Quotes and quips and one liners and zingers are fantastic. The best ones can encapsulate a lifetime of wisdom into a single sentence. But, the worst ones can be terribly misleading. The trouble is separating the good from the bad.
Marketing is the cost you pay for lousy products.
- Sergey Brin, founder of Google
When I first heard that quote I thought, “Holy shit! Genius!” It just seems so… right. And obvious. After all, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Right?
But, after it rattled around in my head for a few seconds, it dawned on me that it’s clearly bullshit. Pithy bullshit, but still bullshit.
Google advertises. Apple advertises the shit out of their limited product line. Sure, you might hear about a $100 million company with no sales force, but that doesn’t mean there’s no marketing. The world will not beat a path to your door if no one knows your door, or your product, exists. Marketing, whether it’s through ad buys, publicity stunts, grassroots campaigning, word of mouth, leaflet drops from a C-130, or just through the product itself, is necessary to sell anything.
And thus the problem with quotes. A quote like this one engenders massive appeal because it’s simple and seemingly profound, it’s unexpected, it’s concrete, it’s credible (it’s Sergey Brin!), and it’s emotional (boo ads! yay grassroots!). It’s what Chip and Dan Heath would call sticky. But it’s still bullshit.
So, be wary of quotes, particularly short, pithy ones. It’s generally pretty hard to sum up a lifetime of wisdom, or turn an industry on its head, in nine words. Use quotes to inspire, or motivate, or even educate yourself, but make sure there’s enough truth in there to make it worthwhile. You don’t want to wake up in a decade and realize you’ve been running your life based on bumper sticker that has some major flaw.