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Marketing the internet

Often, we market products or services that solve problems that people already know they have. We offer a better app, or a better screwdriver, or a better way of doing something, and our job is to convince people that it is better – ‘better-enough’ that people are prepared to pay the cost of switching. 

That’s one way to sell.

There’s another, more fun way, that I was reminded of on an episode of Econtalk, where Russ Roberts interviews Tim O’Reilly. O’Reilly talks about writing and selling the ‘first popular book about the internet’, The Whole Internet Users Guide and Catalogue. When the book came out, there were only about 200 websites world wide.

A key moment came when Brian Irwin, his VP of marketing told him:

Nobody cares about your book. What we ought to do is go out and market the internet.

Brian Irwin / Tim O’Reilly

So they started talking to people and holding their own conferences and events, and sure enough, when people wanted books about the internet – how to use it, how to code and run websites – they bought from O’Reilly Media.

O’Reilly says that in those days, people would talk about his company’s books as “the books that built the internet” – and that it was true. Future web billionaires built their empires using O’Reilly’s 30 dollar books, which led them to coin their slogan:

We create more value than we capture.

Tim O’Reilly / O’Reilly Media

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