Why is it a myth that good products sell themselves?

People often say that good products need no marketing because they “sell themselves”. This is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted conceptions, because it is simply not true. It is nothing more than a myth.

Even if we ignore the definition of the word “marketing” and look at the expression itself, it makes very little sense. After all, products cannot ask purchasers and consumers for opinions, they cannot explain their own benefits, and even the packaging has to be designed and “put on” by someone else. Joking aside, however, there are a couple of valid questions: a) what is a good product? and b) are there any examples of products that became successful without marketing? When answering these questions, people often mention extremely innovative products or apps that are free to download, which are regarded as technological advances rather than commercial goods.

One of the most frequently cited examples is Instagram. This is particularly interesting because Kevin Systrom himself (co-founder of Instagram) is credited with the phrase, “Great products sell themselves”.1 What he probably meant was that great products can be understood at once, and their value is easy to communicate. What he probably did not mean was that communication and marketing are not needed at all.

As if further proof were needed, even Instagram has its own brand marketing director.2 (Why would any company employ a director for something unnecessary?) Let us return, however, to the business aspect. Kevin Systrom’s product was the Instagram software, but for its first two years, before it was bought by Facebook, it generated no income at all. There were no “sales”. Revenues started to come in when Facebook launched paid advertising on Instagram in 2013.3 But even here, consumers were not buying Instagram, but its advertising services. And the advertising services did not sell themselves either, because reaching that stage required a lot of work from a lot of people, and a lot of invested money. The “sale” of the Instagram software, meanwhile, was its purchase by Facebook. But even this did not happen by itself. It involved lots of people again, working to define who the software is for, who the target market is, and how to motivate potential customers to enter into a contract of sale for the product (the software).

The iPhone is also often given as an example of a product that “sold itself”. Let us simply say, in response, that between 2009 and 2013, iPhone’s media expenditure exceeded 1 billion dollars.4 And it is worth noting that Apple’s work and costs, like those of most companies, began long before the new products were launched.

In conclusion, marketing is everywhere, and is an integral part of the product. Even if the role played by marketing is not always clear, every product is aimed at a particular group of consumers, whose needs have to be taken into consideration. This is the essential function of marketing.

1SelfMadeSuccess, http://selfmadesuccess.com/great-products-sell-kevin-systrom/, Accessed: 22 October 2019

2Crunchbase, https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/instagram/current_employees/current_employees_image_list, Accessed: 22 October 2019

3Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/030915/how-instagram-makes-money.asp, Accessed: 22 October 2019

4AdAge, https://adage.com/article/media/a-history-apple-s-product-launch-marketing/294843, Accessed: 22 October 2019