Great products that failed because of poor marketing

Yesterday we used Snapchat, Instagram and Candy Crush as three examples of apps that were just as much about great marketing as they are great products. The implication being that there are many good products that failed because the marketing didn’t connect. Today we’ll present three examples of that.

Let’s start with a major product from a major brand that failed: Google Reader. True story — a year ago an excited friend pitched me that “Jeff, this a billion dollar idea. What if we could invent a way to keep track of websites, so you can get all the latest updates from the websites you follow all in one place?” LOL. That product exists of course; it’s called RSS and it’s already widely supported by our industry. Yet, very few outside the tech world know what it is; even when its leading product was from a titan like Google (Reader was shut down in June 2013).

My start-up, feecha, organizes content from websites, blogs, events databases, etc. into neighbourhoods so you can easily see what’s happening in the area you care about. Part of that is utilizing RSS feeds. When we contacted bloggers to get their permission to use their content, we were shocked to discover that most hadn’t even heard of RSS.

Has there been any product like Google Reader and RSS that added so much value yet remains largely unknown? Lack of awareness is a marketing issue, and one that the RSS community has yet to figure out.

poke-vs-snapchat3

Another major product from a major brand: Facebook Poke. Poke was a near copy of Snapchat and Poke actually had more features than Snapchat. Some publications like iMore argued it was just better:

Facebook blatantly ripped off Snapchat, but has the power of their huge social graph behind it, a better looking interface, and support for text messages. If you’re an iPhone only couple, Poke wins.

Yet, as we all know, Snapchat won. Why? Two reasons. First, Facebook didn’t leverage it’s huge installed base to market Poke; it relied on organic word-of-mouth. Big mistake. The people who heard about Poke are the people who read tech blogs; they’re not the teens that Snapchat deliberately targeted and marketed to. The former aren’t as interested in ephemeral messaging as the latter, and Poke never extended beyond the adult Technorati. Second, the Facebook brand is associated with permanence and public record, brand values which are antagonistic to ephemeral communication. The Facebook association worked against Poke.

Despite being an equivalent if not better product, Facebook Poke lost and that’s largely thanks to a worse go-to-market strategy.

The last example is definitive: Firefox. Internet Explorer is a lot better now, but back in the 6, 7 and maybe even 8 days, few would argue Internet Explorer was superior to Firefox. Yet, Firefox could never break Internet Explorer’s stranglehold and a large part of that was due to awareness and distribution.

Look at Chrome as the counter example, now arguably the most popular browser across PCs, tablets and phones. Chrome was able to make inroads against Internet Explorer where Firefox couldn’t because of awareness and distribution; because of that link on google.com that encouraged Google’s vast audience to try a faster way to browse.

It was again marketing that made the difference.

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