There's a great op-ed piece by Judith Flanders in today's New York Times, covering the recent bankruptcy filing of Waterford Wedgwood and recounting how the company has lost its way, especially in comparison to the marketing genius of its 18th centry founder, Josiah Wedgwood.
According to the article, two innovations catapulted the pottery company from humble origins to leadership. One was a technological breakthrough, "creamware," a process that created high-quality earthenware nearly indistinguishable from porcelain.
The other was marketing acumen that would impress Steve Jobs. I love this quote, discussing Josiah's focus on learning from buyers and leveraging that knowledge to improve his product and its marketing:
In a letter to his business partner, he marveled at “how rapidly the use of [creamware] has spread” and “how universally it is liked,” and tried to balance how much this had to do with its royal “introduction” versus “its utility and beauty.”
That is the true Wedgwood. It wasn’t pleasure at past achievement, but instead determination to understand why success had come about, so he could build on it. Selling was an intellectual pleasure, an art form.
What a refreshing viewpoint, during these days when selling and marketing are portrayed (often by people in those professions) as a grind, perhaps even dishonorable.