Whatever you make or write, there will be a moment when you finish production and ready your product for sale. You may intend to make a new version in a year or a month or a week. You may already know that you’ll be changing the product in the future. You may even know that what you’re selling is broken or incomplete. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Software Developer.) But the moment you decide you’re no longer going to make changes to a particular product is the moment you transition from marketing to selling — even if you plan to track the product’s sales data and reception in the market in order to modify the product in the future.
It should be dawning on you by now that marketing isn’t a specific task or checklist, but an over-arching philosophy. Where selling means offering a product as it exists, marketing says listen, learn and adapt the product in perpetuity.
That’s the demarcation between the two. Marketing is endless: sales is terminal.
Marketing as Business Principle
Recognizing the omnipresent opportunity of marketing is important. If you are one hundred percent committed to writing your book your way, that says nothing useful about how you will try to sell that book. But even if you aren’t interested in marketing as a means of tailoring your title for the intended audience, there’s no end to the ways marketing can still be useful on the sales end.
Marketing isn’t making your product available, it’s designing your product for the market. Marketing isn’t advertising, it’s designing your ads for the market. Marketing isn’t pricing, it’s pricing your product for the market. Marketing isn’t customer service, it’s designing your customer service to understand, protect and expand your market.
In the end your authorial marketing efforts will be a mix of gut instinct, educated guesses and actual data, all blended in proportions defined by your personal goals and tolerance for risk. If you care passionately about what you have to say you’re probably going to listen to the market less. If you care passionately about being published, you’re probably going to listen to the market more.
What’s important is that your decisions be as fully informed as possible. Ignorance is ignorance, not courage.
The Marketing Advantage
As a creative person I don’t want other people telling me what to do. But that doesn’t mean I should ignore available information, or that my artistic vision or gut instinct is necessarily correct. In commercial works it’s inarguable that marketing conveys an advantage when compared with products and people who don’t actively embrace marketing.
Knowing more doesn’t obligate you to do anything, it simply means you have more information available to help make whatever decisions you need to make. Marketing is an attempt to move away from choosing blindly to a paradigm in which choices are more informed. I can’t really see any way to argue against the utility of that approach. If you want to increase your chance of success in any market, knowing more about that market, and tailoring even one aspect of your work to that market, almost certainly improves your chances when compared with plowing blindly ahead.
The Marketing Lie
Again: as a creative person I don’t want other people telling me what to do. And that’s particularly true when I know that what people are telling me is at best ignorant and at worst attempted fraud.
Anyone who’s worked in a collaborative entertainment medium as a gun for hire knows that there is a constant tug of war between what the suits want and what the creators want. I don’t have a problem with that, because the last thing any business can afford to do is write blank checks for creative types. If you’re the boss it’s your money, and at the end of the day you get to make the decisions.
The problem with decisions based on marketing data is that marketing data is not truth. Like a stock price, marketing data is a snapshot of a moment that may or may not speak to the future. The job of evaluating marketing data and implementing marketing data is as subjective as the job of creating content. Not only can data itself be bad — due to faulty research or testing — but data can also be misinterpreted, misapplied and just plain inapplicable. Worse, you may have a specific marketing question dead to rights, you may have figured out exactly how to use that information to create or position your products, you may have the cash on hand and the internal will to drive changes, all at the exact same moment the market collapses for reasons outside your control — like, say, the implosion of your country’s economy.
As I said in an earlier post, marketing in its purest form implies perfect knowledge. But perfect knowledge is impossible to have, if only because reality continues to evolve as you gather data and test for consumer interest. As a practical matter, marketing always involves some combination of data collection, experience and gut instinct. You can’t take the luck out of it, or the risk out of it, but proponents and advocates of marketing will often try to convince you otherwise.
For every marketing success story, where knowledge increased sales, there are marketing disasters where exhaustive analysis and positioning produced a crater. From Microsoft Bob to Google Answers to New Coke to the Ford Edsel to the Big Ten Conference’s super-lame division names there is no end of marketing failures from companies large and small.
Whether you’re a self-publishing author or a multi-bazillion-dollar corporation, it’s possible to put too much emphasis or the wrong emphasis on information you glean from the marketplace. Whatever you think you know, it’s just as important to recognize that you might be wrong, and that there are other things you don’t know that could obviate what you’ve learned. When I say there are no guarantees, I mean it.
— Mark Barrett