pent up demand

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The brand strategy business, at least the way I define it, is not an easy one.  Brand strategy is an organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.  Not a lot of people wake up in the morning asking for an organizing principle. Not a lot of people walk to their car or train after work ruing the lack of an organizing principle.  Sure they want more sales, more efficient sales, and better sales but they’re typically not feeling disorganized.   

The typical brand consulting inquiry goes something like this “Do you redesign logos?” Or, “Do you rename?”  Sometimes they use branding and a verb, “I need to rebrand my website.”  These are not what I do. I create paper strategy. 

Most people want marketing stuff. They don’t want strategy or operating principles. There isn’t a lot of pent up demand for brand strategy. So I often have to come in the side door — find people who are looking for stuff.  Otherwise, I’m left to educate marketers as to the role of brand strategy and that’s a schlepp.



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I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of start-ups.  Some have done well, some not so well, and a few have been just brilliant, but before their time. In the latter case, there was pend-up market demand but the timing wasn’t right. Which is a euphemism for we f’ed up. 

In the seminal tech book “Crossing The Chasm,” author Geoffrey Moore suggests advancing from early adoptership to early majority is nirvana for start-ups. Most marketing planners (and everyone is a planner in the startup world) will say timing is key for this jump to happen. But honestly, two things are critical for startup success: pent-up demand, e.g., app-driven ride sharing, and near perfect business execution. If the product is hinky, all the demand in the world won’t help.  In fact, it can kill your product fast. Think being massively hungry and digging into a rotten tomato.  

On the business side, awareness is important. It helps if you have an ad budget — about $5 million to make a national consumer impression. Or you can go the viral way and target key “Posters,” those who Codeword (agency) would call influencers. First user experience needs to be right. Naming needs to be right. Internal vision has to be fixed so external comms are in synch. You need to develop your own language.  This ain’t no disco.

So startup entrepreneurs, don’t blame timing if your business doesn’t take — blame execution and lack of pent-up demand.



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Kylie Jenner’s makeup sold $420 million in 18 months with minimal advertising beyond her Instagram posts. Her lip kits and eyeshadow palettes, at one point, retailed for $27 and $42 respectively. At a street fair on Long Island teen girls were falling over themselves to buy the stuff. The police showed up after a while, arrested some entrepreneurial boys hawking the cosmetics, all of which turned out to all be fake. The teens didn’t seem to care.

Kylie got some game. Kylie has a brand. Just ask my SnapChat stock, which lost mega value when she dinged the platform after it updated the interface.

If you are not Kylie Jenner and there is not pent up demand for anything and everything you touch, you need a brand strategy. In fact, in 15 years when Kylie isn’t hot (commercially), she may rue the fact she didn’t establish an organizing principle for her brand. Kids!

Creating brands out of people is hard. Creating brands for companies and products is easy. Claim and proof is the fasted, most enduring way.
If you are interested in some success stories and examples, write


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I write a good deal about pent-up demand. It is a marketer’s best friend.  When Miller Lite was launched no one had ever successfully marketed a low calorie beer. Ergo there was no demand. The market had to be educated as to the value of light beer.  Once done, demand was there.  No pent-up demand.

Marketing and brand planners should always look for pent-up demand in the market. When it’s obvious, E.g., cheaper taxi rides (Uber), better tasting hamburger (Shake Shack), life is easy. When a product value is not obvious, finding pend-up demand is a chore.  For Excel Commercial Maintenance, a building cleaning service whose customers care most about low price, a brand strategy “The navy seals of commercial maintenance” met pent-up demand for fast, fastidious and proactive workers. Something purchasers rarely talked about.

Not every product or service offers a marketing with a deep undying demand for a feature or function. But if you don’t dig deep you are not doing your planning job.



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In the early months, Stitch Fix did not have enough money to do advertising. This was a good thing. Start-ups today often have A or B round money to spend on demand generation ad programs.  I like the idea of running a start-up without advertising – for a while at least. It puts employees and consumers in charge of marketing. Not agents. Creative directors, media buyers and English majors shouldn’t be responsible for new product success.

When there is no start-up ad budget, there are no false prophets. Just product and consumers.

Advertising is an accelerant to be introduced when the product is right. When the product meets pent-up demand.  Ads, done well, are also expensive. Ads done poorly can also be expensive, by making the company look gooberish. Unprofessional.

Just as France has a moratorium on media 24 hours before an election, start-ups should have a moratorium on advertising for the first 6 months.




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I write a good deal about pent up demand. When you develop a product or service for which there is pent up demand you tend to ride a nice wave of sales and market share gain. It’s a supply and demand thing. But what happens when you are a “beyond the dashboard” marketer and create a product with no demand at all. I’ve been there. It’s exciting. And nerve-wracking.

Pokemon Go is a product for which there was pent up demand. Maybe. Ish. I spoke to a couple of kids who thought the idea silly – of an age where they tho0ugh tis was not cool. But there are gazillions of kids playing and enjoying it. Not looking over their shoulders, not over-analyzing it; just walking around with a heritage game evolved to use new VR technology.

It’s genius. And transformational. It’s a social computing breakthrough that will change the world.

Stay tuned. The world just got flatter.


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pokemon go

I talk about the branding and marketing value of a category or incipient category in which there is “pent up demand.”  The flash boom growth of Pokemon Go is one such example. I know because I live near a park that is a waypoint (gym?) in the VR world that is the game Pokemon Go.  Cops have closed the park entrance, overflow teens and mills walk the streets after dark near the park in hopes of a glimpse of a creature. They break the law, entering the park, after hours just to play. Kids (may I call them kids?), who grew up on sedentary video games, Gameboys, and consoles have been waiting a long time to be unleased. Rather than shoot up bad guys with and against global acquaintances (guns games are becoming passe for kids), they’re actually out and about, meeting people. Virtual world fun in the real world.

In 10 years, many of these kids will be saying about their spouses “Remember meeting while playing Pokemon Go in the East Village?”

Many thought porn would be the first virtual reality (VR) breakthrough. Wrong. It’s promotional gaming.  And we’ve only seen the beginning. Marketers will figure this one out in ways that will reinvent promotion. Imagine developing a game in which you can knock 50% off the price of a TV for a little walking around time investment? This ain’t no “treasure hunt” walk about my friends, it’s a VR learn and share experience that’s going to be a woosh for marketing development companies.

Yesterday my dentist asked me to suggest a good marketing job for an intern. My answer today?  Get a marketing-development job that lets you dabble in VR. Bam!




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7 11 hot dogs

There are three main product marketing states one confronts when selling. There is pent-up demand, demand, and no demand.  In the first state, the market wants what you sell and there isn’t enough supply.  Or the market wants the functionality, but the product hasn’t been invented yet.  This is every marketer’s dream.  The demand state is the normal market environment. Old supply and demand. People want or need the product and buy it when they run out. Customers may be brand loyal, pocketbook loyal or convenience loyal. Ever eat a 7-11 hot dog? That’s convenience loyal.  Lastly, there is no demand. In this state, consumers may like or want your product – they just don’t know what it does or how they will benefit. This is the most expensive marketing undertaking because money has to be spent educating the market as to the product’s benefits and role. You sometimes have to define for consumers a problem they didn’t know they had — then sell them the solution. A two stepper.

The marketing and advertising response to each of these market states should be very different. The branding (and naming) approach may be different too. So ask yourself marketing dudes and dudettes, in what state is your product?



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The three most important words in marketing are “pent up demand.”  Not “supply and demand.”  Pent up demand comes about when there is not enough supply — so the two concepts are linked. When there’s great demand for a product or service, it’s easy to sell. When there is over-supply, not so much. In the case of an over-supply situation, good marketers will find a feature or quality of the product that is under supplied and use it as a differentiation. Advertising alone is not a differentiator. Good ads help in a commodity business but real differentiation makes for better sales.

Marketing in a commodity world is the toughest form. It requires lots of research, data and anthropological study. When you find a feature for which there is pent-up demand, pound it. These features are typically found in the brand strategy under the headings “care abouts” and good-ats.”



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I’ve written before about the marketer’s easiest sale being one where there’s pent up demand for a product, service or function. When people want what you offer, selling is easy. At the polar opposite is selling something people don’t want. Then selling is hard. I don’t want to get sick, so selling remedies beforehand, for instance. I don’t want to buy a condo in the Berkshires, is another example.  Then there is the third approach: selling something a customer doesn’t know about. They may want it, if educated about the product, but the need is not on their radar. This is an expensive marketing challenge because first the seller has to explain the product, then explain the problem/function, and lastly close the deal. It’s a 3 stepper, if you will.

With pent up demand selling you can almost take a “we’re here” approach. There is demand — you are the supply. Like Pearl Jam tickets. With a product that had little demand you are best segmenting your target and focusing on those who do want it or profile closest to wanting it. For the latter group the best way forward is to take an educational approach. Don’t preach-teach. Engage, find common contextual ground, then bait several hooks and learn what works.

If all people were the same, selling would be easy. They are not. Remember, it is buying you should be focused on not selling. Peace.


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