A journalist asked me an intriguing question the other day and the more I thought about it the more I felt compelled to add these thoughts.

The question, two-part really, was – can a bad product do well with good marketing and, the flip side, can a good product survive with bad marketing.

There was a time when, indeed, a not so great product could do well with superior marketing while the better mousetrap languished due to lackluster marketing.

I do believe that, to a degree, the Internet has turned the tables on this notion. Social media, user generated content, and rating and review sites have made it much easier for word of a good or bad product to spread and take on a marketing life of its own.

However, the thing that always seems to ignite word-of-mouth is a good product or service, coupled with a great experience. A great product teamed with a fun, glamorous, or entertaining experience can overcome many a marketing faux pas.

An inferior product, armed with a super bowl ad, wrapped in a boring, irksome and friction laden experience is generally doomed to fail.

And one last categorization – an okay product or service partnered with an above average process and experience will beat out its nearest competitors.

It’s okay to try and build a better mousetrap, but the sure money is on a better mousetrap experience.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • John,

    First things first, love your blog, site, & podcasts!

    A bad product will not last very long any more. This social revolution is quickly weeding out those “bad” products and/or services.

    Small business owners need to quickly tune into how social media operates on the web, they may not need to become social media expert, but at least at a bare minimum do some brand management.

    User reviews and ratings are so accessible for anyone to contribute online and they can quickly kill your business if you are not on top of your feedback.

    I see these ratings and reviews as a blessing in the sky, they can help all businesses improve.


    What might make a good post is how to handle poor reviews and ratings online…? If your company gets them.

  • Thanks John, great post. Years ago when I was a professional “expert,” VP at Creative Strategies, I followed the early personal computer software market. We’re talking early 1980s here, so maybe too long ago to matter.

    But I was fascinated by this same question and followed the early winners including Microsoft, Lotus 1-2-3, and Quarterdeck; plus early losers too, software nobody’s ever heard of anymore, but was in many cases technically better (IMO) than the winners.

    I concluded that if you were to choose between a mediocre product with great marketing, or a great product with mediocre marketing, the one with the great marketing would be more likely to win. That’s always made me sad because I’m a software person, I’d like to see the best product win. And at least in that particular microcosm, back then, the best marketing was much more likely.

    A few years later I was sharing a podium in an event, early 1990s, with somebody who had a business case to show that in light beers, the better marketing crushed the better product. That seemed like the same thing again.

    These are just two cases, one I knew intimately and one I got second hand, but I don’t like the conclusion of either.

    I’m really glad you brought this up!


  • Thoughtful post and the right conversation many businesses need to have inside their house.

    In general, we expect a quality product, we talk about a great experience.

    Thanks for stirring up my thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday!

    Keep creating…a brand worth raving about,

  • This is a wonderfully thought provoking post much like the baseball question, does good pitching beat good hitting. The answer is sometimes.

    Online reviews ans social media have added a desperately needed marketing dimension. IMHO, not enough to overcome the herd effect.

    Wal-Mart and Bernie Madoff are examples of what good marketing can do for inferior or even non-existent products and services.

    Although I am a dedicated IBM clone user, Windows was not better than Apple, but won because of a better marketing. IBM said, “sure, clone our machines and pay the royalty” and Steve Jobs went the opposite direction to maintain complete control. Microsoft licensed their OS to everyone and made the partners in wealth. Steve Jobs went the opposite direction. Even now that Apple is running on Intel chips, they maintain their exclusivity, which I find befuddling.

    Too often, good products go the way of the Dodo.

  • John Jantsch

    @Tim – judging from your pictures, you can’t possibly be old enough to remember Quarterdeck, but yes maybe the better products will win, but then again, maybe it will end up be the better social media marketers.

  • @John, and judging from your comment, there must be more than one Quarterdeck at play, I’m talking about Quarterdeck Systems, Terry Myers, 1983 or so … and I turned 35 in 83, plenty old enough to remember. Although I guess I should settle for the not old enough interpretation and take a win where I can get it. Cheers! Is there a softer version of LOL, like maybe CQ (chuckling quiety)?

  • Hiya John! I really enjoyed this post of yours. Building a better mousetrap used to be the ultimate holy grail, but without the buying public being aware of the improved or radically new product one is doomed to failure. Marketing is where it is at, and that is why I like to frequent your blog. Good value marketed real well.

  • I am glad that you went over this important point. Marketing can only build enough momentum to topple the barrier, or reach the masses, if it has a foundation behind it. A product without supporting value will be attacked along the way, and there will too little support to come to its rescue. Your point about the okay product assisted by an enhanced experience is one worth keeping in mind, as the experience can continually be tailored for the desired audience.

  • Great post. Very timely as businesses struggle to reposition products, thin product lines, and find ways to maintain, or even gain, market share. I do believe good marketing can make a difference. I also agree that social media has changed the ‘playing field’ for all products and services – and rightly slow. Let the strong survive … whether strong marketing and/or strong product.

  • I’ve seen inferior products succeed in the short run off superior marketing efforts, but like you mentioned, with the internet, a bad experience will catch up with you quickly. This post made me think about Seth Godin’s book “Purple Cow”, where he talks about creating remarkable products and the product itself IS the marketing. The same internet forces that will catch up with a bad product can propel a remarkable product to the top. A marketing system can’t be ignored, but emphasis in creating a remarkable product AND user experience will go a long way to building a successful business.

  • I’d say that as long as your product isn’t horrendous and the experience you offer IS fantastic you’ll be sorted.. People will believe a product to be better than perhaps it is if the accompanying experience is a great and memorable one.
    That being said, however, in this day-and-age no one can afford to shirk on the quality of the product they provide.. people will find out, word will spread and your business will fail