Tech Companies Take Notice Of The Importance Of Marketing

Audie Cornish explores how marketing has been overlooked in technology. She speaks with Nancy Koehn, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and Alex Kantrowitz of Ad Age.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

What we just heard from Laura Sydell has deep roots in the culture of tech companies.

ALEX KANTROWITZ: There is this sort of tech myth, which is that it's product, product, product, and marketing doesn't matter.

CORNISH: That's Alex Kantrowitz, a writer for Ad Age.

KANTROWITZ: And even to friends who are working on startups - I always ask them, hey, what's your marketing strategy? And they're like, we don't have one. It's sort of cool in Silicon Valley and in the tech world to think that your product will soar if you don't market it, but in reality, it's just not the case.

NANCY KOEHN: The testosterone of Silicon Valley is not primarily a hormone of empathy and outreach.

CORNISH: That's Nancy Koehn of Harvard Business School. She's says, too often, the male-dominated tech industry assumes the consumer will follow its lead.

KOEHN: A lot of the inventors and the technology experts in these creative firms presume that what they've invented is something that the consumer couldn't even have dreamed of and that they know best about that.

CORNISH: But knowing best doesn't always translate to selling best. As it turns out, some of the most popular products aren't the best. They rose to the top because of marketing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEATS HEADPHONES COMMERCIAL)

ALOE BLACC: (Singing) I'm the man.

CORNISH: Case in point - Beats headphones.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEATS HEADPHONES COMMERCIAL)

DR. DRE: Hey, LeBron. How do you think we should promote these Power Beats?

LEBRON JAMES: You know what? I was thinking about a press conference.

AFFION CROCKETT: Press conference? No, no, no. You will never, ever do another press conference. Man, if I was you, I wouldn't even press my shirt.

CORNISH: That ad, says Alex Kantrowitz, shows the power of celebrity endorsement in marketing.

KANTROWITZ: Beats - even though their headphones aren't as good as the other competitors', they actually ended up making a big cut into the market and beating out a lot of products that were probably better.

CORNISH: And sometimes, marking makes the difference between one technology becoming dominant, while others dwindle or die. Nancy Koehn takes us back more than a century with the triumph of the internal combustion engine.

KOEHN: And really that means the triumph of the Model T car over electric cars, steam powered cars and even some other technologies.

CORNISH: Those other technologies were popular.

KOEHN: And then, in 1908, Henry Ford comes out with the Model T, you know, with no options and no choice and yet, brilliantly marketed in terms of its pricing - Ford wanted to create a mass-market so every American family could have a car - brilliantly marketed in terms of Henry Ford as literally this entrepreneuring American who became one of the most famous people the early 20th century. And so a lot of the reason that Americans bought Model Ts was Henry Ford told them to, and they found him very appealing. And he kept lowering the price. So he and his insight about the consumer created the American car market based on a technology that, at the beginning of the game, at the beginning of the story in 1908, should not necessarily have triumphed.

CORNISH: That's Nancy Koehn of Harvard Business School. We also heard from Alex Kantrowitz of Ad Age.

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