The Best Kind of Marketing

August 19, 2008 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
Why is it that some brands flourish without the benefit of a concerted advertising effort, while others loaf along supported by millions in ad spend? Household brand names like Harley-Davidsonand Starbucks don’t seem to require much paid propagation. And when was the last time you saw an ad for Whole Foods, Google,Guinness, REI, Oakley or Tabasco, for that matter? I could go on. Certainly, each of these companies spends money on advertising. But their ad spend is a pittance compared to their category competitors. I haven’t done the research, but I’d bet one of my dogs (the one that barks a lot) that these companies outperform their respective categories with respect to pricing and margins, too. So why is that?

Type the phrase “word of mouth” into Amazon’s search bar, and literally hundreds of titles pop up. While there’s true marketing wisdom to be found in these tomes, the bottom line is that some companies simply understand from the jump that the very best marketing is a really great product. But the inverse is not at all true. The best products are not the result of really great marketing. In fact, the old advertising adage points to this: The best way to kill a bad product is with great advertising. There’s no better way to ruin a company than to make customer promises through advertising that cannot be met.

On the contrary, brand satisfaction is created the minute a promise made becomes a promise kept. And brand enthusiasts—those evangelicals who spread the good word—are born when expectation is exceeded, and better yet, wildly so. Remember the lines at Krispy Kreme before the chain decided rampant growth and expansion was a good idea? And what about the way Red Bullcreated an entirely new category by promising energy in an 8-ounce can to young people, and then delivering on that promise? The company is a big advertiser today, but it certainly didn’t start life that way.

As ad professionals, we love to get the credit in the good times, but none of us should ever underestimate the power of a great product to sell itself through word of mouth. Great products put the teeth in word of mouth.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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