When Marketing is a Waste of Time

Sometimes marketing is a waste of time.
I mean marketing in the traditional sense: buying ads, booth space at a conference, or creating content.
This usually happens early in the product development stage, before you’ve hit product market fit. You create something, and you are eager to get users or sales, so you launch.
It’s hard to get people to pay attention to your product, so you decide to shift your focus from product development to marketing.
Let’s buy some ads!
Let’s start a blog!
Let’s a/b test our pricing page!
You start getting more people to your site, but your product just isn’t taking off. 10X the traffic does not equal 10X the sales, what’s going on here?
In 1998 an indie musician name Derek Sivers was trying to figure out how to sell more of his albums. He wasn’t signed to a label, so music stores wouldn’t help him. He decided to create a website, add his albums, and put a buy button on it. He’d then ship albums to customers (this was pre PayPal).
He called it CD Baby. Soon other musicians started asking him to sell their albums too, and the company eventually grew to a multi-million dollar business.
CD Baby succeeded with no marketing (besides word of mouth). Sivers describes what it was like to launch:

I had spent twelve years trying to promote my various projects – trying every marketing approach, networking, pitching, pushing. It always felt like an uphill battle, trying to open locked or slamming doors. I made progress, but only with massive effort. But now…Wow! It was like I had written a hit song.
– Anything You Want

If your product isn’t getting traction, more marketing is not the answer.
There’s probably something wrong with your fundamental offering. It could be your marketing copy, or it could be the product itself. Marketing at this stage is like pouring more water into a leaky bucket. You have to fix the leaks first.
Ask your customers what they love about your product, why they bought it in the first place. Double down on what’s working, and change your marketing copy to match.
Then give it another push with some marketing and see what happens. Until you get to the point where your product has its own momentum, your main focus should be on the product itself.

1 comment

  1. This happens when sales are confused with marketing. But you are correct in that the cart was put before the horse too soon. If there’s no market for your product you’re wasting time, but that, of course, is determined in the exploratory stages when putting together the marketing plan and business plan and making sure the numbers work. Which everyone does, right?

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