I had a professor many years ago who told us this story.
Let’s say you make beer. You have a really good beer. Beer comes in a 12-pack box. You hire a designer to create a really cool label for your beer bottle and for the 12-pack box. The market loves your beer. But…
That 12-pack box is a product called “coated paperboard” (or CPB for short). CPB is thicker than paper, but thinner than cardboard and has a light coating to make it mildly water-resistant. Your pretty box design goes on the outside and the beer bottles go on the inside. CPB is made by several paper manufacturers, one of whom you’ve contracted to create this for you.
You manufacture the beer chilled. Then it gets placed on the loading dock while it gets loaded, a refrigerator truck takes it to the store, unloads it on the sidewalk and then moves it into the store’s refrigerated case. The customer picks up the beer, puts it in their cart, checks out, then places the beer in his trunk to drive home. The beer then goes into the refrigerator to be ready to serve.
What happens on the loading dock, on the sidewalk outside the store, and in the customer’s trunk? In most places, the chilled beer cools the air around it and the air condenses into little droplets on the bottles. The beer bottle is wet. In fact, it gets wet on several separate occaisions during the process. It gets wet, it dries. It gets wet, it dries. What happens to paper when you do that to it? It gets weaker.
So what happens if your CPB doesn’t have the proper thickness or the proper coating inside to handle these conditions? The box breaks, dumping all the customer’s beer on the sidewalk.
And it’ll be your fault in the customer’s eyes. Not your CPB vendor’s fault. Your fault.
All that time you spent on pretty designs and great beer, those marketing messages are destroyed in a few seconds by a faulty box you got from a vendor.
The moral of the story: marketing is often about the things the customer doesn’t see. Every message you send the customer — from the way you answer the phone to the way you dress for a meeting to the price you set for your services to the way you deliver your products– is a marketing message that can subvert or enhance other marketing messages you put a lot of time and effort into creating.
. . .
Postscript: after the lecture, the class was out on break waiting for the next session and several classmates — many of whom were middle managers at Fortune 500 companies — complained about the professor being a drunk talking about beer. They totally missed the point of the story. From my experience, most people screw up their own marketing by missing the point of the story. Your competitve advantage could come from not missing the point.