Marketing is Reality

In a recent meeting with a client, we brainstormed on what to do about an upcoming product announcement by Microsoft. The new Microsoft product will substantially increase the competitive pressure on our client, and in typical Redmond fashion the press and analysts have been briefed about it for months. Even though the product won’t ship until this summer, our client is in effect already competing with it.
Articulate Your Strategy
The client has a great strategic response to the Microsoft product – visionary, it makes sense, and it’ll yield products that are well-differentiated and easy to sell. We encouraged the client to start briefing analysts on its new strategy, but we got a lot of push-back. "We can’t talk about it until it’s built into a product," they said.
This is a common belief among high tech companies. Strategies, directions, and philosophies are just marketing fluff, and therefore should not be discussed until they’re delivered in physical products.
Customer Comprehension Leads to Commitment
While it’s hard not to admire any company’s commitment to substance over style, we think a refusal to market your strategy ignores the way most people buy technology products. It’s very rare today for a customer to make a one-off purchase of a tech product. A company buying corporate software is obviously making a commitment for many years, but even a consumer buying an iPod is entering into a long-term relationship with Apple. When people make these commitments, they want to know what they’ll get over time. In many cases, the road map for the future is the clinching argument that gets them to buy today, or prevents them from defecting to another vendor.
In this sense, marketing is reality. It determines whether customers will stick around long enough to let you deliver the great new products you’ve planned for them. A company that refuses to aggressively market its planned direction is selling only half a product, and is at a huge disadvantage to a competitor like Microsoft that knows how to discuss the future.

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