The Most Important Part of Marketing


“When the product is right, you don’t have to be a great marketer.” – Lee Iacocca

There are endless debates – and numerous formulas – designed to tell us which parts of marketing are most important. By “most important,” I mean which parts have the greatest effect on sales.

I have my own opinion about the most important part of marketing, and it may surprise you.

To begin with, it’s not the list of names you mail to, as so many experts claim.

The list is vitally important. But there are plenty of lists you can rent – and through testing, you can determine which will work for you.

Having your own list – your house file – is also crucial. But with patience, money, and effort, you can build a respectable house list – especially online, where it costs less than offline.

Lots of people say the most important part of marketing is the offer.

The offer can make a huge difference in response rates. But, like lists, there are a finite number of offer options. And once you test them, you know which offer works best for you.

As you’ve probably guessed, copy is important – but not the most important element in marketing.

SUGGESTED: #1 Step in Marketing

Unlike lists and offers, which are finite, the copy variations that can be written for a promotion are virtually limitless. However, copy’s ability to lift response is somewhat limited. New copy can beat the control by 25 percent… 50 percent… even 100 percent. But rarely much more than that.

Changes in graphics can lift response even less than copy can, in most cases, so design is clearly not the most important part of marketing.

So what’s left?

Price is pretty important, but it’s not the #1 factor determining marketing success. Price is really part of the offer. And, like the list and the offer, the optimal price can quickly be determined through testing.

Is distribution the missing key? For 80 percent of businesses, distribution is fairly straightforward: Get an order, ship it out. Or invite people to your store or showroom. In some product categories (e.g., those sold through dealers, reps, or agents), distribution channels are trickier. But those situations are the exception, not the rule.

So what’s the most important part of marketing?

It’s the product.

By that, I don’t mean the physical product. I mean what the product can do for the customer. The benefits it delivers… the functions it performs… the problems it solves… the needs it fills.

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Are you offering your customers something they truly want or need? And is it an urgently felt need, rather than one that isn’t very important or immediate?

Do the people in your market niche desire or require what you are selling?

Will buying it make a huge improvement in the quality of their lives?

If the answer is yes, your marketing will be fairly successful – even if the price, offer, list, copy, and graphics are not perfect.

On the other hand, what if you have not found a great product that meets your prospect’s urgent needs or solves her most pressing problems? Then she will not buy, no matter how persuasive the copy, eye-catching the graphics, appealing the offer, or reasonable the price.

There is an old saying in marketing: A great product will sell even if the promotion is poor, but a great promotion cannot sell a bad product. It isn’t always true, but the fact remains that the most important factor in marketing is whether your product is a good fit with the needs, concerns, and desires of your customers.

How do you know what those customers really want?

Madison Avenue advertising agencies and packaged goods marketers would answer: market research.

Direct marketers would answer: testing.

Still, no matter how much research you do – or how well you know your target market – deciding what products to offer them largely comes down to guesswork. When you guess correctly, the promotions for those products are a smash success, with the orders – and money – flying like snow.

That happens a lot, thank goodness.

But when you guess wrong, you end up offering your customers something they don’t want or need – and have little interest in. Your marketing campaign, no matter how brilliant, does not move them to buy. And that week, the phones don’t ring and your online shopping cart software reports few orders.

So what should you do?

My best advice is for you to continually plan and test new products. Spend a lot of time thinking about and talking to your customers. Ask them what they want, need, hope, dream, fear, and desire. Then find or create products that address those wants, needs, hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.

Offer these new products to your customers in limited marketing tests conducted at a reasonable cost. Then analyze the results. Keep promoting your winners – and cut your losses on the losers early.

By the way, one of the biggest marketing mistakes is to do the opposite: Pour good money after bad in a desperate attempt to get your prospects to buy a product you think they should want.

Your customers know far better than you what they are interested in – and what they are indifferent to. Just listen to them, and you’ll make a handsome living. If you argue with them… and offer them what you think they should buy, instead of what they want to buy… you’ll soon be out of business.


Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.