Can a business sell itself without marketing?

Young man on phone

The days of ‘a product so good it markets itself’ are gone. In a world where the most sought-after currency is not money but attention, passive selling is no longer an option for any organisation, big or small.


Don’t be fooled by the ease with which some businesses seem to attract customers. Take PayPal, for example. The organisation created a useful product and currently has a customer base of hundreds of millions of accounts, of which 179 million are active. In 2015, almost 5 billion e-commerce transactions occurred using PayPal.

Why would PayPal need to do any marketing? It is doing fine without it! Look behind the curtain of their success, however, and you’ll find that its growth is largely due to a carefully orchestrated drip-feed of marketing activities.


How a big business does it

Firstly, PayPal focused on relaying a simple message to a specific market so the purpose and benefit of its services are well-known and clear in the minds of the right people.

It also fostered referrals and consider them invaluable to its success. Early on it deposited $10 in new users’ PayPal accounts and gave existing account holders $10 for each new user they referred. PayPal also has a Merchant Referral Bonus Program that encourages users to refer new merchants.

PayPal also looked outside its core market of online shoppers. It widened its net to increase profitability by creating a special charity offer to win the trust and business of the large not-for-profit market.



is also an important factor in increasing customer recognition. Ever notice how every prompt for payment by a merchant that offers PayPal includes a big button with its logo on it? PayPal’s logo is prominent at every form of interaction customers may have with it. Imagine being on that many e-commerce web pages for free!

If a big company with a huge online presence needs marketing to survive, of course it is vital for small businesses.


The product won’t sell itself

Your business needs to abandon the strategy of ‘I’ll build it and they will come’. A business cannot simply create a website with ‘About Us’ and a few sales pitches and expect web visitors to flock to the URL with a corresponding spike in clients or product sales.

Your competition is not just rival organisations in your industry but perhaps thousands of other businesses vying for attention. You need to give the public a reason to stop and give your business attention. If you don’t put any effort into telling us why we should care about your business, why should we put any effort into glancing your way?

“If you don’t care about your business, why should we?”Tweet: If you don't care about your business, why should we? via @Phoebe_Netto

What can small businesses do?

You’ll be relieved to learn that even large companies like PayPal don’t always get it 100% right. Search for ‘PayPal complaints’ and you’ll see what happens when unaddressed concerns take on a life of their own. Better public relations would improve its customer satisfaction immensely.

The good news for small business owners is that effective marketing and good public relations are well within reach. A brilliant product with mediocre marketing doesn’t go as far as a mediocre product with brilliant marketing. Of course the product needs to meet a certain minimum standard, but the real difference in outcome is due to how it is promoted.


Know what you’re trying to achieve

Have a marketing plan with a big picture point of view and then schedule in the smaller steps for implementation. A good marketing consultant will make this attainable for smaller businesses by advising you on the steps you can implement yourself and what tactics need to be outsourced.


The plan must be a living document

It should take into consideration:

  • New internal and external developments
  • Customer feedback
  • Campaign measurement and evaluation
  • Holidays, events, issues and personalities that will compete for your audience’s attention at certain times
  • Rate of business growth


Adjust your activities accordingly

One of the main advantages small businesses have over larger ones is the ability to change quickly if something isn’t quite right or needs attention. For example, if you’re monitoring business growth you’ll start to notice when an increase in users or enquiries needs to be supported with extra customer service and efficient business processes.

Marketing need not be overt or direct to be effective, but one thing is for certain, businesses of every size need it to command attention and remain relevant to its customers.

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