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Why Product Marketing Isn’t Just Marketing Products

Welcome to Episode 1 of Product: Knowledge is an introduction to Product Marketing, which isn’t just marketing products. Graphos specializes in Product Marketing – which takes businesses from product development, market research, and consumer engagement. Host Bryn Griffiths talks with Laurier Mandin, CEO and Principal of Graphos, and Andreas Schwabe, Graphos’ director of Media Services to talk about everything the podcast will cover. Get in on the ground floor of Product Marketing with Product: Knowledge.

Episode transcript:

Bryn: You’re listening to Product Knowledge, the podcast about creating and marketing products that improve people’s lives. Episode One: Why Product Marketing Isn’t Just Marketing With Products. We live in a time where so many things are productized, it seems everything is a product. When we invest at the bank they’re selling a product, at least in the eyes of the bank. If you use a CRM or other software, that’s a product too.

Bryn: Joining us from Graphos Product is the CEO and Principal, Laurier Mandin and also the Director of Media Services, Andreas Schwabe. So Laurier, I want to ask, when we talk about product marketing for the purpose of this podcast, what are we driving at specifically here?

Laurier: I like the way you put that, Bryn, because products means so many things right now that essentially anything I go out and buy is a product in someone’s eyes. So I guess to keep things simple, for the purpose of this podcast we’re going to speak mostly in terms of consumer product, the kinds of products that we think of that we buy in a store that are associated with a physical object and something that we can take home that’s a consumer-branded product. Consumer products are what people generally find the most fascinating. People love and are obsessed with consumer products. We love Apple Products. We love …

Andreas: Oh geez.

Laurier: Help me with some other brands.

Andreas: Think of anything on Amazon. Basically anything. I look at places like Miniso, the Japanese store. You know Miniso.

Laurier: Yeah.

Andreas: It is just chock full of $3 headphones and all these different … It’s always different. They’re constantly iterating them so you’re always in this mode to buy. It’s just a store full of stuff that you already have that you desperately want, and how do they do that? That’s part of what … That’s what we’re talking about.

Bryn: Okay, well let me lead into this then. What’s the main difference between marketing a product and marketing a service?

Laurier: To me the main difference is risk. There are reasons why that risk is so strong. When you’re marketing a service, if I’m starting a restaurant or a food truck or a dental practice or other services, customers know what it is that I’m selling and they’re accustomed to buying that, to acquiring those services, but with a product it can’t be like everybody else. A product is something that’s generally sold more broadly geographically and with a product it’s got to be different.

Laurier: Being a me too product is death. The interesting there is that as product marketers one of the big jobs that we have to do is identify what makes a product really unique from everything else that’s out there. For that real reason is that if we don’t differentiate it from everything else, if we’re not able to clearly articulate what it is that the customer wants to get out of the product, then nobody’s going to buy it.

Andreas: You can think of products in terms of categories as well, right?

Laurier: Yeah.

Andreas: So we don’t think of disposables as generally as a category, but that’s an entire category of things. In certain areas it never existed. So I look at something like, I grew up in dad’s kitchens, he was a caterer and it was always mops and brooms and … Now it’s a Swiffer. You have it and you get rid of it. You don’t actually bother with the icky pot of, this pail of just … The water was always the worst, mopping around grease traps and whatever.

Andreas: So it’s even breaking categories into those or breaking products into those kinds of categories. So you have disposable luxury items, even just thinking in terms of some items are absolutely luxury items. Does anyone need a $2,000 folding phone? I think that’s getting into the luxury range.

Laurier: Probably not, right? I think it’s interesting you mentioned disposables because that definition continues to change. Even something like technology is quite disposable. We buy it, it lasts us a year or two in many cases, and then replace it with some new technology. That doesn’t even seem disposable by today’s standards but a decade or two ago that would have been just absolutely ridiculous. You wouldn’t buy something, make an investment in it and think it’s okay to dispose of it so quickly.

Andreas: Even clothing has a certain disposable nature to it now.

Laurier: Sure.

Andreas: I remember wearing darned socks. My mom used to darn, and I hated them because the thread was different. It was always hard and crunchy in that part, but now you just buy socks and when you get a hole in them, who fixes their socks anymore?

Laurier: Yeah. My mom sewed patches on my knees. Anybody doing that still? No, they’re not.

Andreas: I had that.

Bryn: Now I’m an outsider in so many ways so one of the biggest things for me when I’m taking a look at how anybody is marketing a product or marketing a service is the creativity part of it. Not everybody’s going to come to you with a product or a service and they’re going to have a level of comfort in their creativity. That’s where I see you guys coming in. You guys have got a million different ideas and you can help walk people through that. Do you find that with people, that they come in and they might be a little dry on some things and that’s where you’ve got to walk them through it a little bit?

Laurier: Well, an important thing that we see in even people who are inventors who develop their product and they know it does amazing things, most often they don’t know how to position that, how to articulate that for their customer. So they’ll have a product that’s a truck accessory for example and they know exactly what that accessory does and why it’s awesome, but they don’t know exactly how to state the benefit, the true benefit that that gives to the customer.

Laurier: Understanding and articulating those things that product marketers really do strongly. We also come up with attractive branding and photos and packaging and all the other things that consumes expect to see, but there’s no point in doing all those things if you don’t have the strategy behind it. So that is often where we have to pull clients back and get them to understand that we’re going to get there, we’re going to do those other visually interesting and enticing things, but we have to really understand the messaging first and what that strategy is going to be.

Laurier: So one of the first things that we do is what we call the Go-to-Market strategy. With any kind of product introduction we need to identify all the steps that are going to need to be taken in advance before doing them to be able to execute every part of it correctly. So that includes things like validation, understanding what the product is going to sell for, what the customer is going to perceive as being good value for that product and understanding whether or not there’s going to be enough margin to fulfill, to ship, to service, and to stand behind and offer a good warranty on that product.

Laurier: The strategy encompasses all those kind of less exciting but more important things when it comes to being able to actually deliver the product that the customer needs.

Bryn: Does it blow people away when they come in? They think they know everything about their product and how they want to go after it, and then you just throw all this stuff at them. They must be going, “This is why I came to you guys, because you guys know what you’re talking about.”

Andreas: Part of what clients are doing when they come to us is they’re looking for objectivity. So we bring this outsider’s view but we very quickly get an inside understanding and then we can actually translate that to the market and say, “This is actually …” Because we’ll have products that come to us and what they say the benefit is is actually not the thing that’s most attractive to the consumer.

Andreas: I’ll never forget with Blackberry way back when, Jim Balsillie said, “Who wants games and pictures on their phone?” It’s just not a thing.

Bryn: Whoops.

Andreas: Oops. He just simply wasn’t paying attention. What people perceived as the benefits, they didn’t care that it was a phone. The phone was the least interesting part of it and that’s been borne out all the way to the present. So it’s having that sense of objectivity to say here’s your product. Here’s what you say it is. Here’s what we think it is and working that into a good market plan.

Laurier: Phones are such a really good example because the changes that have happened in phones, we talked a minute ago about folding phones, but when the iPhone came out all the phone manufacturers were really racing to come up with a phone that had a stylus and a keypad that they could package maybe smaller and bring down to the lowest possible price. They wanted something that they could sell for 200 bucks. Out came the iPhone that didn’t do any of those things. It was much bigger. It had no keypad.

Andreas: A button.

Laurier: Yeah, and a button and people ridiculed that and it went on to become what all phones look like now. The Blackberry, are there any others that still have a keypad?

Andreas: No.

Bryn: I remember, they also came up with bigger phones and then I recognized that well, maybe my eyesight isn’t the way it used to be. I’m going to go for a bigger phone and then I realized it doesn’t fit in my sports coat pocket so I ended up going back to a more traditional one. You’re right, just being able to get to people and show them how to market, they think they know how to market, but once again, I’m bringing it right back to you guys in terms of somebody’s got to be the hey, wait a minute guy. You have to steer them in the right direction and you guys have done a great, great job on that in the past and continue to do so in the future.

Andreas: I mean clients will run up against all kinds of issues that will affect them getting to market. Manufacturing is always a going concern in Canada because of labor costs and so you’ll have your product at one price point and then you discover this is not something we can actually … People are not going to buy it at the price point we have to sell it at. So then they have to explore overseas manufacturing or whatever else. That’s all part of the process. We stick with the client all the way through.

Laurier: Yeah, and we’ve seen that again and again that some of our clients have just been so dedicated. They were going to get this product made in Canada or the US and they were going to have everything done here and they weren’t going to outsource to Asia. After doing sometimes a lot of research, in the end they’ve gone and got these things made in China because they just can’t be competitive doing it locally.

Laurier: The infrastructure isn’t here and things are just set up so much better in China. I’ve been to China and I’ve been through manufacturing facilities there and it’s just night and day to what we do here. Just so much more productive, just so much more technically savvy in many ways, and as a North American I’m a little bit embarrassed about that, but I’m also as a product marketer I’ve got to recognize that, that in many cases it’s just not feasible. Unless you’re willing to transform that and welcome to whoever is ready to transform the way that Canadians and Americans manufacture, but we’re not there. We’re a ways from being there.

Bryn: Is there a big difference for example on how you market big ticket items to smaller items? There’s got to be. Is there not?

Laurier: Interestingly, yeah, there’s quite a difference. I was going to say earlier when we were talking about our obsession with products, it applies to big ticket items and smaller items. Brands like Tesla are just so huge in the public’s eye that if you’re reading Inc. Magazine online, every second article is about Tesla. The strange thing about that is very few of us have a Tesla.

Bryn: Yes, it’s true.

Laurier: If Tesla survives long enough people will, but it’s mostly a matter of getting into the public consciousness. What that brand has done, what Elon Musk can do, the firepower he has to get a brand into the public eye and into that consciousness is just amazing. Another thing we do at Graphos is we study how these brands create that obsession quality and there are a number of factors. That’s a separate podcast, but there are a number of factors that brands can do even on a smaller scale to begin to build on that and begin to get customer interest and to get customer loyalty and create that obsession. So that’s something we’ll talk about in another podcast.

Bryn: Sure.

Laurier: It’s something that every brand should be aware of and should be going for I think. Why take your product to market if you don’t believe you have a shot at making it really huge and making it something really amazing?

Bryn: A lot of what Graphos Product does is focus in on is go to market strategy. Let’s get into that here a little bit. Can you explain that to people, what Go-to-Market strategy is?

Laurier: Yes, you bet. Go-to-Market strategy, I won’t go into all the detail of it because again, that’s another podcast, but it’s essentially studying and creating a framework that the customer can work with and that we can work with as a marketing partner to go through all the steps that are necessarily … To go through all the steps that are necessary to get that product to market and grow it on the market without making big mistakes, without ignoring potential fatal errors that are going to trip us up down the line and make us say, “Oh my gosh.” A lot of brands have encountered those things, those really big mistakes, those really big gaps in their thinking that make a product either impossible or very hard to recover.

Bryn: You have to be patient because I’m guessing people want to move at a really quick pace here. We’ve talked in the past about it’s great when people bring a million ideas to the table, but sometimes you’ve got to just go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa” and you’ve got to implement things at just the right pace. Is that where you also come into play is just someone’s got to be there to say “Okay, hang on. I love where you’re going with this, but just hang tight.”

Laurier: Absolutely. Especially with software because it’s so easy and so quick relative to with built products to add features and software, and software, the people whose ideas are behind creating software, their minds don’t stop, so when they’re out talking and thinking all night long about what their product can do better or looking at other products, they have this ongoing list of ideas or features they want to put in that software.

Laurier: That can actually be, that often kills software products because adding feature after feature only confuses the customer and takes you further away from the reason you created that software tool in the first place. So the more a product bloats, the more likely it is to fail. The people behind the software very quickly lose sight of that. They see it as making it better and better, but it’s just making it less and less marketable.

Bryn: Explain CLIMB to me because I keep hearing it but I don’t know exactly, what is that?

Laurier: CLIMB is an acronym for Customer Life Improving Mechanisms and Benefits. That sounds like a lot but it’s also one of the most important things that we can identify about any product. We’re identifying through CLIMB what it is that a product does that changes the lives of the people who buy it in a really important way, in the most important ways. So we ask a lot of questions when we’re working through our CLIMB process and the goal is to identify what the customer’s reason is, what the job is that the customer needs that product in order to do that’s going to make their life better than it was without the product.

Bryn: That’s also a separate podcast for another time I’m assuming, right? CLIMB?

Andreas: Yeah.

Bryn: Think we’re going to do that?

Andreas: I’m all for that approach.

Bryn: We can break that down a little more?

Laurier: Yeah, we can break it down. I wouldn’t bore the audience with all the questions that we ask while we’re doing it, but there’s a lot of things that we ask that I think could benefit our listeners who are working on developing their own products because so many of the questions we ask are things that if you’re developing a product of your own you should be thinking about. A lot of the time the inventors aren’t thinking about all of those, of their customers’ end uses and how they’re going to get that messaging through the customer’s head.

Laurier: They often have this gap where they just assume that people are going to get it, that as soon as they see that product in the store they’re going to know exactly how that’s going to make their life better, but they don’t. That’s where products fall down is that the potential buyers of those products don’t get it and there’s nothing in the bullet copy that’s popping out to them at Costco or wherever they’re looking at it that’s going to make them quickly decide whoa, what is that again? That’s what I’ve been looking for.

Bryn: Yeah, I’ve got to have it.

Andreas: Again, it’s that thing where the people who are developing the product most likely really love it and they know everything about it and know everything about that space, but they don’t know how to sell in that space. They don’t know how to communicate it because they live online in Reddit and forums and so it’s all sort of a very informal way of learning, and so to formalize that and to say this is what people respond to. It even comes down to, and we have to do an episode on color, this getting they right product color. I once consulted on a medical product and everything was black, white and red, which is crazy. It’s actually intimidating.

Bryn: It sounds like…

Andreas: That’s the colors of the Ottawa Red Blacks. That’s not a medical company.

Laurier: Some industries struggle more than others with colors. For some it’s a natural. We’ve got a fishing lure client where color is intrinsic …

Andreas: It’s so cool.

Laurier: … to everything that they’re doing.

Andreas: So cool. Yeah.

Laurier: It’s all about color.

Bryn: I got to tell you guys, looking at your website, the one thing, and also walking into your office, the one thing that is a mindblower for me is I love the colors. Colors for me are huge. I don’t like oatmeal walls or white walls. I like walls that have got a little bit of pizazz and color. You know what that yells? That yells to me creativity, and you guys, I see it in not only what I can see online, but I see it when I walk into your office. I like that and that would make it very welcoming for me to come into your building.

Laurier: We went that way a few years ago because I’ve been in branding for a quarter century and when I started out you were very limited. When you were coming up with the colors for a brand you’d have black plus another color usually because after that it got really expensive. But in recent years, in the last 15 years that’s really changed. So in branding Graphos we decided we were going to have a very wide color palette. We keep adding to that. We keep coming up with colors that just expand while staying within kind of a fixed grouping so that it’s not entirely wide open.

Laurier: We really don’t have color limitations so we really leverage that when it comes to marketing brands, when we’re promoting brands. We really try to use color to the fullest and I think being an old guy, knowing a lot about color psychology is something that really helps because that’s something I don’t think people pay as much attention to anymore as they used to or as they should. We really need to think about how every color that we’re throwing at our client makes a difference psychologically to them. It’s not just what looks pretty and what looks good with the product and what looks good in certain environments. Those things are really important but balancing that with the actual psychological effect of each color that you’re adding to the mix is really important.

Bryn: Okay, well I’m already pumped up based on what we’ve talked about here and I can hardly wait for our second podcast which will be, help me with this one.

Laurier: Obsession Branding.

Bryn: Okay. I have no idea what that is and I can hardly wait to find out, so stay tuned. More coming. That’s it for Episode One of Product: Knowledge. Thanks to Laurier Mandin and also Andreas Schwabe for dropping by. Now we’d like to hear from you. Subscribe, like, or leave a review to the podcast or share it. Graphos is on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, @GraphosCanada. It really does help others find us. Thanks for listening to Product Knowledge. Also, check out our website at Thanks for listening to Product: Knowledge. Talk to you next time.