Image: Giulia Forsythe

This was a amazing year. Amazing because I found myself being forced to relearn everything I knew about marketing. That’s because this was the first time I had the chance to create, produce, package and launch a product of our own (with great help of the We First team and our strategic partners). The lessons it taught me were invaluable and I wanted to share them in the hope that they might help your business, brand or product launch in 2013.

I hesitate to say this, but there are many folks in the marketing world – including yours truly! – that are well-versed in selling a strategy or idea, but don’t the chance to sell his or her own product, day-in and day-out, face-to-face with live customers. Without this knowledge, it’s easy to lose sight of just how hard it is for clients to keep their businesses thriving by selling their products every day. So having stepped into that role myself, it was a fantastic wake up call as to just how important the human part of the sales equation is, rather than strategy or technology alone.

LESSON #1 BE AUTHENTIC, SPECIFIC AND DIFFERENT It’s hard enough to define your brand and have an idea for a product that may sell. But when it comes to executing a product there is a ruthless need for specificity. Plus as your audience becomes more fractured and demanding every day, the demands for an even greater understanding of exactly what your customer wants becomes even higher.

LESSON #2 SOLVE A REAL PROBLEM It amazing how easy it is to have an idea that sounds good in theory or on paper. But if your focus doesn’t include the specific needs of your potential customers and how you solve that problem for them, a product can easily be overlooked. That applies to every aspect of a product and its marketing, from the design to packaging to the language you use to the media channels used to promote it.

LESSON #3 NO TWO CUSTOMERS ARE ALIKE People don’t hang out in defined  verticals, demographic categories or focus groups. Even if they exhibit certain similarities in their personal or professional lives, how those elements combine and interact is completely different. So your best chance of persuading a customer to buy your product is to get as specific as you can about who they are, what the problem is and how to simply and consistently communicate the solution you provide.

LESSON 4: MARKET TO FLESH AND BLOOD With all the attention we lavish on our products and marketing, we would do well to spend as much time deeply understanding our customers. Creating a detailed portrait of who they are and what they need is invaluable and will allow you to adjust your product and marketing to really meet their needs.

LESSON 5: IF YOU WANT ANSWERS, ASK QUESTIONS Too often we are so preoccupied with our idea, product or marketing plans that we don’t engage with our customers during early product development phase. Yet by inviting them to communicate and provide feedback we create a better product and ensure they are invested in its success even before it launches.

LESSON 6: TECHNOLOGY IS A TOOL NOT THE ANSWER Too often feel that new technology alone will ensure the successful launch of a product. In truth, technology is just the delivery system and the product will succeed or fail on the basis of whether it meets a real, human need in your customer’s life.

LESSON 7: TEST, TEST AND TEST AGAIN The true power of technology is the ability to be wrong. That means you can pivot, iterate and evolve your product and marketing even as it launches to better the odds of your success. It’s not fun, cool or sexy, but when you shift your mindset from the single launch mentality to perpetual engagement with your customer community, testing becomes a faithful and rewarding friend.

LESSON 8: YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER Whether you’re a solo-preneur or Fortune 100 company, your marketing is no longer limited by the number of employees you have. Your marketing department now includes hundreds or thousands of customers if they are sufficiently inspired by emotional storytelling, shared values or a common purpose. That’s when you unlock the real power of digital, social and mobile technologies to connect people in ways that promote your brand or product.

LESSON 9: THIRD TIME’S A CHARM You never get it completely right. And you never, ever get it completely right the first time. The market, technology and customers are constantly on the move and so you’re always climbing shifting ground. By reframing your expectations and embracing an attitude of constant improvement, every misstep or frustration becomes an investment in a better result the second, third, or fourth time.

LESSON 10: HARD IS NORMAL Having become an entrepreneur and business owner myself, I have spent the last few years having hundreds of conversations about what it takes to run a successful business. The one thing I learned for sure is that it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re starting out. It’s hard when you’re trying to grow. It’s hard when you’re big and trying to evolve. Everyone is doing it tough and its work that deserves respect.

2013 was a year of relearning what I already knew and developing far deeper respect for the work that clients do, for the demands of successful marketing, and for the sensitivities of customers. As we head into next year with a dizzying array of traditional, digital, social and mobile technologies to choose from, we would all do well to focus our attention on the individual customer, what they really need  and how we can help solve that problems. To many this may sound obvious, yet 2012 taught me how much work is involved and increased my respect for those that do it well.

A Happy New Year to everyone from the team at We First and our strategic partners that help make our work possible. We’ve had the privilege of working with large brands like Coca-Cola and small brands including start-ups and solo-preneurs, all of whom are making a positive impact on our world in different ways. For me, this was a year of huge inspiration, discovery and learning for which I am enormously grateful. Let’s continue to work together and make 2013 a year in which our businesses growth builds an ever better world.

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