Selling products through customer education – a lesson from the renaissance


Feb 25, 2021

The issue with existing product sales strategies 

The success of any consumer-oriented business relies on the frequent sale of a product or service. If the sales are coming in, the business keeps going. When sales are down, further business development is at risk. It’s as simple as that. To increase product sales, businesses must convince customers that they need to buy their product and that needs to happen regularly. Else – the will be problems.

How marketing and sales have changed

Previously that was done by traditional direct advertisement. But it loses audience appeal and companies get creative and found other ways to advertise. Advertisement through knowledge.

Social media, blogs, podcasts, paid interviews, and opinion posts are now filled with both direct and hidden sales pitches. Companies battle for customer attention by subtly speaking into their daily lives: lifestyle blogs, helpful advice articles, guest appearances on your favorite podcasts. Most of them are engineered to sell you a particular product.

Direct ads don’t capture our attention as people view them unintentionally in passing. This type of advertisement doesn’t immerse the audience because we know someone is selling us something and have learned to ignore it unless it’s exceptionally well made or targeted.

But when we intentionally decide to read an interview, listen to a podcast, or read a blog or book on a topic that we care about, and a product sale is somehow involved, our attention is captivated. Smart, effective selling leverages information channels people care about and respect.
And now companies changed their tactics – instead of just selling products, they are educating a customer by winning them over to their vision and world viewpoint. There are plenty of information channels dedicated to teaching you to enhance almost every aspect of your life. The seller paints a picture of your improved life, and naturally, their product will get you there.

The potential risk of information marketing

The challenge of this approach of advertising products via media channels might lose its effectiveness in customers’ eyes as they realize that the content is made purely for sales reasons. The audience is not stupid and will eventually realize that the information is marketing. That they are being fed with repeating information that provides almost no practical benefit.

Right now content marketing is the king. Companies are changing their marketing and sales strategies, from direct to indirect marketing, but the issue is that the product stays the same and it is still being pushed towards customers. Eventually, potential buyers and audience will get tired of indirect information content and will turn away from the brand as they will get tired of the same information running on repeat.

Blogs and news titles often proclaim 10 ways to easily, smartly do something or 5 things to avoid in order to… Most of the time these publications lack true benefit, the deepness of the thought, and meaning you can walk away. They only sell l inspiration and nothing else. How many tips do you remember from the last post of such kind? Probably none. Their aim is to inspire and make you feel good that you can do change, but nothing else. The only logical response is to comply with the author’s sales point and ideally buy whatever is proposed. That is how most information marketing is done. 

Companies tend to overpromise and underdeliver, and the market eats it up. 

There is a similar problem with podcast guest appearances, interviews in magazines, paid online magazine posts, and other information channels. First, you paint a picture of how the world should look, then show what to do, something that is often impossible without a specific knowledge or product – and then comes the sales pitch.

The issue is that almost every single product company, agency, studio, and enterprise are doing this – filling the information channels trying to sell their viewpoints and the reasons their product or solution is better. Just look at any company selling something. They have a blog, a podcast, social media, and CEOs cross visiting every other complimentary industry domain website to promote their offerings.

Today’s trend – the new normal – the more CEO is visible in the media the better hyped is the offering, the better will be the product. I recall – one VC investor once told me, that there is no point investing in such companies because their products are weak. If the CEO is more in media than he is in product development labs, then seek another product/company. This one will lack focus and quality from all companies. Think about Windows Vista and Steve Balmer who was business and sales-oriented CEO, Tim Cook under whom Apple struggles to create the next iconic product vs Steve Jobs and Elon musk who are absolute product and philosophy-oriented CEOs.

Overused publicity creates tons of useless information, trying to help, saying something but, nothing meaningful at the same time. Tons of content is designed to educate and help, but it does neither. Attention has shifted from making a really good product towards selling an ideology – and selling it hard. Everyone’s doing that, and because of that, there is oversaturation. They just blurs into the information masses with the rest of the blogs, podcasts, social media spam. Today, the battle is who signs on the most popular influencer or referral to promote the product instead of who makes the best product.

Overused publicity creates tons of useless information, trying to help, saying something but, nothing meaningful at the same time.

Businesses need to sell, and they do what they can to be successful. But if they want to struggle with figuring out their next successful target and marketing campaign and repeat that all over again, then good luck to them. That is not a sustainable strategy. A sustainable strategy is to sell smarter by investing in well thought through quality product development. A product that looked upon, touched, and heard about speaks about itself, companies philosophy, and the benefit it provides. Reputation and quality sell.

A sustainable future belongs to meaningful products

So should a company stop blogging, producing social media posts, recording a podcast, or writing books? No, of course not. It is important to educate a customer on the values, work, results, and propositions of your offering. Word on a product needs to get out there. Publicity is needed. This is an opinion post empathizing that recently, produced information has become more important than actually delivered quality. That whatever we see in mainstream product offerings has become media campaigns fashion week – where everyone is trying to show off. Companies tend to overpromise and underdeliver, and the market eats it up. 

Overselling is not a sustainable strategy. As soon as the product is out of the information production and audience reach cycle, sales most definitely will flatten or drop. And then to regain sales KPIs, a new overselling campaign needs to be launched and the cycle begins anew. 

A sustainable strategy is to deliver the quality of the product, a reputation that speaks for itself. Its fabric, materials, cut, folding, interaction, packaging, and every detail has to embody within itself what a customer should know about the product and the company’s advantages. Only then should a company promote the product and its features that are already there. This way, resources are not wasted in the wrong direction, building up an image and expectations that aren’t sustainable. 

A sustainable strategy is to deliver the quality of the product, a reputation that speaks for itself.

This may seem obvious – there is nothing new in this concept. This is how businesses used to operate, when the brand name meant something, and when products used to be bought for long-term consumption. People now tend to pay attention to brands more than ever, but they matter less. They easily switch and jump from one to another, forgetting previous mishaps and siding with the one that currently is the flashiest. That is not how businesses or society achieve sustainability.

A throwback to Renaissance 

This all brings us to the key comparison. The renaissance – literally, the rebirth of previously known but forgotten classical knowledge. When previous knowledge resurfaces in a new context and provides an incredible leap forward. As questions about the sustainability, ecology, decluttering of useless things and information, and surrounding ourselves with meaningful, purposeful products become relevant. It’s time to revisit renaissance concepts once again.

Renaissance was a phenomenon where the value of human beings was realized the strength, intellectual capabilities, creativity, and endless possibilities of a person when exposed to knowledge. Independently, it started around the world in places such as India, China, Arab countries, and even Iceland. Here we talk about the Italian Renessance, especially Florence, because its development shaped an entire western culture with its ideas on individuality and its expression and achievement.

The Renaissance in Florence, Italy gets the spotlight as in no other time in our existence. Never ever has such a short time period seen an outburst of absolutely iconic craftsmanship. Science, literature, art, theatre, architecture, biology, and the list could go on, touching almost every single domain of our current lives.

How did such a small city as Florence manage to make such an impact on us today, and create so many famous, well-known artifacts? The answer is simple – it gave purpose and philosophy to the artists, architects, sculptors, poets, scientists, and the whole society. Arguably, without the purpose and philosophy, most of them would be forgotten in the spiraling historical events. And the purpose was to demonstrate and educate on the importance and creative potential of humanity.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was the philosophy

Unlike today, then, everything started with philosophy. A fundamental question about reason, existence, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Rarely that happens today in process of product development as priorities are different.

The Florentine government used to spend a tremendous amount of time surrounded by philosophers, discovering how knowledge and self-realization can empower an individual. Beyond that, it was necessary to educate everyone on love, compassion, friendship, loyalty, and the rest of ethical values. To achieve that, wealthy individuals, from state officials to merchants, were tasked with commissioning capable creators to make various works representing those values.

Technically challenging and often “impossible” architecture was made to show what impossible things a human can do. Sculptures were carved from marble and bronze to display that even the toughest substances can be shaped in lifelike perfection. Attractive, semi-nude paintings were created to lure in viewers and teach moral lessons through the symbols and compositions. City builders were obsessed with ideal city concepts and rebuilt them to show citizens that it’s possible to live harmoniously. Every detail and aspect was created with a purpose, philosophy, and meaning. It was built to last and carve the reputation. Because of this millions of people travel to Florence from all around the world just to look at renaissance wonders and they will continue to do that until the end of times. It sells itself.

This is the way information was distributed – through well-crafted artifacts soaked in philosophy and purpose to humanity. In contrast to the Roman empire, Florence didn’t use brute force to overtake one culture and force it to acknowledge a new one but used education, empowerment, and the inspiration of individualistic creativity. That is why the Florentine Renaissance was better welcomed, accepted, and cherished, and remains strongly ingrained even today. They shaped a better environment around the people so the people could learn and continue to shape the environment, creating an endless cycle of wellbeing.

A simple approach to education

During the renaissance, there was no overhyped publicity, no loud proclamation that everyone is special, empowered, and resourceful and they should express themselves. These values were translated through the visually-created artifacts. The creation of a grand painting, sculpture, or building drew the attention of the public. People discussed and shared their opinions on what was being created and the impact it would create.

Awareness of renaissance ideas was spread through what was created, not what was said out loud. Even today, that is how the Renaissance educates its target audience. Just looking at any of its artifacts it is impossible to feel indifferent, to not be captivated by questions that lead to answers and into more questions about human nature, our reasons for existence, and our purpose.

The takeaway on how to think about product development

Bringing this back towards today’s product development and promotion: they often lack a philosophical reason for existence. Quality, sustainability, and ability to age in a timely fashion. Their sole purpose is to make a quick return on investment. It’s no wonder that products are often made to achieve some mediocre goals, and then marketing agencies are hired to decide how to better position and sell them. It’s no surprise that CEOs have shifted from product-oriented focus towards self and company promotion-oriented. Companies are not selling the product. They are buying sponsored news posts and interviews, podcasting and influencing buyers of their worldviews, and selling the product is only a by-product.

People today buy products whose values and philosophy match theirs. Internal and external. Simple as that.

Iconic results are achieved when a product has a philosophical reason for existence. While practical aspects, aesthetics, emotional fulfillment, and any other buyer’s values are important – the value for the masses and humanity takes it to the uppermost success. We are individualistic, but deep down we meaningfully care about the greater good. That is why the renaissance succeeded. After a philosophy, its execution, positioning, and sales follow effortlessly. There is no need to bullshit or extend product qualities that only partially fit reality. There is no need to overhype and oversell the product as well intentionally made things sell themselves.

This is not a post that promises 10 ways you can do things to achieve wide customer education tomorrow, as posts like that that are typical overselling of something that never works. Understanding company philosophy, the reason of existence, and value proposition before pursuing the result—this takes time, effort, and inner value research before those values are reflected on the product.

People today buy products whose values and philosophy match with theirs. Internal and external. Simple as that. Philosophy of what a product is and what a company stands for has to exist first, and the product has to align with it for 100% no less. That is the way to achieve smart sales with long-term returning customers, that are calling it a worthy purchase.

This is an opinion – philosophical – post to raise awareness and to start THINKING about bringing back familiar, yet in these fast-paced times: forgotten knowledge. The aim shouldn’t be to sell, because that will come naturally afterwards – as the benefits are recognized by customers. This is the way to create sustainable products, make customers understand proposed advantages, and look into a better tomorrow.

Yeah.. there is no call to action for this post. No noting. Purely thinking out loud.

much love