What a drug cartel can teach you about marketing

When you listen to the audience, it leads to new product opportunities.

No amount of marketing can sell that which the public does not want. — Bob Lefsetz

There is a show on Netflix called Ozark (it’s on Season 4, so if you haven’t heard of it, please remove yourself from under that rock.) The premise of the show is based around a financial advisor from Chicago who moves his family to the Missouri Ozarks, where he launders money from various drug lords.

I will avoid any spoilers, but in the latest season, Marty has gotten into business with a Mexican drug lord named Omar Navarro. Outside of the standard money laundering practices, Marty needs to know Omar better than he knows himself.

He needs to anticipate what Omar will ask next, what’s keeping him up at night, and what motivates him.

Marty needs to have a full understanding of his customer.

Often I’m asked what is the number one thing I wish I knew about marketing in the beginning that I know now. And what I come back to time and time again is that you need to build your products based on your audience's needs, not the other way around.

Like Marty, you need to know your customer (hopefully it's not the Mexican cartel) and place them as your primary focal point before you build a product.

Their needs, not your idea, should define your market.

So many entrepreneurs and creators that I see out there have these “really good ideas” and just assume they will figure out who they can sell them to later. It’s the classic, “solutions looking for a problem.” This rarely ends well.

For example, look at a site like Product Hunt. There are hundreds of products launched there with little traction every day, only to disappear a few weeks later.

What if, instead of spending all of our time creating products and then looking for people to buy them, we try to understand what the market wants and then build something to help them?

When all your focus is on an audience you know deeply, instead of a product, good things usually happen. When you listen to the audience, it automatically leads to new product opportunities.

How to create products
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Arvid Kahl in his book “The Embedded Entrepreneur” says there are many advantages to this approach, including:

- Validation is built-in: you're constantly interacting with the people you want to serve and empower, which leads to much faster feedback loops. You get to experience their problems firsthand, you have access to real people with real struggles, and you can collaborate with your audience to build a solution that works for them.

- You aren't leaving much to chance: you know that there are real people out there feeling a painful problem, and you can check if they are already spending money attempting to solve it, thus increasing your chances of building something people are willing to pay for.

- You create a personal brand that transcends the business you're currently working on. Even if it fails; you continue to be a domain expert in that field.

But one of the biggest advantages is that you don’t need a big marketing budget or a massive sales team of people to create a product when you build it with the audience first.

Creating “Customer First” Based Products

One of the first things you need to understand when creating a “customer first” based product is you need to know what your customer’s worldview is. This goes beyond traditional demographics.

Brand strategist and author Bernadette Jiwa, says, “A worldview is a point of view, a way of seeing the world. Worldviews are not formed objectively and supported by facts. They are subjective, values-based reflections of our experiences and beliefs. Our worldviews shape our attitudes and biases, influence our decisions and guide our actions.”

A few questions to ask are:

  • What keeps your customers awake at night?
  • What do they value?
  • What do they fear?
  • What motivates them to buy, order, or donate?
  • What are they unwilling to compromise on?
  • What else do you need to know about them that you don’t know yet?

Once you have answers to these questions, you can begin working with your audience to turn insights into solutions.

It’s almost as if you are using “Backward Marketing” compared to how most people build their products.

As Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.”

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