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What is Marketing?

Discover marketing's dynamic essence with Paras, drawing from Seth's 'This is Marketing' and his global product development experience.


Paras Chopra, chairman of Wingify, delves into the essence of marketing in his presentation. He distinguishes marketing from advertising, defining marketing as creating a story and advertising as paying for attention. Chopra emphasizes the importance of understanding your target audience and tailoring your marketing message to resonate with them. He argues that marketing is not just about claiming superiority but about identifying who your product is specifically better for.

Paras also highlights the significance of emotional resonance in marketing, suggesting that successful marketing aligns with the audience's personal stories and continuously reinforces the brand's narrative. He concludes by redefining marketing as enhancing the story of your target audience with your product, consistently and persistently.

Key Takeaways

  • Marketing involves crafting a compelling story about your product, while advertising is about gaining visibility for that story.
  • Successful marketing requires repeatedly reinforcing the brand's narrative and maintaining core elements over time to build a lasting impression.
  • Marketing should resonate with the audience's personal stories and emotions, rather than just presenting facts or features.


[00:00:00] Paras Chopra: Hello everyone – I’m chairman of Wingify, the company behind VWO, the tool that’s organizing this conference. 

[00:00:17] And, of course, VWO exists so that marketers can test and optimize their positioning, the landing pages, their products. So, we exist to make marketing teams successful. This is why for this conference, I thought, let’s just go to the basics and think about what actually is marketing. Because this word means so many things for so many people.

[00:00:44] I think it can be very illuminating if we think about what marketing is. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the book called This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I’m a personal fan of Seth Godin. He writes very clearly. So yeah, let’s dig in. 

[00:01:01] I think I want you to first take a pause and think about the difference between marketing and advertising.

[00:01:07] A lot of times we end up confusing between the terms. So, take 10 seconds and think about what would you say marketing is and what would you say advertising is? I’m sure some thought must have popped into your head. And the way I think about marketing and advertising is really marketing is all about what to say, while advertising is paying for attention. 

[00:01:33] So, these two things are very different for me. Marketing is creating a story and advertising is simply paying for attention. Advertising doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll come up with a good story. While making a story doesn’t guarantee that it will be heard and it will reach the right relevant audiences. So, let’s focus on marketing which is all about creating a story, which is all about saying the right things and then the critical question comes – how do you decide what to say?

[00:02:07] And if your goal is to make a sale or get your product adopted, I think it can be very obvious what to say, right? Just tell all the people in the world how you’re better and you’re done. And naively, we would think this is what marketing is about. Just tell people how you’re better and you’re done.

[00:02:27] That’s the answer anybody would give, if you think about anybody outside of marketing would say marketing is all about. And yeah, if that’s the answer, I think we are done. We are done with this presentation. We’re done with this talk. If marketing is all about telling people how you’re better, then there’s no more depth to it.

[00:02:47] But of course, as you may have guessed, it’s not about that. So let’s break down this whole definition that we talked about, just tell all the people how you’re better and you’re done. I’ll focus on four aspects of this presentation. 

[00:03:00] The first aspect let’s – start with the people aspect of this definition. And let me pose you a question. You see a lot of logos on the screen. Which is the best car out there? There are tens and even hundreds of car brands out there. What would you say is the best car? Take a moment, any answer jumps to your mind? Of course, you may have realized that it’s probably not a good question.

[00:03:33] Best car is a little bit of misnomer. And I think better question and the most fundamental question in marketing is actually not what is better, but who is it for? And that’s because even the best so called “best” products have haters – Harry Potter has significant number of one star/ two star reviews.

[00:03:57] There are people who did not like Harry Potter at all. And of course you have seen memes of car brands where BMW lovers would hate on Mercedes guys, and Mercedes folks will hate on people who love BMW. And of course, there are Apple diehard fans, and there are people who mock Apple fans. So these couple of memes make it extremely clear that there is no such thing as a best product.

[00:04:27] The reason is that you cannot make a product that works for everyone. We are 7, 7.5, maybe 8 billion people now. And just thinking of that, you will be able to make a product that universally works for everyone. It just I think fooling yourself. There are people who are both pro global warming and anti-global warming.

[00:04:48] Who is right, who is wrong. It’s their preferences. So, that’s why the seduction of appealing to everyone actually boils down to and implies appealing to no one. Because in the attempt to appeal as wide a mass as possible you end up watering down your marketing messages and stories and this lowest common multiple messages actually appeal to no one.

[00:05:13] And they’re just completely uninspiring and boring when you try to appeal to everyone out there. So, instead of asking, who is it for? I mean, that’s the right question to ask for marketing. I think what this answer can get really illuminated by is by actually answering who is it not for?

[00:05:35] Because by contrast by saying that these are the folks we don’t want to appeal to the marketing message can get really sharpened. So, at this stage, I encourage you to pause the talk and answer this for your company. If you build something, make products, sell anything out there, what would you say?

[00:05:56] Who is your product not for? And to really jog your brain, you can perhaps try answering it for one of the popular companies first. Let’s say Uber. A lot of people love Uber. It has made their life simple, but if you would say who is Uber not for – what would be the answer? And I would say Uber is not for, let’s say very older folks who are not comfortable with using digital technology or phones. And that’s a very clear marker of who is Uber not for. So, even if so called universally loved product like Uber is not for someone, I’m pretty sure you can also define the same for your company.

[00:06:43] And a question can linger in your mind, what if you’re wrong in your choice of who is it for? What if the choice of your audience for the product is wrong? And I suspect that’s a temptation or a fear lot of people have, a lot of marketers have, wherein if they’re wrong in defining, they can be completely wrong in their business, they can appeal to wrong kind of audiences.

[00:07:12] And that’s what leads a lot of people to say that it is useful for everyone who is interested for. But that’s a risk you have to take. In fact, I would say for good marketers or for marketers that is actually what you’re paid for. You’re paid for really answering very confidently who is the product for and who is it not for.

[00:07:34] Because meakness always implies mediocre marketing. Bold marketers take a risk of only talking to their audience. If you see the most important classy ads out there – they are speaking to a very specific audience. Who says ‘hell yes’ when they see their ads while everyone else scratches their head and say what were these marketing teams thinking when they came out with these ad campaigns. But I would say these ad campaigns are precisely on spot because they’re talking to someone very specific while excluding everyone else. And that’s what great marketers do. 

[00:08:14] Let’s unpack the second dimension of this whole definition of what is marketing and let’s focus on this word better. So, just tell all the people how you’re better and you’re done. What does better mean? And as I already mentioned earlier when it comes to markets – linear scales are a myth.

[00:08:34] So, of course, sometimes we feel two ice creams are better than one ice cream. 20% hike in a salary is better than 10% hikes so there is number of things that there is often a linear scale. But when it comes to markets, I think thinking about a linear scale can really be misleading and it’s actually a myth.

[00:08:55] So, and this is clearly illustrated by this thing, right? I’m a Mac and I’m a PC. If you’ve ever seen this ad, just saying one of these is better is completely missing the point. These are two different things for two different kinds of people and they are better for specific audiences and not better in a very objective sense.

[00:09:19] And, if you just think about it, and this is a list I got from ChatGPT. I just asked – how many fashion brands exist? And what kind of audiences do those fashion brands appeal to? 

[00:09:32] And it listed a long, long list of these fashion brands. And, this is enormous. It’s hundreds and thousands of fashion brands that are all different from each other and all appealing to their kind of audiences.

[00:09:46] Similarly, if you think fashion is something that’s always appealing to niche. Even for smartphones, there’re number of smartphones that exist that differentiate themselves by lots of different dimensions. And they appeal to very, very specific kinds of audience. So, if you think about it on this slide, which is the best smartphone out there that question is completely irrelevant. The best design would be some other phone versus best priced versus best camera, and if as a consumer I like camera more, I would pick up a very different phone versus if I’m cost sensitive. 

[00:10:27] So, the question is it better needs to be reframed as, is it better for whom or it’s better for whom?

[00:10:35] So having clarity on what kind of audience are you trying to build a really good product for, that is what marketing is all about. 

[00:10:43] Actually good marketing in that sense works very closely with the product. It’s a very tight feedback loop, where you tell a story to the world that this is the kind of people I’m making a really great product for.

[00:10:56] And then product has to back it up. Of course, can’t just make an arbitrary story and differentiate on a very arbitrary dimension. Really good marketing teams work in conjunction with product teams to make sure for a specific segment of user, the whole story and product works together to create a very differentiated kind of an experience.

[00:11:21] So, if you’re thinking about where to start – I would say a good way to think about it is to actually create a brand so we can try creating a brand. Pick any two dimensions for your industry for this example. Let’s just take maybe a smartphone as an industry and let’s choose a marketing smartphone and the two dimensions we can pick as let’s say, one dimension is ability to play games and the second dimension could be the look of it so that it looks really cool and appealing from the outside. 

[00:12:00] So if you pick these two dimensions, let’s say that it should be able to run latest games and second, it should look really cool. Then if you’re trying to create a brand, you need to double down on the extremes of it.

[00:12:14] So if you want to create a very differentiated brand, you exaggerate the look and feel of it. You make it completely different from what any other phone out there looks like. And similarly from a gaming point of view, you end up over investing in the processor or RAM and GPU so that it’s able to play. Which means all other dimensions, you can be completely okay to be average, or in fact below average, because you’re not really caring about it.

[00:12:43] So from a camera point of view, in fact, if this phone doesn’t even have a camera, it can still be a very strong brand because you’re planting a flag and saying, I care about ability to play games and I care about how the phone looks like and everything else is irrelevant to me. 

[00:13:01] So I would urge you to again, take a pause and think about what are those two maybe major dimensions on which you can create a brand for your product.

[00:13:13] So as I said, great marketing lies at the edges. Actually appeals to the extreme users who the mainstream has neglected. So every now and then we have a temptation to appeal to the average customer. So we feel that we need to put everything that we have and appeal to everyone. But you think about it that the average customer is already inundated with lots of marketing messages. The average customer is already satisfied by what the average company and the mainstream companies are producing. 

[00:13:58] So if you’re an upcoming brand, you need to appeal to the extreme user Who everyone else has neglected. If you try to appeal to the average user in your market then you’re just competing with everyone else out there. And there’s no reason you will stand out. So, do concretise is it. Again, think about who is it most useful for? And the extremes are important because at extremes, the users feel most amount of pain.

[00:14:28] So, for example, when food delivery apps launched – they appealed to the bachelor who eats out daily, someone who’s living by themselves who eat out daily. And not to the family who occasionally end up ordering. So think about it. If you’re launching a new brand you would appeal to someone who is feeling the most extreme amount of pain and not to someone who’s very in occasionally trying to sort of have a use case that your product is answering.

[00:15:02] So for example, when Amazon. com launched, it appealed to the book nerd who wanted lots of those obscure titles and not to the average Joe who reads one to two books a year because the pain for the book nerd was much more and Amazon was able to satisfy it. And similarly when Uber launched, it satisfied a salesperson who has to travel a new route every day, much more than someone who just takes a taxi once or twice a week. 

[00:15:30] So the point is that you appeal to the extreme user first, because those extreme users feel the most amount of pain. So if you solve it, they are the ones who will have a significant word of mouth for the brand. If you try to appeal to someone who is in the masses, but not, doesn’t have the equal amount of pain as the extreme user have, they will not feel that your solution has created any big value add. 

[00:15:57] So if amazon was targeting their initial marketing messages to someone who just reads one or two books a year. They can very well say, my life has not changed I could always go to a bookstore and just take whatever book I want because I do that once a year. But the Amazon targeting their marketing messages to book nerds who are obsessed over obscure titles and order 50 books per month, they would say that my life has changed.

[00:16:25] And when your customer says my life has changed, they are going to just tell everyone. And that’s how you launch brands, that’s how you launch the products by appealing to the extreme user. So in short startup marketing is all about planting your flag at the edge of the market, so people can clearly know what you stand for. 

[00:16:45] So for your company again think about who is it most useful for? This question is different from who’s it useful for. Lots of people can use it. But there would be a sub segment of folks who it would be extremely useful for and your marketing should appeal to them because they are the ones who will have most amount of word of mouth and not someone for whom you’ve just solved a very marginal pain. And taking a stand at extreme is not just about consumer brands. One of the greatest B2B campaigns has been Salesforce, where they had no software kind of a campaign and if you think about it this they have also done very similarly, right?

[00:17:28] They planted a flag at the edge of the market and said we don’t believe software. And software they’re conceptualizing in the sense of enterprise software, which is on-premise installed software. They just said that this shouldn’t exist. So it appealed to those who were just completely frustrated by the complexity of on-premise software.

[00:17:48] Now, this wasn’t the entirety of market. For most people on-premise software was probably sorted. On-premise software was not a big pain point. But end software as a marketing message really hit home for people who just hated on-premise software. And that’s where you want to get your marketing messages to.

[00:18:09] And if you see, they just reinforce this again and again, like die software, no software, end of software. They just took a very extreme stance and they defined themselves in that edges of the market. 

[00:18:24] So, yeah, you might ask am I asking you to ignore the entire market and take an extreme stance?

[00:18:30] Yes, that’s that’s what i’m arguing for that. That is what marketing is all about and you might ask isn’t that a recipe for building a small business, because at extremes obviously you end up ignoring the mainstream, so is it a recipe for not building a big business? 

[00:18:47] I would say no, because the chances of actually building a business at the extreme is much higher as compared to in the center, because the average customer really doesn’t exist.

[00:19:02] Everyone has different preferences. Like we already established, there is no such thing as better. But assuming there is such thing as an average customer, why would that customer listen to you? She’s just inundated with similar messages from all competitors.

[00:19:17] Everyone is trying to appeal to the average customer, if she exists. And also if, even if the message goes through, why would she start using the product? She’s happy with current alternatives. The average customer is being satisfied very well by the average incumbent, the number one player in your market.

[00:19:35] So if you’re just starting out or if you’re launching a brand, why would anyone care? So if you have to make something different, instead of diluting your differences from the mainstream options by saying, I’m like them like Salesforce could’ve said – i’m on-premise but better. They exaggerated in differences, they just completely pinpointed on one thing where they can be completely different from the mainstream so that mainstream cannot even compete with them. And that’s how you win the mindshare initially. 

[00:20:08] So, tldr, don’t say how you’re better say who you’re better for and how?

[00:20:16] And just then let’s unpack this phrase of the definition and in theory, it’s very easy. You tell people who are your target market. You just tell people, who you decided that this is my target market and tell them how you’re better. That’s what we’ve established for so far. But just telling just doesn’t do it right.

[00:20:44] Just communicating in words doesn’t do it. And you can think about it from a point of view of that people pay extra money for buying a specific color for a car. Why do they do that? They do that because of emotions, because needs and wants are very different. We just need a few things in life, but everything else is what we want, which is completely emotion driven, completely optional.

[00:21:12] And, if you think about the question is why do we want certain things and let’s say a specific career. We want certain things because each of us carries a very unique story in our head all the time. We have a worldview, we have a way of looking at the world and that world defines our wants.

[00:21:33] We attach ourselves to a story. A story could be that I’m honest, I’m hardworking, I’m cool.

[00:21:44] I am better if I’m fit. There can be any story out there, but each one of us associates or carries a tiny world inside our head and we operate ourselves and we take decisions according to that worldview. And when we hear something that matches our worldview we pay attention. If this is something, the issue of, let’s say, having kids or not having kids, you’ve thought about very deeply and you have a strong opinion on it, you will pay attention to it.

[00:22:14] But if you haven’t, it can be just a theoretical curiosity and you most likely will just gloss over this. So, resonate people with the stories. Don’t bore them with facts and appeal to emotion. This is the reason why many ads out there have just happy people smiling with families, because when people see these kinds of images, they implicitly see themselves as doing same. We see this and we immediately think about whether it matches our story or not. And if I want a happy family, a smiling kind of a pet family, I will pay attention to. This is like the basic level hack that lots of markets have figured out. And it works because when we see faces, we see ourselves in it.

[00:23:06] And if we see happiness, we figure out maybe this product will help me achieve this particular kind of emotional state. so good marketing dances with audiences story. It’s like a resonance. You can’t tell them something very, very different. People will not just pay attention to it. So you have to really figure out what kinds of stories people are telling themselves and tell them very similar stories. So if there is an audience study your audience and figure out what is the story they have. You can’t tell them they’re wrong. Nobody would pay attention or listen to you. Tell them that they’re right when they say yes, then you should tell them how you or your product can push their personal story forward.

[00:23:53] So, everyone wants to make progress and nobody wants to be told they’re wrong. The closer you are able to study stories of your market, of your audience, the more you’ll be able to say things that will appeal to them. And, but don’t be boring. You can’t just use words, images. 

[00:24:12] Study the memes of your market. It’s very important to know what kind of memes, and memes I’m using as a most general kind of thing in terms of images, trends, cultures, what really works in your market and communicate via that. If there is a meme or a trend that works in your market, use that so that people are able to understand that you are talking to them and then tell them something a little bit new so that they are able to understand what you have to say.

[00:24:43] If you say something completely irrelevant, if in your market nobody really understands or appreciate text, it is just fall flat. so just as an example, if you see this advertisement and, I’m sure you must have come across it. If not, it’s a very interesting factoid.

[00:25:05] This is an ad which was run by Apple in 1984 Super Bowl. Apple was obviously a startup company back then, but they spent a million dollars creating this very weird kind of an ad and they ran it on Super Bowl. Can you imagine how many baseball fans got it? How many people watching Super Bowl actually understood what this ad was about?

[00:25:33] Was it worth it for Apple? In fact, this clearly demonstrates that Apple was not trying to communicate to everyone. Apple was trying to communicate to a very small subset of the market who understood the means behind it. The Star Wars. memes or all the other 1984 references, they were appealing to those specific subset people.

[00:25:57] And when they saw it, those subset of people was, if that communication happened, that’s all what Apple wanted. And that’s what they were able to achieve. 

[00:26:06] And lastly, in the definition, and you’re saying you’re done, you would have guessed you’re never done. When you’re talking about marketing messages, you’re always continuously battling against fading memory.

[00:26:18] We are seeing thousands of ads these days which is just splattered with ads all over left, right, and center. And that’s why persistent storytelling becomes very important. You can’t just tell it once, twice, thrice. You have to keep telling the story to your audience on how you’re different.

[00:26:39] What do you stand for? Again, and again, and again. And just you’re never done with it. So Nike has been using the same swoosh since 1971. Coca Cola has been using the same logo since 1900s, more than a hundred years. And this repetition of specific elements around brand specific stories is what just makes some brands marketing very enduring, while others are very trendy.

[00:27:12] And so it’s important to keep the core elements and themes same over all iterations. So if you see Nike with their swoosh, they’ve used it at so many places. And also this story about Nike shoes are for athletes, it’s just everywhere. And if you think this is only for Nike or for big companies again think again I would have you go back to the Salesforce example of their No Software campaign where they were startup they took a stand and the same theme of no software, they kept on repeating again and again and again. And that’s how got attention and stayed in people’s mind for a very long period of time. 

[00:27:56] So strategy never changes. Tactics can. So what you stand for shouldn’t change. But how and where do you say that can obviously change and should change. But be very clear about who you are appealing to, what extremes of the edges in the market are you adopting, and how will you change your audience’s story?

[00:28:21] So now just coming back to this definition of just tell all the people how you’re better and you’re done. I think a better definition would be to enhance the story of your people with your product and do it again and again and again. So speak to people, appeal to their story in the mind. Tell them how their story will be better with your product being unknown and then just do it again and again and again. And yeah, that’s what marketing is all about.

[00:28:48] So, thank you. Hope you enjoyed the presentation. If you have any questions hit me up on Twitter. I am Paras Chopra on Twitter and now it’s called X. Also on LinkedIn. So, yeah happy to take any questions there. Thank you!


Paras Chopra

Paras Chopra

Founder and Chairman of VWO, VWO

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