Saturday, August 12, 2006

irony: invisible marketing

There's something remarkable about a product that behaves exactly the way you hoped it would, or a service that meets both your expressed requirements and your unexpressed wishes.

We've all had experiences with products and services like that. They feel complete, somehow, as if they were designed with our unique needs in mind.

They don't have to be mass-market products or national services. There was a bookstore in Ann Arbor where I once lived (and where good friends still do) that always seemed to have just what I was looking for. Another record store (Schoolkids Records, now defunct, alas) featured artists on their store-wide speaker I'd never heard before but instantly admired.

My new ride (2006 VW GTI) is full of pleasant surprises, each of which makes me feel even more comfortable with a car that feels like it was made with me in mind.

I won't opine on how this applies to software. You all know how to build software that meets user requirements.

But the marketing associated with these products. . .now there's an odd bird. Software marketing to the consumer that "fits" delivers exactly the supporting information - in exactly the right way - to make the consumer feel perfectly satisfied with their decision to license the software. Whether it's web content, white papers, references, road shows, alliances, the quality and accessibility of your support, whatever, marketing wraps software with context.

The best software marketing (from a marcom perspective) is this way - it anticipates, it's understated, it gets to the point. It eschews obfuscation. It moves the querent through a process of inquiry. It does not deign to draw premature conclusions, but it does reveal the success of others.

The kicker is that the best software marketing depends on having good software. The best marketing applied to crappy software is instantly suspect. The worst marketing applied to the best software. . .generally doesn't get noticed, since the best software speaks for itself.

Or does it?

The best software speaks partially through its functions, but mostly through its value proposition. It's here where marketing becomes truly invisible. A value proposition is a promise of value in anticipation of validiation. This value proposition can be a few words, it can be a short paragraph.

But is a value proposition really marketing? You betcha. It's the marketer's art as glass - it reveals the product, not its own artfulness or cleverness. It's invisible.

And that's ironic.

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