Romancing the Market

There is a reason that blind dates were never very popular.

Marketing and dating are both incremental dances with well understood steps in forming a relationship. Amazingly many companies, and most technology companies, lack even a fundamental notion of incremental intimacy, which many also explain why many techie founders remain bachelors. Anyone who suffered the dating process understands the phases of location, attraction, value and risk assessment. Yet your average technology web site avoids all these steps.

First off is findability. In dating this may involve joining activity groups or hanging out in the right bar on a Saturday night. In marketing it has always been about advertising, and in the modern extension of that, search optimization. Being found is a requirement to being desired. Failure to promote or to be locatable on the web makes the odds of obtaining prospects nil. But just today I ran across a web site for an application platform vendor whose primary landing pages lacked meaningful search optimization. This is akin to longing for love and staying home playing video games every night.

Only after eligible prospects find you can attraction take place. My first boss used to snicker and say “It must be Friday.” When I asked him what brought that up, he pointed to some young lass and said “The single girls always dress-up on Friday.” His point, as it relates to marketing and the entire cosmetics industry, is that you should be attractive at the first meeting. It is not enough to be at the popular meat market or on the web — you have to create a compelling appeal. Show prospects a text-dense web page that offers a tough slog to understanding, and they will turn instead to a more comely contender. Branding sets the mood and encourages the next step in the ritual.

A pretty face is a start, but a potential mate or customer next needs to perceive some value in the relationship. In cocktail lounges potential value propositions are communicated non-verbally — a smile that engenders romantic thoughts, a wink that suggests more base activities, and occasionally even more salacious gestures that should encourage running away. Tech companies by and large are lousy at articulating value propositions, and these value props rarely appear on landing pages. Once your product has been found and shows prospects a reason to be attracted, to then avoid displaying potential value halts the interest of your suitor.

The most critical step in dating or vending is risk abatement. Initial conversations with the gal you met at a club quickly exposes obvious risk factors. Is she dumb, does she have emotional baggage, are the voices in her head the cause of her involuntarily twitching? Once you have made your product findable, attractive and shown some value, your customer’s next step is to look for flaws. The common risk factors are things like a lack of features, few customers, no funding, poorly stated product details or general lack of clarity. Circuit City and their CarMax subsidiary became famous for engineering-out negative aspects of their market — reducing common risks. Itemize warning flags for which your prospects look, then remove/improve to push prospects to ask for a first date (a.k.a. a sales call).

Here is your challenge. For the next five companies that you randomly hear of, look at the stages of finding, attraction, value and risk and see is they have engineered their marketing to get that first date with prospects. After reviewing five previously unknown companies, then evaluate yours. If after self-assessment you feel like it is Saturday night and you are watching old movies on TV, then you have your next marketing projects defined.


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