Investing in great products vs. investing in Advertising

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Time for your weekly brandbuilder reality check.
There are only two types of businesses: The ones you know are the best in their category, and... everyone else.
Advertising and marketing are nice, but too many "also in" businesses waste money on marketing and advertising when they should instead revamp one or two elements of their business that would help them actually gain market share. (The most pleasant and efficient customer service experience in your industry, a perfectly designed user interface, a 100% uptime guarantee, stunning design, impeccable ergonomics, remarkable flavor, etc.)

Advertising is basically a load of bullshit unless you have something worth advertising to begin with. (Otherwise, what are you advertising: Hey, come buy from us! We're the thirteenth best shoe store in the 90210!) You're either the best at something, or you're just another voice in the crowd getting fleeced by just another run-of-the-mill ad agency or "marketing firm."

Before you start wasting money on advertising, ask yourself what your super-special value to your users/customers/clients truly is. Maybe you have the best prices. Maybe you have the most comfortable meeting rooms. Maybe you have the most square footage of any gym in your area, or the freshest produce, or the most knowledgeable staff, or the fastest check-out. It doesn't matter what that something is as long as it is something concrete (as opposed to another lame marketing spinfest).

Whatever your value differentiator is, whatever your brand's value advantage is (or should be), this is what you need to invest in FIRST. Once you have that aspect of your business nailed down, THEN and only then should you even bother with advertising.

A few days ago, Seth Godin posted some great advice to college grads on his blog: Only borrow money to pay for things that increase in value. A pair of shoes or cool clothes never increase in value. An education or professional experience, however do. Great advice, especially in the crux of our current economic/credit crunch. The same applies to businesses, which is why Seth's advice is so damn relevant to the discussion today.

Perhaps more relevant to today's topic is a slightly tweaked version of Seth's advice: "only invest in things that increase in value."

Like shoes and clothes, advertising never increases in value. With advertising, you are at best buying a small percentage of the public's attention across a very narrow sliver of space and time (and paying a premium price for it.) Before you know it, your advertising budget is gone, and so is that very expensive bubble of attention.

Investing in better products/services, better people and better processes, however, makes a whole lot more sense as these things never lose value. Great employees, great products, great customer experiences and fostering a unique relationship with your fan base are the types of things worth investing in. These are the true foundations of a great brand. These are the types of things that will help strengthen your brand equity.

Advertising never translates into brand equity unless these foundations exist to support it. Even so, the more solid the brand's foundation, the less relevant advertising becomes.

Starbucks doesn't advertise and I'm not sure I've ever seen a Whole Foods ad anywhere, yet millions of people drop solid stacks of greenbacks there every year. I don't shop at Target, wear Rudy Project sunglasses, drive a VW or crave a BMW because of advertising. Other than creating awareness for a product that hasn't managed to capture anyone's attention yet (red flag), advertising does nothing to impact most companies' growth.

Building a strong reputation by developing great products, buzz-worthy experiences and generally delighting customers/users is a much stronger strategy than paying loads of cash for advertising.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

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