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April 7, 2009 / davebirss

Is this marketing or product development?

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A few weeks ago I was doing some freelance at an agency that shall remain nameless. When I presented one of my ideas I told them that the best thing was that the activity could pay for itself and maybe even turn a profit. I went on to explain a revenue model for it only to be greeted with puzzled expressions. They loved the idea (and presented it to the client) but weren’t interested in this additional business thinking. As far as they were concerned, they were asked to do some marketing and this bit strayed too far outside their remit.

And it got me thinking.

Maybe it’s because I’m a businessman as well as a creative that I approached the brief differently. Or maybe it’s because, wearing my client trousers, I would love it if an agency presented a self-funding idea. Whatever the reason, I believe the purpose of marketing is to generate more money than the activity costs.

But the problem here doesn’t just lie with the agency.

I’ve mentioned before one of my frustrations with the whole branded utility thing and the problem with trying to do long-term activity with short-term goals and budgets. If the activity is commissioned by a marketing department, they are usually working with quarterly goals and fluctuating budgets – and that just doesn’t work with branded utility. So I’d like to propose a new way of looking at this kind of activity:

We need to treat long-term digital activities as products. Because, in truth, that’s what they are.

And if we’re to think of them like this, they should have most of the following:

Long-term plans

Just like physical products, digital products take time to be adopted by a market. You wouldn’t ditch a new washing up liquid after 3 months because it wasn’t ubiquitous by then – you’d have a growth strategy. Things may happen faster online but those overnight success stories are rare.

A point of difference

Your digital product needs to be different from other stuff out there. And to be successful it should fulfil a real customer need better than anything else.

Continued R&D

Most high volume retail products are refreshed periodically in some ‘new and improved’ way. One of the great things about digital is that you can do this faster and cheaper and you can generate lots of useful data about how people interact with it.

Distribution

If you want wide adoption, you can’t just expect people to make their way to a single branded environment to download your thing or interact with it. You need to make it available in as many places as possible. And – even better – get the audience to pass it around for you.

Marketing

Yes, you need to tell people about products. You may need to support your digital activity with advertising, PR, social media and other stuff.

A revenue model

And here’s where I neatly return to my original point! If this is a product and you’re looking at it long-term – wouldn’t it be great if it could subsidise itself – or even turn a profit? And best of all, I’ve already written a post to help you find ways of bringing in the money!

What do you think? Do you know of any clients that are doing it properly? Or have you encountered the same frustrations? Tell me people. I’m listening.

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