A good product is only the beginning

Some people follow their dreams, others hunt them down and beat them mercilessly into submission. —Neil Kendall

Phillip Chichoni

In August 2012, a book titled Leapfrogging hit The Wall Street Journal’s list of best-selling business titles upon its debut. The following week, sales of the book, written by first-time author Soren Kaplan, plunged 99% and it fell off the list.

The journal says it isn’t uncommon for a business book to land on best-seller lists only to quickly drop off. But even a brief appearance adds permanent luster to an author’s reputation, creating opportunities for speaking and consulting engagements.

Whether the practice of buying one’s own books in order to artificially boost their rankings is unethical or not is up to one’s opinion.

However, it makes one thing clear: a product will not sell itself without a great promotion that creates a big buzz.

Many new businesses fail because the founders don’t go all the way to market and promote their products. There are a lot of businesses starting today, but a majority of them will fail before they reach five years. Poor marketing is one of the main reasons for such failure.

One does not have to engage questionable practices in order to promote their product. An example of authors who created a buzz above board is the authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

As they were already successful motivational speakers, they decided to put together a collection of inspirational stories they had gathered from audiences during their numerous speaking sessions. They created a book from this collection.

Chicken Soup for the Soul was released on June 28 1993, and became a holiday favourite by the end of December.

What drove initial interest was not the authors buying their own books, or media attention or celebrity endorsement, but rather word-of-mouth promotion from ordinary people around the country who bought the book and loved it.

Many would return to the bookshop to buy five or 10 copies for friends and family.

Thanks to that wave of popularity, by September of 1994, Chicken Soup for the Soul was on every major bestseller list in the US and Canada.

There are great lessons for entrepreneurs to learn from Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen’s strategy. First, you need a good product, something that your customers love.

The two authors already knew people loved their stories because these had motivated many during their speaking seminars. How do you know customers love your product? Have you tested it in the market, maybe starting among your relatives, friends and other associates? Too many times entrepreneurs create a great product or service without testing if customers like it, or even need it.

It is very important to validate the demand for your product before launching it on a full scale.

You need to know if there is a big enough market to turn your project into a viable business. Spend time in the field with real-life customers and hear first-hand what they think. This will enable you to understand your potential customers’ true needs. It will also give you insights on alternative products being supplied by competitors.

Once you have validated that there is a market for your product, the next step is to develop a marketing campaign.

A brilliant marketing campaign has a definite goal, fits in with your budget and should result in a high return on investment. The goal should be a clearly defined outcome, such as to sell more of a certain product. Have target figures to achieve, such as units of products to sell or dollar values of sales revenue. The campaign is not a once off event, but a series of activities, using multiple promotional tools.

A powerful marketing message is necessary for an effective campaign. Clearly state what you are offering, its benefits and why customers should buy it. Have a call to action that makes people act right away. I am sure you have seen marketing messages like “Special Offer for This Week Only!”, or “Buy now, only 120 units left!” Your call to action should make customers act immediately in order not to lose out.

It is important to clearly define your target market. Not everyone wants or needs your product. Identify your ideal customers by demographics, geography, income levels, occupation, hobbies, tastes or whatever appropriate segmentation appropriate to your product.

As there are many others competing with you in a market with a limited number of customers, you must have a clear value proposition that is consistent with your overall company strategy.

If your strategy is cost leadership, then make it clear that customers benefit from lowest prices if they buy your product. If it is differentiation, highlight the features and benefits that make your product the best in the market.

You then need to select appropriate promotional tools to get your marketing message across to customers. This will be the subject of next week’s article.

You will find more entrepreneurial resources at my blog http://smebusinesslink.com.

Phillip Chichoni is a business development consultant who works with SMEs and entrepreneurs. You may contact him by email, chichonip@smebusinesslink.com. You can also visit http://smebusinesslink.com

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