Repetition: Insanity or Dedication?

Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.
Rita Mae Brown, Sudden Death (Bantam Books, New York, 1983), p. 68
It’s a good general rule, though, but misleading. A good counter-example is hammering in a nail. Each stroke of the hammer still brings the “nail not yet hammered in” result until the very last one.
Of course, at least when you’re hammering a nail, you can see the visual feedback of getting closer and closer to your goal. But sometimes it takes a lot of repetitions before you see real results. This happens all the time in product development and marketing. From the marketing perspective, we know that it can take anywhere as long as 12 months for a consumer to go from seeing an ad for the first time, to finally making a purchase. We all hope to have ads that will provoke instant, rapturous purchasing frenzies from day one, but with a new business and especially a new product category, there’s another crucial saying to remember:
The real problem is that there’s a point where you need to ask why your product isn’t selling (yet):
  • Is it because it just takes time for your target market to warm to a new product or new company?
  • Or does your marketing just suck?
  • Worse, does your product suck?
When you’re a small business with a small budget, this knowledge is the difference between the life and death of your company.

Does my marketing suck?

Your marketing sucks if one of two things is true:

  1. It doesn’t attract interest. This is simple to test. If it’s a web ad, use analytics to see whether or not people are clicking on your ads. Test multiple ads to see which ones people click on the most. For ads in traditional media, either connect the ad with a coupon (“bring this ad in for a free X”) or an offer code (“tell the cashier you heard about us on HITS 98.5 Radio”), or at least consistently ask your customers where they heard about you.
  2. It attracts interest only from the wrong people. It doesn’t matter how much they love your new luxury sports coupe; if the only people who react to your ads are 15-year-old kids, you won’t sell any cars. Of course it can be more subtle than this, but it’s also fairly easy to test. On the web, you look at online purchases and requests for information resulting from your web marketing.

Does my product suck?

Small businesses need to focus on baby steps. The only way to know if your product is viable, is to see if even a very scaled-down version can sell. Both Apple and 37Signals have shown that if you get a few core features perfectly right, people will buy even if you seem to be missing other things that many people find important.

It’s about LOVE.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: measure the viability of your product by the number of people who LOVE your product, who are not employees or relatives of employees… AND who will actually PAY for your product.

Ok, it’s also about PAYING.

Once you have paying customers who profess their undying love for you, your company, and your products, you actually have a viable target market. Now you just need to figure out where to get more of those people.

What if nobody loves me?

Maybe you need to look harder for the right customers (see the marketing stuff above). But you definitely need to make more opinionated products. With a new product, you can’t be everything to everyone–you can’t be MS Word. You have to be more like Twitter: really good at a few small features that work really well together:

  • Bad: the restaurant that serves extremely mediocre burgers, pasta, chinese food, curry, and salads.
  • Good: the burger joint that serves only amazing burgers and perfectly crispy fries.

Insanity is trying to push a product that no one loves.