Marketing won’t save your side projects

Are you replying on hype to save poorly thought-out creative work?

Marketing won’t save your side projects
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Are you replying on hype to save poorly thought-out creative work?

The original Jurassic Park film came out in 1993, and sadly I’m old enough to remember. Actually I read the book too, which was just as good.
It was groundbreaking yes, but underneath all the movie effects was a story. A story about chaos and (expensive) disaster.
In the film, the park founder, John Hammond, claims to “spare no expense” to create the ultimate dinosaur experience. His vision was bold, he built his dream, and then went to town on marketing. The hype was as real as the dinosaurs.
But this was a disaster movie of course. As soon as experts were invited to test out his 90% complete mega-project, fundamental flaws quickly became apparent. A lack of market awareness, poor user testing, underestimated risks, and planning oversights all lead to catastrophic failure.
Hammond was blinded by wanting to be famous with a glorious product. This led him to ignore its shortcomings.
He wouldn’t listen to concerns or see the glitches. He believed so strongly in his gut instinct he dismissed the results of user-testing.
This is a common pitfall for many entrepreneurs and decision-makers . Too often they rely solely on personal intuition rather than considering objective data or feedback from users.
At the park, chaos ensued, and the project became a disaster rather than an overnight success. Great as a story, not as a project.
A grand vision was quickly reduced to a catastrophic failure. Hammond didn’t expect his marketing hype (and personal brand) to be rendered useless by his misguided intuition. Instead, he exposed poor planning and flaws in execution.
“Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” — Dr. Ian Malcolm
(I love this quote, but it was actually from the sequel The Lost World. You get the point though.)
The lesson is clear to all creators (not just entrepreneurs with grand visions) . Marketing will not make up for flaws in your core concept, or your execution.
Creative output (be it side projects or startups) will fail if you prioritise the end marketing over some up-front, user-based groundwork.
In short, don’t get carried away and just create whatever your gut tells you to, in a vacuum. Try to understand the audience too, and don’t try to create something overly grand from day 1. Make it manageable.
Falling victim to the hype surrounding your own creation happens all too easily. The drive and passion that fuels ambitious projects can inadvertently blind creators to potential shortcomings.

Marketing will only amplify a decent product.

You don’t even have to wait until you’ve built it. Having an iterative process will help you refine your vision, and address any issues before launch.
That means testing the waters with experiments, developing prototypes, running beta tests. You could consider building in public — you might find you market the product whilst listening to potential users.

Ultimately you want to gather insights and feedback.

Consistently gathering user insights allows you to course-correct before straying too far off track.
Acting on feedback means you’re on the right track, grounded in actual user needs, and (hopefully) with ironed-out flaws.
Once you have a solid feeling you’ve created something robust, or you’re ready to launch, scale up your marketing.
Of course, there’s also a middle ground between overconfidence and perpetual second-guessing. Having confidence in your creative vision is necessary, but should be balanced with openness to constructive criticism.
If you dismiss all external input as naysaying, and you risk steaming ahead with blinders on. But constantly seeking validation at the expense of trusting your own instincts, means you’ll struggle to make headway.
The key is being ruthlessly self-aware about your biases while relying on a ‘test’ audience to keep you honest. Market to an engaged community that wants you to succeed, without trying to dazzle a crowd with a shiny object.
This balanced approach will ensure that your side project is not only marketable but also sustainable, and capable of delivering some value. Seems obvious when you say it like that, but so often it’s ignored.
One common mistake is to rely heavily on marketing metrics without evaluating product feedback thoroughly. Metrics can give you numbers, but user feedback provides insight and direction for improvements.
I’ve launched many side projects since 2009, and many of them have failed for exactly some of the reason I’ve mention, although not quite as spectacularly.
So what about you? Have you ever launched a project that you struggled to market? Could it have been down to a flawed concept? Share your stories and any insights in the comments below.

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