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This is a topic that both my close friend and I have had quite a few debates on. His theory is that, very soon, all advertising will die. In the days of ‘Product becomes Marketing’, the time has gone when people bought bulls*it just because of great advertising and cool-looking ambassadors.
A great example to support this theory is Amazon. When Amazon came in, it fulfilled a distinct need that was very different from its competitors- they offered a wider range of goods to customers at a lower cost online. And the product supported the proposition – it had great user experience coupled with strong customer service and its customer base grew rapidly. During the initial days, there was very little in terms of advertising that Amazon actually did – their base grew mostly through word of mouth and limited marketing activities (most centered around strong SEO). They constantly improved their user experience, they used personalization to make relevant recommendations and a clear checkout process. The product was so solid, it filled a gap so big that people just thronged towards it.
So, if that’s the case, and Amazon could do it, is advertising even important? Or is it really a myth that companies spend millions on when they could really be spending that money on bettering their product?
While I agree that there is no replacement for a great product today, there are few things that only advertising can help you achieve:
Building Scale and Reach
Imagine if an AirBnb had waited for people to get to know the product and start using it. How long would it have taken? Would the reach and impact have been as great? The brand has revolutionised travel in a way that no other brand has. Advertising acts like a virtual trampoline that helps you reach a larger and more relevant audience – reach places that it’s hard and time consuming to get to organically.
Differentiating yourself in competitive categories
Imagine a bank trying to launch a new credit card. In a segment that is extremely competitive and saturated, where consumers are bombarded with choices and often the value proposition isn’t very different, the only differentiating factor is your advertising. You need to create something so aspirational in the advertising that people want it.
Building that brand
This is the most important for me – Advertising builds brands.
Why is that important?
It makes that product something tangible, more than just a website, more than just a service–makes it stand for values and qualities that people can relate to. A brand is almost like a person that you can connect to. And just like how your friends put up with you when you’re having a bad day, iconic brands use their relationships to retain customer loyalty. And this is crucial if you are in for the long haul as every brand is bound to go through ups and downs in terms of product and service.
You want your customer to stay. You want to be more than just a product.
In the end, I believe the Product is your reason to buy. But the Brand inspires you to buy. And Advertising is the path towards building that brand.
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