Sow needs. Followup with solution.
Marketing and engineering are two sides of a simple duality. Engineering is the solution or product that solves a need. Marketing is sowing the need into the marketplace. An engineer can design a shovel but it is up to marketing to convince people that the shovel solves the problem that is currently caused by digging with sticks.
Filling the need by patchwork
The typical problem space for just about everything in life looks something like this:
The dips represent gaps in the workflow where things aren’t as optimal as they could be. These gaps are needs caused by the incongruously patched together workflow. In essence pieces of the problem space leak though causing suboptimal experiences and frustration. They become annoying potholes in the road to whatever it is we are trying to accomplish. Most products and marketing aim to make people aware of these potholes and how the product fills one or more of them. The holes are patched one by one by different businesses and industries with varying levels of success.
Most businesses operate in this patchwork manner. They have a vested interest in continuing to patch things because it doesn’t disrupt their previous patches which may be a source of income. Most businesses also aren’t concerned with the customer and the actual workflow the customer goes through. Whether it is because they are too close to the domain in question or they are too near-sighted most businesses cannot create realistic use cases that envision the whole process.
Removing the need by repaving
Every now and then the problem space gets re-imagined. Someone takes a step back and questions a basic assumption that when answered can push the entire problem space forward. Whether by dumb luck or visionary insight they strip the context to its core and shape the optimal solution around it.
Now the problem looks like this:
They essentially re-imagine the workflow and by stripping the problem down to it’s base can repave and rebuild the solution without trying to just fit it into the gaps. This is rare and usually changes the face of an industry or problem space. Most of the time this kind of work is done by people who have no vested interest in the current solution to the gaps and are freer to innovate them into oblivion. The common term is startup or entrepreneur but anyone with an idea and the ability to implement it can do this. Unfortunately good ideas well executed are difficult to come by.
Incremental or leap in progress you still need to sow the need
It seems like the more of a leap in progress the idea is the more that marketing needs to sow the need into the marketplace. Like planting a seed knowing that it will take time to catch root and grow you need to put the idea out into the market and make people question the current solutions and why they don’t address the fundamental nature of the problem. By the time they are begging for a solution you can bring your product to market and reap the mind-share that you have sown. The difficult part is really owning the customer’s workflow across any arbitrary industry and system boundary and providing the seamless experience.
Edit: For a concrete example of this idea see http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/05/digital-analogs-are-no-longer-sufficient.html