October 05, 2009

Marketing Awareness

A few summers ago, I worked for a small company that made custom travel guides. They had the traditional information about your destination, but they also had information such as weather and events for the dates you would be there. All this was packaged into a professionally printed book, which showed up at your door a few days before you left.

It is a great idea, with a great product to back it up— and it showed up on the first page of Google if you search for something like "custom travel guide." But here's the problem— who searches for that?

Sure, you can advertise— but what's the point of buying keywords from Google? You are still only reaching an audience who's searching for or reading about travel guides.

That is a huge problem with start ups— the more clever the idea, the harder it is to advertise. Who knew they needed forecasts for sports and concert tickets, a place to manage and share referrals or even personalized travel guides? All of these, and just about every other start up ever created, is useful. But people do not know they need them.

Traditionally, marketing has always been based on conditioned reflexes— marketers do their best to associate happiness, trust or other desirable feelings with their products, so we will choose their brand when standing in the store looking for detergent.

Products like this are not limited to bits and bytes, however— turn on the TV at 3am, and you will find a ton of infomercials trying to sell you stuff you never knew you needed. Nobody thinks they need a Snuggie or an Apple Machine Peeler Corer or a Hercules Hook. Every one of these products would come in handy if you had them and used them— but unless the infomercial happens to come on right as you are doing a task that would be made easier by it, odds of you ever getting the product are low.

With start ups, we are not just convincing people that, say, your company sells the best "personalized, up to date travel guides" available— you are trying to convince people that "personalized, up to date travel guides" exist, and that they actually need one.

About Gregory Koberger

I'm a freelance developer and designer, formerly of Mozilla. I talk a lot about web development, technology and user experience — sometimes on my blog but mostly on Twitter.

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