A mediocre product with a great go-to-market foundation will always do better than a great product without one.

More people read Quora than read this blog, I recently discovered. So in an attempt to even the score, sometimes I tailor the off-the-cuff answers I post over there for consumption here.

The question: Which is more likely to make money, an excellent product with terrible marketing or a terrible product with excellent marketing?

The answer:

All things being equal, I’d sadly lament that in this scenario, the terrible product with excellent marketing would make more money. Here’s why.

A great go-to-market means that more of the right buyers, in the perfect target market, with the buying power aligned with the marketers’ analysis, will see and identify with the marketers’ strategically placed sales and marketing messages.

A great go-to-market means the buyers who consume the messages (which were planted strategically by the marketer to appear in the target buyers’ regular information channels) are the same ones who suffer the ‘pain’ or challenge that the marketing message promised the product would solve.

In fact, great go-to-market messaging can cause a whole lot of buyers to overlook—or simply not be aware of—the shortcomings of a terrible product.

As long as the messaging does not set incorrect expectations, then even a terrible product can deliver good a customer experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good product.

bad product, great go-to-market

Look at fast food.

I mean, really look at it. Of course it’s a terrible product—it’s the worst product in the entire food category!

But its marketing downplays the terribleness of it, and makes us believe in only its positive attributes.

It’s convenient. It’s served by friendly people. It’s cheap—so cheap that it’s actually impossible for it be actual food, but that’s conveniently overlooked. Its brand guidelines for photography make it appear astonishingly mouthwatering. It’s open early or late, it comes with toys or sweepstakes, it’s super sized…

…and those things are all true. They all set the correct expectations for the right buyers.

Fast food is certainly not excellent. But its marketing? Now that is spectacular.

Then there’s retention.

Let’s say a great go-to-market leads to enormous initial sales and then refunds or returns down the road.

This will be bad for the overall customer experience (and ultimately, retention). But it could still beat the revenue from poor marketing of an excellent product, since that wouldn’t result in enormous sales to begin with.

By definition, terrible marketing would not allow an excellent product to reach appropriate buyers (if it did, it would be good-ish at least), or communicate clearly what the product is or does, or paint a picture in the buyer’s mind about how their life or work would change if they purchased the product. Only good marketing does that.

But even more importantly, an excellent product would not be possible to develop with terrible marketing. Because marketing is not merely the (good or bad) promotion of a product after it’s been developed.

Marketing is the entire strategy behind developing the product itself, determining its pricing, determining whom the product should be made for, and therefore what design decisions should be made about it; and so on.

Product or marketing?

If you’re after higher revenue for a terrible product, the only way you’ll get it is with a great go-to-market. That will come at a price, though—the cost of a poor customer experience and high churn rates.

But why choose between a good product and good marketing?

Why not exercise sound marketing strategies to develop an excellent product, and then pull those strategies all the way through a great go-to-market?

Excellent marketing might cost a little more. But a good product will simply not sell itself.