If You Build It, They Will Not Come

How “Field of Dreams” has lied to generations of entrepreneurs, product managers, and marketers

Field of Dreams is a classic movie. A young Kevin Costner and a mysterious, creepy voice have gifted us with one of the most memorable and quoted scenes & memes of all time: “If you build it, he will come.”


In the movie, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield on his property in an effort to resurrect baseball greats who have passed away.

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Once the field is built, the players do, in fact, come. It’s a moving, gratifying, and beloved ending. Alas, it is also a dangerous message for us as marketers—because the happy ending is a lie.

How many great products have been built, then scrapped or sold into oblivion, because people did not come? How many fantastic websites languish in a world of “meh” analytics because teams spent a lot of time and effort researching, creating, testing, and launching them—but no one put commensurate time and effort into giving people reasons to visit them?

  • R.I.P., Microsoft Zune. In some ways you were better than the iPod, but despite Microsoft’s investment in creating an approachable interface and intriguing product features, they forced the public to try to figure that out for themselves. Some people blame Zune’s demise on Apple’s dominance, but there’s room for more than one player in any market. The Zune lacked a clear story for the role it was meant to play for music lovers.
  • Fare thee well, Jet.com. Your promise to be a radically transparent alternative to Amazon in all your PR seemed intriguing at first, but what happened? Aside from some direct mail, I heard nothing about you. I definitely didn’t hear anything more about what your approach to online retail was special. Alas.
  • Listen up, Bed-in-a-Box. You may want to take some notes. You claim to be the original, but all I hear about lately is Casper. Is it because your products are vastly different? I doubt it. But Casper has done an unbelievable job of weaving together a story about the need to rethink sleep, and how we do it comfortably. And they have been masterful at marketing seemingly everywhere.

In all seriousness, one of the things we take very seriously is our responsibility to our clients to make their initiatives successful. Often, we work with a client on positioning a new product or redesigning a website, and we do a lot of work to ensure those things are done well and effectively. But we also collaborate with them to make sure that once they launch, there’s a plan in place to ensure that people actively want them.

As we gear up to launch our own new site, this topic is very top of mind (we’ve been reading about it, too). Here are a few things we always try to remind ourselves:

  1. Just because the thing I’m building is my top priority, doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s.
  2. A great product does not sell itself. A great site does not magnetically pull users.
  3. Merely announcing that something exists is an internal imperative, not a marketing message.
  4. Thinking about a launch once something is already built is too late.

It takes a high level of planning and commitment to create an ecosystem around a product or experience worthy of its value, and it’s easy to lose sight of that in the frenzy leading up to a launch. But we know Field of Dreams is just a movie, and it’s on us to create the happy (successful, profitable) ending.