your mattress.

But, if your business, blog, product or service falls somewhere in the middle, and most do, before you dive headlong into pure marketing, I wonder what might happen if, before you turn you marketing, you directed your energy instead to a deeper level of innovation.

Because innovation opens the door to media and nothing fuels success faster or cheaper than the viral-power of media! Want proof?

Applied to business.

On November 19, 2001, 8 weeks after 9-11, I launched a yoga center in the heart of Manhattan. Two months later, we were featured on the front cover of the New York Times Sunday Jobs section with a giant color photo. And, we’ve been in the national media dozens of times since then.

The economic impact of this continued coverage has been massive, leaving people asking me, “how’d you do that?” (I’ll reveal exactly what I did next Monday, so be sure to subscribe)

Was it the killer marketing campaign I created? Nope. Was it my deep-rolodex of connections? Nope, I had none. It was my understanding of one simple fact…

Media influencers kill for real news.

Mainstream media (print, radio and television) are all desperate, yes, DESPERATE for amazing stories to tell. They kill for insanely useful content, jaw-dropping photos, eye-opening videos, immensely-informative articles or outrageously-timely creations. Because their burden of content-delivery is crushing, the deadlines are deadly…and 99.9% of what they are asked to promote is garbage!

All you need to do is figure out how to get into the .01% that has real PR-value by providing genuine-news and you’re golden.

And, innovation is the key.

Now, sure, you can create blips on the media screen by spinning your marketing message in a way that ties into what’s going on in the news and generates interest. And that might get you some coverage and even a bunch of short-term sales.

Honestly, I still do this, mostly, because I just get too lazy to force myself back into that hyper-innovative place where sustained magic arises.

Plus, the burden of this approach is huge, because you’ll need to continually recreate your hook. Even the most successful marketing burns out without a foundation of innovation.

The real enduring marketing and media opportunity comes not from paying someone to create a continuing series of “fabricated” short-term blips, but from making the very core of what you do so bold, so innovative, so rare and impactful that your simple existence plants the seed that gets the world talking about you.

Then, not only will media begin to chase after you, the second what you do hits the news, the moment each customer is bowled over by you, your marketing burden and expense drop dramatically, because…

The world has just become your evangelist.

So, rather than spending hours schmoozing with the media gate-keepers, building your marketing profile and investing in the packaging and distribution, turn you energy back to innovation.

And, I have to admit, as I’ve become involved in a number of other projects over the last few years, I can track and closely tie the economic ebbs and flows of the business to it’s role as a purveyor of innovation.

Applied to blogging,

I launched this blog just 3-short months ago, yet, in the last 30 days, I’ve had more than 100,000 unique visitors, front-paged on Digg, StumbleUpon, and Sphinn numerous times and had top-5 social-medialites regularly promote my stuff.

Again, friends across the blogosphere scrambled to ask how I pulled this off and my answer was the same as it was to my offline-business colleagues.

Mainstream media is the same as social-media in one very giant way.

The big-players, be they editors, writers and producers or top-Diggers, Stumblers and Sphinn-doctors all feel a similar responsibility and burden to relentlessly uncover the very best of what the web has to offer. This is a giant, extremely labor-intensive job. And, it is intimately tied not only to income, but reputation and ego.

And, just like mainstream-media influencers, they are constantly barraged by people who want promotion-love, but are hustling things that are garbage.

So, when you show up with magic in your pocket…

Those same online-influencers are not only happy to get on-board, they’re literally giddy to have something good to be able to share. So, spend less time begging and buttering-up and more time creating content that makes these peoples’ jobs easier and lives better!

Of course, one of the biggest differences between traditional and social media is the increasing leveling of the playing field. While mainstream media still largely requires access through influencers and gatekeepers, online social media, with it’s roots in the democratic promotion of valuable content, is increasingly open to all-access influence.

Indeed, the major social-media algorithms seem be on constant tweak-alert in an effort to continually bring those who accumulate excess-influence back to the level of those with far less time in the system or social juice.

Again, innovation rules!

In the end, it comes down to this. Marketing has value. The less innovative your product, service or content is, the more value it has.

My fear, though. is that, as a not only a marketer, but an entrepreneur, we all too often end up using marketing as an excuse for not wanting to put in the really hard work that fuels innovation. And, in the end, for both business and humanity…that’s a bad thing.

So, before you crank out your next whatever-it-is and then go looking for a marketing genius to figure out how to make it sell, try stepping back and asking,

“is there any other way to innovate that would make people stand in line for days or mud-wrestle at midnight for the chance to try it out?”

If the answer is a sincere no, then have at traditional marketing. But, if the answer is yes…do what you need to do to make your product, service or content change lives.

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18 responses

18 responses to “How marketing kills innovation”

  1. It’s weird for me because I started my blog with the intention of just having a place to dump my thoughts – you know, the stuff you can’t decently tell someone to their face.

    I haven’t been nearly as successful as you have, but I am surprised at how successful my blog has been and gratified to know that inspite of my less than polished writing, people in crazy places across the world are finding some value in it.

  2. Speaking of less than polished writing! *in spite

  3. Cathy says:

    I’m not sure if the approach I take to my blog fits your definition of innovation, but I’m finding it working for me. The conventional wisdom is to find a niche and make sure you write good content. Put personality into it, the saying goes. I’ve been trying to do that since the beginning. However, I’ve found that the posts that do the best have been ones where I reveal more than just my personality. I also reveal my struggles with life.

    I wanted to write about being an activist. I figured I would be talking about how to save the planet, or better ways to recycle. What I found is that saving the planet isn’t the hard part. What’s hard is dealing with my inner doubts. And when I write about those, people respond.

    Is this innovative? I haven’t found many writing on the web who are willing to get that personal, but when they do, I do feel a connection – the words are more “real” than a marketing ploy could ever be.

    Of course, now I have to do a delicate balancing act between revealing enough to give that personal sense, but not so much that I don’t have any privacy. So, I agree that doing something different is hard, but rewarding.

    Thanks for this post!

  4. gale says:

    thank you for this insightful post – it has definitely changed my perception on marketing and i am now eager to approach blogging and content creation based on innovation first. keep it up jonathan!

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Hayden – Authenticity is such a rare thing in this world that, a lot times, all it really takes to be innovative…is to be authentic! But, that’s tough medicine for a lot or people.

    @ Cathy – going bare can definitely fall under the category of being innovative, provided what you go bare with has some value to those who share in it, be it humor, like Dooce, or revelations, like the Brazen Careerist. But, you definitely hit the nail on the head, the big challenge is boundaries…

    @ Gale – Thanks for your kind words!

  6. Yoav says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    The ‘big idea’ behind your article is great. I would also recommend to everyone to read a book called “The Irresistible Offer”, which talks about making your business offering so great, your customers can’t refuse it. However…

    I disagree with you on a semantic level, while “sales” is getting yet another sucker to buy my product…”marketing” is about getting that great idea (whether it is a change in the product or the way it’s communicated) that will make clients truely desire the product (or link to the blog).

  7. shane says:

    My ego wants to agree with you, but something keeps holding me back. Perhaps it is the fact that my wife & I will never ever consume the same drinks or the same protein bars. I honestly thing hers are disgusting. Of course I don’t like chocolate. Which brings me to my point, be good, of course, but is one man’s garbage another man’s chocolate?

    That said, I believe that marketing, networking, sales, call it what you will does play a vital role in any remote chance of success. Good content is a foundation.

    I was chatting with a very successful entrepreneur today. He was so proud because he just started a blog and committed to writing in it every 2 weeks. He came to me for advice saying that my writing had influenced and given him hope to put his spurs back on and venture out on his next entrepreneurial adventure (he got bought out a few years back and was playing VP of one of the worlds biggest tech companies). He asked me how to build readership, and I told him exactly how (good content, guest posts, social media, commenting on other blogs). When I told him our readership levels he asked me why they were so low considering how long I have been around and how other blogs are doing. I told him honestly, I don’t take the time to go out and connect really, I barely read blogs unless my personal rss feed fires (like a friend emails me read this) and I don’t guest post. So great content or not, we sit at 500 subscribers and will probably continue to do so for a while.

    So if your content sucks then yes, you have ot fight harder, but if you aren’t out promoting, I don’t think you odds are all that good.

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Yoav – Thanks for your input, Mark Joyner’s book is definitely a great read! I go back and forth on the sales/marketing issue. These days, I’m not so sure where I’d draw the line on the continuum.

    When I write a sales letter and put up online, I SEO it so that the content draws a lot of visitors through organic search. But, at the same time, I make sure that the foundation copy essentially captures a master salesperson at what Gary Halbert called “concert pitch.” So, I believe the more business moves online, the more blended the sales and marketing experience becomes.

    And, I think this applies to the creation of online content, like blogging, where you are trying to compel people to visit and read deeper, while at the same time, selling or persuading people both to agree with what you say and to come back soon.

    @ Shane – Okay, first…you seriously don’t like CHOCOLATE?! Wow! Now, that that’s out of my system…

    I think we’re on the same page. There’s no doubt that killer marketing can help distinguish a product/service or content. And, it can often help”accelerate” the spread of word of mouth and facilitate the organic marketing process…once you’ve already got a product/service/content that is truly innovative or provides what I’d call extreme value.

    My concern is that, from a big-picture standpoint, I wonder if the ease of marketing serves as an excuse to not take the next and often far tougher step to innovate on a whole different level, which for both business and society is a bad thing.

    The better you get at marketing, the easier it is the fall into this pattern. I know I struggle with it all the time. I come up with a new idea for a business or a new book and, the moment it’s fleshed out enough to have some teeth, my mind goes, almost involuntarily, toward marketing, because, for me, that’s often the easier part of the equation.

    But, it also scares me, because, knowing marketing comes fairly easily to me, it tempts me to settle for less than stellar concept-development. And, that smacks of mediocrity…which is really what I DON’T want to be all about.

  9. shane says:

    Isn’t it amazing. No matter how much we proclaim from the rooftops that we care about our audience and bla bla bla … (which we do)

    In the end, we are always just talking to ourselves. Heck, I’ve always considered my blog and my articles as a way to process what is happeneing in our business and in my life. Basically, you are all my group therapy!

    Christine just wrote a bit about that though it is slightly different.

  10. Wunkel says:

    As a long term ad writer for major ad agencies, I cannot agree more about the whole mantra that seems to be “Don’t worry, Marketing will pick up where innovation left off and then we’ll start the whole cycle over again with widget 2.0.” You should have seen some of the ludicrous things our product division would promote with the screaming enthusiasm of a late-night infomercial hack jacked up on Zoloft. I remember once this little twerp from one of these companies going on and on about his new innovation that was going to revolutionize the way secretaries and executives increase their job efficiencies. The product? a USB cofee cup warmer. No, I am not kidding. “Just imagine the increased productivity! Now you don’t have to wait in line in the office kitchen and waste precious time negotiating the microwave.” He was alarmed and hurt that I didn’t jump out of my seat and start doing cartwheels when he showed me his invention. Maybe my coffee was too cold…

  11. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Wunkel – Sorry it took a few minutes to respond to your comment…I was busy warming my coffee from yesterday! 😉

    Thanks for your insights. My perspective is generally small-biz and entrepreneurs, so it’s nice to get the line from people who’ve worked on big business, too!

  12. bob says:

    I am in agreement for the mojority of your post…

    Seems all to often marketing is working in over drive and the promise doesn’t hold up to reality.

    I don’t know if our customers would mud wrestle to get their hands on one of our products but I can say the majority of them will pay a premium and wait 3 to 6 months for it to be made.

    I think I’m doing something right but still think a marketing expert could lend better advice or help map out areas I am not familiar with. their is a definate need for marketing people.

    They can make a world of difference to a small business.

    And a final thought… shouldn’t innovation be more a shared responsibility between the designer/manufacturer and the marketeer… as opposed to leaving it up to the designer./manufacturer?

    why is it assumed that if you can make design or prototype a product you will be good at selling it? seems we are the least likely to be good at that…

    isn’t that why marketing people exist? to take this burdon off our shoulders so we can keep being innovative in our new products?

    I’ll bet we have 50 designs we have not had time to prototype because that same amount of time is taken up doing the things we have the least experience with. markketing is the beginning of our level of incompentancy and seems that is the exact time to seek help.

    so, I’d have to say for me, a marketing pro would be a great asset and not merely a innovation stiffler.

    lol, now that i re-read this, seems like i don’t agree with your post as much as i had originally thought:)

    anyway, happy new year and try to look for the balance between the two:)

  13. Jonathan, I love you.

    Every post is better than the last.

    Value wins every time.

    I stumbled it. People should be reading your articles!

  14. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Bob – lol, you sound like me…the more I write or talk, I think I can pretty convince myself into or out of any point of view! heehee!

    What I was trying to get across was not that marketing is innately bad, but that it often serves as an easier alternative for lack of end-stage innovation. And, it’s that final push in the innovation process that is not only the hardest, but usually the most impactful.

    Interesting question about the role of manufacturer and designer in the innovation process, too. I guess it really depends on the specific nature of the product/service/content.

    No doubt, having a marketing-pro at hand, once you’re ready to let her/him do their stuff is a great asset, because it lets you do what you’re best at!

    @ Corinne – ahhh shucks!

  15. bob says:

    that’s too funny… I was going to start my post saying you sound a lot like me… rage against mediocrity and all that is less than inspiring and excellent:)(perhaps you have a “libra” thing going on as well?)

  16. Ege Ersoz says:

    Great post Jonathan.

    It’s not that marketing kills innovation. Rather, marketing is often used as a crutch for people who cannot or do not innovate. You know, push a mediocre product or service or content out there, and hype it up with marketing.

    Car companies have been doing this for years. Every unremarkable, mundane mid-sized sedan has commercials on TV and “insane deals” at car dealers. Whereas for remarkable cars, like the Hummer or the Mini, you don’t see many ads because the product doesn’t need them.

    For those companies, the engineering department IS the marketing department.

    So, like you hinted at, I think the amount of marketing necessary to promote a product is inversely related to how remarkable and original and authentic the product/service/content is.


  17. Chris says:

    Jonathan, stellar thought provoking post. Being a student of marketing, entrepreneurial pursuits and spirituality I find myself having to take a good hard look at myself and motives on a daily basis.

    I love to create marketing campaigns the pull but if the meat isn’t there in the product or service my conscious can wreak havoc with my state of being. I’ve learned to make sure that what’s offered matches the offer… in this day of squeeze pages and poorly written hype stuffed sales letters I think this is something we all need to do ( I do love good copy, as long as the product or service is as good as the message used to sell it )

    I love what you said about social media leveling the playing field ( as it should ) and this is definitely a nice shift and an exciting time to be alive.

    Thank you for creating content that makes me look myself in the eye… hurray Jonathan!