A couple of examples this week that show how dangerous it can be to lose sight of the fact that it’s what the customers think that matters in your business, not what you think. This story is about the pizza company and the music critic.

Confused? Stay with me. It matters to your business.

In my morning paper today, a music critic resentfully acknowledging that the buying public doesn’t give a toss what he and his sniffy, elitist colleagues decide is ‘good’ music. The spark for this admission is frumpy, middle-aged, bushy-browed Scottish  singing sensation Susan Boyle.

In the US, Boyle’s album I Dreamed a Dream sold 2.5 million units in the lead-up to Christmas. In Australia, a proportionately even larger 600,000 sales. Here’s a reminder:

But this ‘critic’ and his colleagues around the world decided almost unanimously that New York band Animal Collective’s album Merriweather Post Pavilion was the ‘best’ album of 2009. Call me a neanderthal, but Animal Collective isn’t a name in my household, nor, I suspect, in many households around the world. (And I checked with our in-house music nerd. He’s never heard of them either.)

Here’s what’s instructive:

The music critics are focused on the product. That’s why they’ll always be the written-word equivalent of the starving artist living in a garret. But the companies who back shows like Britain’s Got Talent and American Idol are concerned (rightly) with what sells.

It’s never about the product. It’s about the marketing of the product. Susan Boyle sold because she had a story to sell. People buy on emotion, not logic. And inspiration is emotional. ‘Look at her…she’s dumpy, ugly, never even been kissed. If she can do that…’

Susan Boyle is a triumph of packaging over content.

(Even so, the Britain’s Got Talent judges – critics – still got it wrong. Susan Boyle was runner up. Anybody remember who won?)

There’s an old saying, you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in sparkles. History is littered with examples of mediocre, ordinary – even inferior – products becoming sales powerhouses thanks to inspired, hard-nosed marketing.

In the 70s, Sony’s Betamax domestic videotape system was technically far superior to rival JVC’s VHS format. But JVC’s marketing put the Sony product out of business.

There are plenty of smart-phones and MP3 players that outperform Apple’s iPhone and iPod. But who owns the music hardware market? Apple’s marketing rolled the competitors.

But don’t think that just because you’re a humble salon or spa owner that you’re somehow not as smart as the marketing geniuses at the Big End of Town.

Just look at Dominos Pizza.

Fifty years after founder Tom Monaghan built an empire on the basis of a single, powerful Unique Selling Proposition – “Fresh Hot Pizza delivered in 30 Minutes – Guaranteed” the company’s inheritors have just embarked on a complete re-vamp of the giant’s entire marketing campaign.

Dumbly, in my view, they’re focusing on the product, dumping half a century’s worth of the most powerful USP ever developed. Not content with that, the marketing geniuses at Dominos are betting the whole farm on a campaign that admits, in excruciating detail, that for decades their product has actually been crap. (Did their customers even care? They never wanted good pizza, they just wanted it fast, and hot.)

Take a look at their latest commercial:

The lessons are clear: If you obstinately stick your head in the sand, stubbornly declare that ‘we’re really good, so customers should simply recognize that and come’ then you’re as dumb as Dominos, as blind and elitist as a music critic.

It’s better to be different than it is to be better.