The Product *Is* The Marketing

Philip Morgan

Yesterday very generously delivered a small breakthrough in understanding what I find so interesting about "streamers".

By "streamers", I mean people who are earning money from some kind of audience on Twitch and other platforms.

The insight is small, but deeply fascinating: with streamers, the product is the marketing.

(Audio version of this email: /consulting-pipeline-podcast/cpp-141-the-product-is-the-marketing/)

(Livestreamed version of this email\0x10:

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With my clients, marketing is this extra burden. It's this other business function that requires work, learning, investment, and discipline. It's this extra job above and beyond service delivery, there's nobody to delegate it to, and even if there was it would be a multi-year apprenticeship rather than a simple task delegation.

But what if it wasn't? What if it wasn't an extra job; what if it was bundled with the service delivery? What if the service delivery itself was the marketing?

If that could be done, then marketing wouldn't be this extra job. It would be a by-product of service delivery itself.

Some of you are saying, "Congratulations Philip. You've invented the feast-famine cycle. Thinking that just doing good work would get me a stable flow of opportunity is what led me to my last feast-famine cycle, and by the way aren't you always going on about the necessity of marketing your business?" Y'all are not wrong, but I'm not trying to say that you are. I'm exploring an idea I've long found compelling: 1+1=3 style bundling.

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Back to the streamers.

The more sophisticated ones operate using what we could think of as a freemium model. The same one that lots of iOS and Mac apps use: free version does a lot of useful stuff; upgrade is in-app, and payment is collected via a subscription more often than a 1-time payment.

Both freemium apps and streamers have to do some "marketing". Apps need at least a simple 1-page site that describes the app, and maybe makes a case for its value. Apps need to do what they can to optimize their App Store listing. For their marketing, Twitch streamers often invest in logos or on-screen graphics or professional equipment in order stand out in the Twitch listing for their category.

However to a striking degree, for both freemium apps and streamers, the product is the marketing. The mechanism by which a free user becomes a paying customer is their experience of the app or their experience of the streamer. They get to experience a useful version of the thing for free, and payment unlocks an expanded version of that same experience.

Services, on the other hand, are delivered secretly. Often that's by design, sometimes it's just because that's what's normal.

If you started coughing up blood, how eager would you be to livestream the doctor's appointment where the doc delivers your diagnosis? What if it's something really terrible, like cancer? Of course you want a context of secrecy surrounding that experience!

We try to compensate for the delivery of services in secret by publishing case studies, testimonials, and other post-hoc artifacts that come from successful engagements. You don't see any of that with streamers, aside from archived video of their stream or short clips of peak moments from a longer stream.

The other thing we often do to compensate for the secret nature of service delivery is to convert the expertise that comes from the service delivery into two forms of content marketing:

  1. Demonstrations of expertise
  2. Thought leadership

Explained simply, demonstrations of expertise are using content (writing, speaking, teaching, etc.) to demonstrate that you know how to do something. Thought leadership looks more like helping others understand how to think about something, or simply telling them what to think.

All of these -- the case studies, the testimonials, and the content marketing -- are post-hoc artifacts. They aren't the service delivery itself. And producing them is a second job above and beyond the service delivery itself.

How, with delivery of professional services, could the "product" -- the service delivery itself -- also be the marketing?

Everything I think of in response to this question sounds utterly ridiculous. Stuff like:

  • Livestream the key moments of a client engagement (live-streaming not because anyone would want to consume the video realtime, but because it signals a lack of editing and therefore the presence of an unvarnished truth)
  • Record and publish the end-of-project meeting where both what went well and what could have been improved are discussed with a high degree of candor.

Again, I know that stuff sounds completely ridiculous. I can't imagine anyone on either the consultant or client side wanting to do things this way.

And even if we did want to do things this way, there would be additional challenges. Project delivery exists within a context, and some decisions and approaches only make sense within that specific context. The post-hoc nature of content marketing entails extra work for us, but it also allows us to move our expertise out of the specific context of a single client and into the more broadly-experienced context of the market we serve or a specific market segment/buyer persona. Content marketing lets us make our expertise more broadly useful.

Again, I'm not arguing for livestreaming all the things. But there is something compelling about how streamers collapse marketing into "service delivery", and I keep wondering what we indie consultants can learn from that.

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I have been successful with this collapsing/bundling in other areas.

I advocate high frequency publication because it bundles the cultivation of expertise with marketing in a productive way. The "Grazing -> Cowpaths -> Roads" email is a recent elaboration of this.

I rarely quote myself (I mostly repeat myself in dozens of slightly-varying ways :) ), but a quote from that Cowpaths email will help here:

I am explicitly recommending that folks in TEI act like cows. Just graze semi-randomly all over the field of your interest, and as you do, you'll return again and again to certain areas. Your hooves will wear cowpaths into the field.

Those cowpaths are the topics you are truly interested in, and those topics become an armature around which you cultivate points of view and rare, valuable expertise. The cowpaths become roads.

In TEI you are not just writing, you are publishing. There's a world of difference between the two.

Publishing lets others see you -- see your writing and thinking -- and lets them react to it. If you publish via email list, the reactions take the form of a reply, which converts your broadcast into a 1:1 conversation that can be quite intimate.

As a result, the audience of your email list can participate in creating cowpaths with you. If you care about serving them, you'll use their replies to try to see them; to try to empathize with their confusion or pain or longing for something better. These replies will generate information that pulls you here or there in your wanderings over the field of topics you could write about.

When you publish instead of merely writing, you serve your audience by finding areas of shared interest; things you care about -- grass that you find intellectually nourishing and delicious -- that they also care about. You create cowpaths in or closer to these areas of shared concern.

Publishing at high frequency bundles the cultivation of expertise with something you should already be doing: marketing. This approach on its own is not enough to cultivate valuable expertise. You still need to be doing client work or primary research (ideally both) to ground your thinking in reality. Still, the frequent publication is one hell of an accelerant for your thinking, and if that publication is the only real marketing you do, it can be really effective marketing.

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And then there's this...


A brief cruise through the replies shows @SuMastadon getting pretty roundly excoriated, but his take and the responses raise an interesting question: What role does entertainment play in serious business stuff, and marketing serious business services?

In my email marketing, I've long been willing to ship a message about business wrapped inside what are sometimes completely silly stories. Maybe the lowered guard that follows a laugh is a good pathway to a changed mindset?

This leads us to Matt Levine. I don't know to what extent he's considered a "serious" source of information on financial markets. I'm not sure that analyst is the genre he's playing in anyway. He's more like a commentator with an analytical streak.

Either way, his tweets. His Tweets!! They're this dada-ish gateway into his entertaining but substantive commentary on financial markets.

I don't know where he gets the found-object raw material that he converts into fantastical statements about himself and his newsletter, but the effect is very nice. It's the same kind of "humor value chain" than Sarah Cooper is operating within: "found object" put into a different context that makes it more funny. Artists have been doing this context hacking for quite a while:

This content/context thing is interesting. With Sarah Cooper, it's taking the content of a dimwitted narcissist being treated like an intelligent President and putting it in the context of a talented comedian's usage of movement and facial expressions and visual gags. With Matt Levine, it's taking the content of financial markets and the complexities thereof and putting those in the context of pattern matching with a humorous twist ("everything is securities fraud") and an ability to notice and focus on the way that money makes people crazy or crazy people make money.

With Ben Thompson, it's taking the content of serious analysis of the tech world and putting it in the context of a low-priced D2C subscription model. I have to wonder if that's what @SuMastadon is really reacting against (every person he named in his tweet makes use of mass media or D2C distribution). I don't know the dude so I can't say, but it's a common pattern! "That can't be serious content because it's in $CONTEXT."

Dismissing contexts out of hand because they're not "serious" contexts for business content strikes me as a serious error.[1]

Further, I think the content/context thing is interesting because a fair number of my clients are more like Innovators than Opinion Leaders. They need to find ways to "distribute" innovative ideas to their market, and putting the content of an innovative idea in an unexpected context is a potential distribution channel for innovation because, I suspect, that early adopters are more open to the future value of what's happening in these "non-business-ey" contexts, and Innovators rely on those early adopters for the "distribution" needed to get their ideas to market.

To swing this around to the opening point: @SuMastadon is criticizing Ben Thompson, and Thompson's Stratechery publication is a great example of "the product is the marketing". Ben sends 1 free email and 3 paid emails/week, and the free email is the same quality, same thinking, and same feel as the paid emails. The free emails are a useful thing on their own, but they become even more useful when you upgrade because you get more context and more "coverage" of the topic Ben is focused on.

Stratechery is more product-like than service-like but -- as with streamers -- it's an example that gets us thinking about exploring the edges; the open countryside of thought rather than the crowded, noisy downtown of thinking.

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1: I say that dismissing certain contexts out of hand is an error because it's an error I have made, and continue to make, a lot. I use the Internet all the time, and I still make the error of underestimating the importance of virtual/digital. E-sports has been a recent example for me. My default thinking goes: "if there's both a real and a virtual/digital version of something, of course the market is going to prefer the real version!" That's narrow thinking. It suggests that what's "real" about sports is -- to take auto racing as an example -- the physicality of the car and the track. What if what's "real" about auto racing is the strategy of positioning your vehicle in a certain way or how you react to a fast-moving, ever-changing context? Well, then both the physical and virtual versions are "real"!

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