In on the first conversation

Though the emphasis is mine, Seth Godin’s header says it all: “When Should We ADD MARKETING?

For years, the assumption was that marketing happened at the very end of the chute. All of you who work in communications or marketing and have been handed a completed report along with the line “okay, this is ready for PR…,” raise your hand.

This approach was easier — if not smarter — when the channels we used for marketing were controlled, and the audiences all watched or read the same things, and discussions happened in pretty predictable ways around common cultural themes and issues. That was about a half-century ago, folks.

Now, conversations about products, services or ideas happen whether your organization is generating them or not. And those discussions are definitely not under a company’s or nonprofit’s control. For those watching this is illustrated every single day, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.

Even with the crazy shifting flow of information out there, there are ways to position and market products or ideas effectively. They all start in roughly the same spot: At the table for that first conversation.

“We’re considering focusing on land more than animals next year.” (A nonprofit looks in a new direction for program.) “What if we expanded to serve kids who are older?” (A social entrepreneur considers extending her product line.) “Our new olive oil is great; we should promote it through this partnership.” (A CEO considers a cause-related opportunity.)

What IS “the first conversation?” It occurs anytime someone in your enterprise starts to talk about reaching a new audience or developing a new product (whether that product is a research report, a packaged good or a service).

You’ll want to have a marketer or communicator or anyone focused on your enterprise’s audiences or markets at that table. They should be able to help you think through why, who and what for. This is not a question of organizational size or capacity, it’s a question of mindset. Do you want to build something compelling, and true, and valuable to your audience(s)? Or are you aiming for your version of New Coke? The first conversation matters. Get your marketer in on it.