Many people like to quote the famous movie Field of Dreams: “If we build it, they will come.” While this concept is appealing in the context of a Hollywood blockbuster movie, it doesn’t work in real life as a new business marketing strategy.

Entrepreneurs often fall in love with their own products and business concept. They build a better mousetrap and assume everyone loves the concept of a better mousetrap. They invest their time, talents and treasure into their new mousetrap, build it, and then sit back. A few weeks later, they “Open” sign on their business is turned to “Closed” and they’re poorer, but no wiser, as to the ways of business.

Even famous entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that they’ve used the ‘build it and they will come’ marketing method as a springboard to their success. Paula Dean, the famous chef, restaurateur and television personality remarked recently (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Marketing? I just tried to cook the most delicious food I could for each person, and hoped they would love it so much they would tell 20 people. That was my marketing strategy.”

On the surface, such a marketing strategy is very appealing to entrepreneurs intimidated by marketing and all its nuances. In truth, however, every business needs to balance a solid product strategy with a great promotional strategy, and here’s why.

Great Products Make Marketing Easier, Bad Products Shouldn’t Be Sold

Great products can indeed ‘sell themselves’, and bad products shouldn’t be sold. A great product is by far easier to market and promote than a bad product. But what makes a great product?

It fills an unmet consumer need. The key to all good marketing strategies, whether it’s a product development or a promotional strategy, is discovering what your customers truly want and need and then building it. Whether it’s something beautiful to add to their home or collection or some service that makes their lives easier, customers have unmet needs, and it’s your job to find them and fill them if you want a successful business.

Great products are well made (or work well). Discovering and creating products to meet unmet needs is only half the battle. If the resulting product doesn’t work, falls apart, or offers only half -hearted service, it’s not worth doing.

Great products appeal to emotion. All great products appeal to human emotion. You may immediately think, “That’s not true! How can lumber/aircraft parts/accounting services/toilets appeal to emotion?” Lumber appeals to the human needs for creativity (I can build something), the need for sturdy and reliable products (peace of mind.) Aircraft parts appeals to the human need for safety (Company XYZ offers quality assurance and stress tested parts for safety). Accounting services appeal to people’s needs for security and peace of mind (Our services are backed by expert CPAs with 20 years of experience – no worries about audits or mistakes in your books). And toilets? I don’t know about you, but I want a toilet that works. If mine overflows, it’s taking out the dining room underneath the bathroom and will cause damage. I want peace of mind, comfort, security and perhaps something that uses less water so I can feel good about my impact on the environment.
As you can see, even the most mundane products offer some appeal to emotion. Use that appeal when you create your marketing and communications materials.

Even Great Products Need a Marketing Strategy

You may product the best aircraft carrier parts, the best toilets, the finest lumber or the most accurate accounting services, but if people don’t know you exist… you won’t sell a thing. That’s why great product strategies MUST go hand in hand with great marketing strategies!

The old chestnut that states it takes three ads to make an impact on customers is wrong. Today, it takes at least five, if not SEVEN exposures to product information before people even recognize a brand. This wisdom comes from countless conversations I’ve had with other marketing professionals and from what I’ve observed running two companies, my marketing consulting business and EquinArt Creations, the internet equine art gallery my husband and I founded in 2004. It used to be that I could send out one or two emails and generate sales; now it takes at least five times that effort to gain interest. Part of this is the economy, but it’s also a significant change in how consumers seek, receive and view product information.

Gone are the days when advertisers pumped out catchy messages and consumers passively received them. Today, consumers choose what marketing messages they wish to receive. They seek product information on their own terms, typically through internet marketing. You must think strategically about your marketing. Great products need a strong strategic marketing plan.

Next Steps for Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs, Build It, PROMOTE It, and They WILL Come!

Move out of the “Field of Dreams” mindset and into the modern, internet marketing era. Begin by building a great product. Make sure it is faster, cheaper, better or whatever your customers want and need. Then, develop your product marketing strategy based on who your customers are. Where do they seek information about similar products – online, on television, in magazines and trade journals, word of mouth? Find out. The Internet makes it even easier to do consumer research. Search trade journals in your industry, competitors’ websites, blogs and news magazines online. Find and use this information to create your marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy is different from tactics. Think of strategy like an approach. It’s how you approach the problem of promoting your product or business. The methods you finally select to promote your product and services are called tactics. Tactics translate into action steps. Tactics are things like, “I’ll use direct mail; I’ll build a landing page; I’ll use content marketing and social networking to promote my business.” Then, break each idea down into action steps. “Write direct mail piece. Research and rent mailing lists. Create Facebook and Twitter accounts.” You get the idea.

Although you can market less than stellar products by pumping a lot of money into their promotional strategy, why should you? Having a terrific product, build to satisfy customer needs and with an emotional hook, makes it so much easier to make money. Start with a great product, build it, THEN promote it. And promote it again. Repeat until customers find you… and then truly, if you build it, and promote it, they will come to you!

Jeanne Grunert is the president of Seven Oaks Consulting, a marketing and writing firm that helps businesses focus and clarify their marketing messages and strategies to attract new business. Her expert insights, motivational seminars, and inspiring writing have helped many small business owners achieve their goals. Visit Seven Oaks Consulting to learn more.