Just over twenty-one years ago, several students gathered in a friend’s garage to incorporate their nascent search technology project. No human had yet uttered the phrase “google it.” And it was only fifteen years ago that a kid at Harvard launched “thefacebook.com” to help fellow students build their friendship network.

It’s amazing to consider how communication has changed in such a short time. The rise of social media, bloggers, SEO, mobile devices … it’s all happened within the lifetime of the typical high school senior. Because of the rapid pace of change, the marketing world has been caught up in what you might call “shiny object syndrome.”

Ten years ago it was all about SEO, AdWords, and display. Then it was “going viral” on social. That led to more emphasis on content marketing and CRM. Then, as social networks began limiting reach, the focus moved to influencers, and now “micro-influencers.” And let’s not forget that the more traditional media channels are still out there raking in billions from brands who swear by them.

Cutting through the clutter

The number of platforms can be overwhelming, and even with all the analytics available today, ROI is difficult to predict without a large and consistent ad spend. Most businesses remain in the dark about how to spend wisely.

You need to clearly stand for something, and the ethos of your brand should permeate through every customer touchpoint.

One compelling solution to this problem goes something like this: stop worrying about marketing at all, and pour your resources into creating a meaningful brand, better product, and memorable experience. In other words, focus on delighting your customers and let them do your marketing for you.

There is much wisdom in this. Given the choice between a million-dollar campaign and a couple hundred passionate fans, I’d take the latter every time. People don’t rush out to buy your product because of an ad. But they’re likely to buy it on the recommendation of a good friend. Loyal fans will be customers for years, and recruit more in the process.

In today’s crowded and fragmented marketplace, it has become increasingly important to offer a strong and distinctive brand experience. You need to clearly stand for something, and the ethos of your brand should permeate through every customer touchpoint. Moreover, don’t try to be all things to all people. Be everything to a small group of people. Build your success on a niche audience, then find opportunities to expand.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. Be everything to a small group of people.

It’s both/and

But I have to offer one caveat to this otherwise sound advice. Rather than thinking of your brand, product, and experience as a replacement for marketing, think of them as the first steps to take before marketing. To it put another way, make sure you have something exciting to talk about before you go promoting it. At Polymath, we pride ourselves on strong storytelling and strategy. But even good marketing cannot save you from a bad product. On the flip side, a great product is very easy to market.

So, yes, focus on creating something that’s truly worthwhile and find the audience that loves what you are doing. Then market the heck out of it with a targeted strategy that gets their attention and builds the relationship.