Marketing is the fuel, not the fire

I’ve worked in marketing roles for companies in several different industries throughout my career and one consistent theme that I’ve noticed is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role that marketing plays by even the savviest founders.

Well-intentioned but misguided conversations about marketing strategy include   “we just need to do a better job marketing our product” or “we need to start spending more on advertising” – thinking that these are cure-alls for linear or non-existent growth.

I am here to tell you that if your company isn’t growing organically after a launch you shouldn’t spend a dime on marketing.

I’ve seen products with negative growth double marketing spend with the assumption that it will help turn the trajectory of the product around. Not only will that set your marketing team up for failure, but it never works. Spending that money on competitive analysis, user interviews, and product pivots (if needed) will have a significantly higher ROI than any marketing campaigns will by a long shot.

A good analogy that I like to use to explain the relationship between a product and marketing is building a fire. The foundation of your fire is the going to determine how much heat the fire gives off and for how long.

The tinder and kindling are the product launch. They provide a short, but potent spark that allows your product (the firewood) to catch fire. If your firewood isn’t constructed properly the fire will fizzle out and leave dim embers that are holding on for life. Trying to start a fire without these components will leave you with a near 0% chance that the fire will start.

On the other hand, if your firewood has been built with longevity in mind, with a stable well-formed structure, the fire will catch on and continue to burn. This is when you can add additional fuel (marketing) onto the fire to help it burn hotter and faster. There are different types of fuel for different types of needs. Advertising is like gas in that it burns fast but can be a needed spark at a critical time. Organic channels such as SEO, content, and social are like the smaller brush that doesn’t burn as quickly as gas but can provide a longer boost to the core fire.

This additional heat allows you to add more firewood to the existing structure until it becomes a massive bonfire.

At this point, your marketing supports your product and your product supports your marketing – both allowing the fire to build bigger and bigger. The synergetic effect is how successful companies are built, not by throwing gas on dying embers or dousing firewood with gasoline.

Thinking about marketing in this way to help you answer the when and how of your marketing strategy.