What’s interesting about this weekend’s debate over Fred Wilson’s contention that “marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks” is that it re-enacts an old battle: engineers’ wariness toward marketing, and marketing folks’ distrust of engineers’ build-it-and-they-will-come naivete.
But the truth is that the battle-lines between the two sides just don’t exist anymore. Some of the most effective marketing is built into products rather than applied after the fact. Just look around:
- Zynga builds games using Facebook, so it’s easy for players to invite their friends.
- Cubeduel asks users to “share the awesomeness,” via contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Yelp’s feedback system encourages reviewers with praise like “Funny,” “Useful,” or “Cool,” which encourages more reviews, and better search-engine placement.
- YouTube makes it easy to embed its video anywhere on the web, extending its reach far beyond YouTube.com.
- Urbanspoon automatically links back to blogs that cite Urbanspoon reviews, updating a leader-board of the bloggers who have written the most reviews. This creates more buzz in the blogosphere.
- OkCupid systematically captures stats on people’s dating patterns for use in blog posts that generate massive publicity.
- Every website on the planet is now built to maximize links and keywords for search-engine placement.
Marketing gurus like Rand Fishkin and Dave McClure who violently disagree with Fred are the same ones helping companies re-design their products, not their marketing campaigns. Engineering gurus like Paul Graham and Hadi Partovi are obsessed with customer acquisition, not better algorithms. And the best entrepreneurs are now product-marketing centaurs who develop their products from the start to be viral, to be search-engines friendly, to be social.
This integration of marketing with product development has been a long time in coming. Engineers have become more self-sufficient and entrepreneurial, updating their products every day or every week in a way that brings them closer to the rhythms of the market. Marketeers have become more analytical and product-focused. It is much more likely today that the two took the same math classes for the first few years of college.
All of Fred’s critics who insist that the sizzle is more important than steak have hardly noticed that the steak is increasingly made out of sizzle (a development I’m not entirely comfy with). The modern-day version of “the medium is the message” might be that “the product is the promotion.”
Now of course, there are other forms of marketing which have very little to do with product development, and those are also important. But the folks who are defending marketing as a separate discipline are the ones most likely to approach it in real life as a joint effort.