Yes, Marketing Matters To Innovation Too

from the and-it's-a-part-of-innovation dept

There seems to be something of a knee-jerk dislike for “marketing,” as if it’s something to be shunned and has little to do with anything useful in the marketplace. While it’s true that there’s plenty of bad marketing out there, good marketing actually serves a really important function — helping companies determine what the market actually demands, and then delivering products to fill that need (note that, contrary to popular opinion, marketing shouldn’t be about convincing people to buy what they don’t need). This comes up quite often when we discuss things like patents — where we point out where one company was successful in bringing a product to market, whereas another failed (and then resorts to patent lawsuits). Some people brush off such successes as “just marketing,” as if it’s meaningless.

That’s simply incorrect.

Marketing is an important part of the innovation process, in understanding what a market wants and making sure it gets it. If one company has better “marketing,” that means it’s doing a better job getting products out that the market wants. We should be celebrating that, rather than brushing it off as “mere marketing.” This is highlighted by a recent blog post by Matt Asay, where he points to the status of two hyped up open source projects that both have failed (by a wide margin) to live up to the hype: Linspire and Chandler. Linspire was the Linux version that was supposed to take on Windows (it was originally called Lindows, but a lawsuit took care of that). However, it’s now closed down. Chandler, which has been seven years in the making, was supposed to take on Microsoft Exchange, but after Mitch Kapor finally dropped the project, seems to have emerged as a greatly scaled back notepad/task mgmt system. It took them seven years to build that?

Asay points out the basic fact that “mere marketing” is more important than you might think, and brushing it off is often what leads to these kinds of failures:

Perhaps the lesson in both Linspire and Chandler is just how hard it is to build a strong consumer-facing business. For those who pooh-pooh Microsoft’s success as “mere marketing” I have a suggestion: You need to get into this “mere marketing” business. It has a way of driving adoption. It matters.

Engineers like to think they know best, but the market makes the final decision on that — and it often helps to have good marketing paired with those good engineers to make things work on both ends.

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Comments on “Yes, Marketing Matters To Innovation Too”

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qhartman (profile) says:

I think you and the original author are mixing apples and oranges here. Linspire could be argued to be a marketing failure. I personally think it was an execution failure more than a marketing failure; their marketing always seemed pretty good to me (given their presumed budgetary restraints), both from the perspective identifying needs and informing consumers.

Chandler on the other hand simply failed to deliver on a technical level. No amount of marketing will save a project if it doesn’t even come close to doing what it claims to. Are you pointing to the disconnect between their claims and their abilities as the marketing failure? If so, that makes sense, but that connection is not strongly made. I still doubt that the project failed because of that though. It seems that they were relying on the OSS fairy tale of “announce it and they will come” wherein all you need is a good idea, and suddenly competent developers are banging down your door to help make it real. That just doesn’t happen. You have to earn that sort of commitment, and big talk with little to back it up won’t do that.

Hulser says:

Re: Re:

Linspire could be argued to be a marketing failure. I personally think it was an execution failure more than a marketing failure

Agreed. Both Linspire and Chandler seem to be examples of execution i.e. project management failures, rather than marketing failures. Even if you accept that marketing is distinct from advertising, you really have to stretch the meaning of “marketing” to include project management.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re:

Project management doesn’t belong under marketing, but product management certainly does (or at least it has marketing responsibilities).

I don’t know enough of the Linspire or Chandler project in particular. I know *of* them. But I strongly question whether there is a market for a “windows killer” and an “exchange killer”.

At the very least, they cannot be advertising themselves as “killers” until they at the very least have an equivalent level of functionality as those products they aim to replace.

So the chicken-n-egg question is: were the projects failures because engineering couldn’t bring the vision to market, or was it that engineering gave up because they didn’t see market uptake. In the former case, it is plainly an engineering failure. In the latter case, it is a marketing failure in that either the market was misread or that marketing could not communicate the need/potential/priorities to engineering.

Robin (profile) says:

Not Advertising!

Just wanted to prime the conversation with the thought that Mike has laid out above: Marketing is NOT Advertising.

Though they are appples and oranges, the two activities are very commonly interchanged in folks’ minds.

Marketing is a company’s reason for being: creating and selling a product or service that fills a reasonable need out there in whatever marketplace. Advertising is simply one part of the many activities undertaken in this pursuit.

Ryan (profile) says:


Linspire was never intended to actually take on windows. It was intended to generate publicity and then be sold for profit.

It was named “lindows” on purpose to draw a lawsuit. That’s how Michael Robertson (the VC behind it) markets. He owned, got sued, made money.

He called it lindows, got sued, and now sold it to make money.

Now he’s got sipphone – which is currently suing vonage for publicity. Want to guess how this will turn out?

It’s actually seems like a pretty good strategy.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re:

No, that’s advertising.

Marketing is about analyzing and REACTING to the market. One way to react is by putting out advertising to draw the market’s attention, but that is just one marketing function.

Another is to bring to engineering’s attention the desires/needs/requirements of the market place (a.k.a. Product Management).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Another is to bring to engineering’s attention the desires/needs/requirements…”

That’s absurd: it would imply that marketing would be heavily involved when new products – as in not previously existing – launch, but clearly that doesn’t happen.

Clearly marketing is involved is invlved in reacting to established markets (e.g when MS launch the x-box) but is notable by it’s absence from the scene when new markets are created.

Thus realistically marketing is is only functional when trying to shift stuff you already have to sell regardless of what intentions may be.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

it would imply that marketing would be heavily involved when new products – as in not previously existing – launch, but clearly that doesn’t happen.

Marketing isn’t just involved in new products, they are the ones that dictate that a product should be made in the first place.

Though it doesn’t often play out this way in the movies, engineers don’t typically invent new products and then throw them out to marketing to bring to market.

Marketing is involved (typically with HEAVY executive input) to determine product gaps in the market and then bring in engineering to figure out how to fill that gap.

The iPod isn’t the success it is because engineering came up with a shiny new device and got marketing to push it. The marketing executive, including Steve Jobs, determined that the existing music devices on the market were missing a HUGE opportunity. They determined what was wrong with the current systems, then provided engineering with the MARKET REQUIREMENTS (well, actually the product managers converted market requirements to functional requirements…) that engineering then turned into a technical design.

What is it you think that “marketing” does? In successful organizations; it isn’t about glossy brochures, flashy websites and annoying jingles.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As in the previous post “Clearly marketing is involved in reacting to established markets…” so IpOD needed marketing, but it clearly wasn’t involved in establishing the market in the first place.

So it’s clear that “….marketing is is only functional when trying to shift stuff you already have…”

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes, there are sometimes that a new device/invention are created in someone’s garage. But that is less often the case. More often it is that engineering discovers something in the lab.

But that lab discovery isn’t done by allowing engineering to go randomly off in wild directions. The company executive, often the marketing executive, directs R&D’s research into potential products based on already-determined market needs.

Yes, wild new markets are sometimes opened up by some random tinkerer in their garage. But this is very rarely the case.

Again, the MAIN function of a (proper) marketing department is to DETERMINE where the market is and what its needs are. It is substantially less risky to fill an existing gap than the mostly futile and HIGHLY risky attempt to sway a market towards your new fangled product.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You seriously think that engineering would “..go randomly off in wild directions.” if it weren’t for marketing ? !!!!

And that “..often the marketing executive, directs R&D’s research..” ?

Marketing can’t handle things unfamiliar or big changes to things that are familiar, so all the new things happen outside of the marketing department …. until they are no longer new. It’s nothing to do with risk it’s just the nature of marketing.

Squidhammer (user link) says:

What Marketing REALLY Is

Good marketing is not getting people to buy your product, as you point out. Its also not all about being customer facing. The two most important parts of marketing are product strategy and positioning.

Product strategy should marry the company’s unique abilities with a need in the marketplace. The more unique the abilities, and the more urgent the need, the more successful the product should be. That’s why Apple succeeded so wildly with the iPod. There were lots of mp3 players around. Apple used its unique product design and software capabilities to make something people really needed, an easy to use but very powerful mp3 player. THAT’S good product strategy.

The other thing is positioning. What’s the one bit of real-estate you want in people’s minds? The classic biz school example is FedEx. When it absolutely positively has to be there overnight. This was brilliant because they focused on what people really needed, to not worry about the package. People were happy to pay more to not worry.

With these two in place, pricing, promotion and channels should be straightforward. Not always, but often.

When it works properly, marketing should be a creative tension between engineering, sales, and the marketers. When one of them dominates, you get bad marketing or bad products. But the bottom line, and some marketers need it tattooed backwards on their foreheads, is that marketing alone can sell anything once.

MLS (profile) says:

As difficult as you may find this to believe, marketing (what I have always termed “business development”) is in my view a critically important part of the product development process…including up front as the process starts. While my view certainly applies across a wide spectrum of industries, I have seen it play out on a daily basis in the aerospace industry, and particularly that portion of the industry associated with product development and manufacture (including follow-on product support) for the US and other government customers.

I will say, however, that given the types of the goods and services associated with product development and manufacture for government customers, the nature of the business is such that in a large number of cases various combinations of patent, copyright, trade secret, trademark, and sensitive business information protection are an important adjunct to the achievement of business goals. To a significant degree this is due in part to the US Government’s propensity to try and enter the market, typically internationally…but many times even domestically, in direct competition with the private developer/manufacturer.

dorpass says:

Re: whatever MLS said

Ok, we know you like to see your comments get posted and sometimes you make valid points. But what in the world are you trying to get to here? Or is this the prologue for a 20 posts that will be scattered over weeks of discussions that you won’t be able to find yourself, yet refer back to anyways?

A MLS fan says:

Re: Re:


If marketing doesn’t know how to execute, and understand why a product is being developed, they seem to have this incredible ability to over promise and under deliver.

Additionally, I have seen incredible scope creep by having too much marketing involvement during the phases which I call “Product Realization”.

Striking a solid balance between the two thought processes usually requires a very tight-knit group of people who can deliver and execute upon the needs.

As for Government Customers, my knowledge is nil. However, I remain interested.

Anonymous Coward says:

ewww . . . Marketing

I think any engineer that has had to deal with “Marketing” people have pretty good reason to hate them and their vacuous industry. I am not saying Marketing is not “real” or “important” (I think it’s sad that marketing is so important, but I cannot deny that it is). However, when your told you have to redesign a product and/or drop features just so you can use a different font on it, or offer it in seven new designers colors, you begin to see how they can interfere with innovation.

In most of my experience marketing is considered the department that “reduces” great ideas into mediocre products that are easier to sell.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Ahh, confusion, confusion

There’s a ton of confusion in the comments here.

Closest to the point I see Mike making is, startlingly enough MLS.

Even then it starts from the premise that marketing is not advertising which is faulty in that advertising is part of marketing though it ought to the back end of the process.

When people confuse the process of marketing with what most corporations call Marketing which is really Sales with a fancy name. And so you get people with no product knowledge whatsoever calling the shots and making stupid suggestions like “this is the year of teal so let’s do it al in teal!” forgetting that by the time it comes out teal will no longer be cool.

In an older world (geeze, did I actually say that? Yeah I did cause I’m sick and tired of “back in the day”) marketing was handled by groups with the unsexy name of Market Research.

Modern Marketing Departments are nothing more, as I said, than Sales.

And advertising can and does play a large role in marketing and what was correctly called Market Research.

A small suggestion is that anyone interested have a listen to some of the CBC Radio series called The Age of Persuasion which is a wonderful program that, in part, discusses the linkages between marketing and advertising as part of that marketing in both successes and failures.



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