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Marketing Without Marketing

Rather than spending money to snag new customers, lavish some love on your current ones.
Jason Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals. Basecamp, Highrise, Ba

Jason Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals.

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I love selling. But I’ve always been suspicious of marketing, at least the way it seems to be practiced by most companies. It seems to me that a lot of marketing is often deployed to cover up a product’s deficiencies rather than point out what makes it great, to confuse as much as to illuminate.

So there is no marketing department or chief marketing officer at 37signals. Instead, we behave as if everything we do is marketing. Customer service is marketing. So is product quality. The phrasing of that error message, what you call that button, how you greet your customers--it’s all marketing. And so far, so good: Our flagship product, Basecamp, has earned the business of tens of thousands of businesses almost entirely on the basis of word of mouth.

But I’ve recently begun wondering: What would our business be like if we put some effort into formal marketing? How many more people could we reach? How many more Basecamps could we sell if far more people know about Basecamp? So we decided to talk to some marketing execs about what they would do if they were charged with spreading the word about Basecamp.

It was an interesting exercise. Not because we hired someone. We didn’t. But I learned a lot about marketing in the process.

When I hire a designer or a programmer or an office administrator, I know what I’m getting. But marketing is different. The very definition of the term changes depending on whom you’re talking to. To some, it’s all about search-engine optimization. To others, marketing means advertising. This one speaks in terms of public relations. That one approaches marketing through the lens of analytics.

But what was interesting to me was that no matter the specific orientation, every marketer we met with was focused on one thing: customer acquisition. To the marketers--to most people, I guess--the goal of marketing is to expand your market by picking up business that you didn’t have from people you didn’t know.

I understand that. You market to increase awareness, attract customers, and spark sales. It makes perfect sense.

But the more I spoke with all of these talented and passionate marketers, the more I realized that I wasn’t interested in what they had to offer. In fact, I found myself thinking less about new customers than about our existing ones.

So we made a decision: 37signals will begin spending money on marketing. But rather than targeting new customers, we’re going to focus our energy and resources on helping current customers get more out of the Basecamp they have.

You’re probably thinking, Say what? If you already made the sale, why bother selling it again?

That’s the thing. If my crash course in marketing taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to market to boost sales in the short term. Instead, our marketing efforts will be about expanding our current customers’ awareness of what’s possible with our product. I want today’s customers to know more about how Basecamp can help turn them into heroes of progress at work.

The way I see it, I can spend a lot of time and money trying to persuade a bunch of newcomers to try Basecamp. Or I can spend a lot less effort helping current customers get more out of something they’ve already purchased and enjoy using. As I said at the outset, sales take care of themselves when you put out a great product and treat your customers with the ultimate respect.

Or, to put it another way: If you take care of your existing customers, they will take care of your new customers.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
From the Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 issue of Inc. magazine




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