Why Your Product Won’t Sell Itself


You’ve built a great product. Now all that’s left to do is wait for customers to find you! Right?

Er, not quite - 90% of all startup businesses fail, and the most common reason (42% - nearly half!) is because there's no need for them in the market.


So what makes a product successful?

Well, it’s not just one thing. Some of the factors include knowing the market, great user experience, customer service, community building, political influences, etc. Generally, it can be broken down into categories: product, marketing and external factors.

The product category is about knowing and building for the market. Solving what the product sets out to solve, great user experience, low switching costs and product differentiation are also some of the factors that fall under this category.

Marketing factors include inbound tactics such as social media, community building, landing pages, user experience, customer service, beta-testing, etc. It also includes outbound tactics such as coupons, ad placements, sponsored posts, etc.

(As you can see, there is some overlap between the product and marketing categories and they are not that distinct.)


External factors include factors that are beyond your control such as competition, social changes, political influences, weather, economy and changes in customer tastes. Even though you have no control over these factors, they can significantly influence your product’s success or failure. External factors that ARE in your control include hiring the right talent (and firing the toxic ones), reputation (you can’t control what people say about you but you can act in a way that people say good things), not misjudging enthusiasm for potentially paying customers, and achieving product-market fit.

The goal is to achieve product market fit and the sweet spot lies at the intersection of these three categories.


A great example of this sweet spot in action is fashion-tech brand Uniqlo’s global image campaign. The campaign was activated in 100 physical as well as online locations and used fast-moving images with unique product codes on billboards. Viewers could use their phones to take an image of the product code and upload it to the campaign website. This made them eligible for a sample from Uniqlo’s HEATTECH clothing line. The campaign reached over four million people and resulted in 35,000 new customers. This was a combination of a solid product (Product), great engaging campaign (Marketing), and leveraging the fashion technology trend (External).


What draws attention to a product?

Jonah Berger’s Contagious, breaks down the six keys to what people remember and talk about. It follows the acronym STEPPS.

Social Currency: How does it make people look to talk about your product? Can they feel like insiders or VIPs? This is crucial to make users feel special so they keep coming back.

Triggers: These include the stimuli that prompt people to think about you.

This can be further broken down into,

Opportunistic triggers: What is going on in the world that you can attach yourself to, to leverage word-of-mouth? (ideas, memes, current events, etc.)

Everyday triggers: What are the little environmental reminders that people do every day that will keep you top of mind?

Competitive triggers: How can you make a rival’s message act as a trigger for your own? This is called a “poison parasite” because it renders the competition's message a trigger to think of you.

Emotions: This is how your content stimulates states of high emotional arousal in people. High arousal emotions include awe, excitement, humour, joy, love, anger, and anxiety. Rather than harping on features or facts, the focus needs to be on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action. A good rule is to follow the “Three Whys”. To find the emotional core of an idea, write down why you think people are doing something then ask “why is this important” three times till you come to a final answer.


Public: This focuses on visibility. Can people see when others are using or engaging with you? (beyond Facebook shares). For example, Apple’s white headphones created a public statement of the private act of listening to music on a personal listening device.

Practical Value: The focus is on how your product or service drastically improves people’s lives. At the end of that day, your product should solve a problem and fulfill a need. If that isn’t the case, there is no point in building the product much less drawing attention to it.

Stories: People share stories and not information. Here, you need to make sure the information you want people to remember and transmit is critical to the narrative of your story. Create stories for your customer and pay attention to the little touches that are worth talking about.

Finally, marketing, product, and external factors are not isolated. Their functions crossover and work in tandem to make for a successful product. There are millions of businesses making products and services. So you need to give people a reason to not only choose you but want to spread the word so that others choose you too. And for that, you need a strategy.