A Guest Post By Marni Mutrux
Almost everyone in sales or marketing gets stumped by a product every now and then. A classic example of the ultimate tough sell: marketing ice to an Eskimo. Your average person would look at that prospect and throw his hands up in frustration. However, the cardinal rule of marketing the unusual, difficult or unpopular products is that nothing is impossible. Following these key steps can help make marketing the toughest products doable.
- Identify Why the Product is a Tough SellThe first step in launching a marketing strategy for a problem product is identifying why the product might be difficult to sell. Current economic conditions, for example, can make marketing an otherwise good product difficult. That rings true for those trying to market large SUVs right now. The rise of fuel prices and the green movement have generated a healthy dose of opposition to larger, gas guzzling vehicles among car buyers. Advances in technology can also create a challenge when trying to market products that have become outdated. For example, selling CDs today, when music is so easily accessible in digital form, could present a significant challenge. On the other hand, a marketer must also ask himself if selling the product is difficult simply because its design is fundamentally flawed. Stepping back and exposing the root of the problem will help offer perspective in developing a marketing solution.
- Address the Product’s WeaknessesOnce you’ve identified why your product hasn’t caught on with consumers, you have to figure out how to deal with its weaknesses. Highlighting the problems with a product is an obvious no-no, but you also can’t completely ignore glaring issues that make it undesirable for your target customers. For example, with the SUV example mentioned above, dismissing a customer’s concerns about increased fuel costs would be a mistake. However, a successful marketing strategy must emphasize the positive qualities of the product, such as its structural strength and safety features, the spacious interior permitting numerous passengers, and the storage space. Identifying and emphasizing the product’s positive qualities can help balance the weaknesses.
- Identify Your Target AudienceInvesting a great deal of time and resources trying to convince a disinterested audience to try your product will likely be a wasted effort. For example, marketing a huge SUV to a single, hard-core environmentalist will almost certainly not lead to a sale. This is where research can play an important role in shaping the marketing strategy. With the SUV example, expensive marketing research isn’t necessary to determine that people with children might value the spacious interior of a larger vehicle. However, sometimes the answers aren’t so obvious. The first step in the process of researching and identifying your target customer is recognizing and accepting the notion that there are, in fact, many different kinds of consumers out there. In order to hone in on the folks your product is most likely to appeal to, start by studying the market and systematically segmenting the population to find out which demographic could be attracted to your product.
- Be Creative…Once you’ve identified your target customer base, you may find that consumers need an extra push to make a purchase, particularly if you’re dealing with an unusual, difficult or unpopular product. That’s when it’s time to start thinking outside of the box. Take, for example, life insurance. Life insurance is the kind of product many people accept as a prudent purchase, but most folks just don’t like thinking about it. After all, it’s a little morbid and depressing to dwell on the prospect of providing for your loved ones after you pass away. While it would seem logical to refer to it as “death insurance” (because it only provides for beneficiaries upon death), some savvy marketer appropriately thought “death insurance” would be a tough sell. The decision to refer to it as “life insurance” represents a creative, though subtle, marketing solution that goes a long way in making a product more appealing to the masses.
- …But Not Too CreativeAlthough difficult products often require the most creative marketing strategies, great care should be given to avoid the line between endorsement and deception. Obviously, inaccurate and misleading advertising is off limits, regardless of the situation. While describing a product in the most positive light possible and accentuating its attributes are the goal, lying or withholding important information is never ok. For example, pharmaceutical companies are often faced with difficult decisions in marketing drugs that have the potential to help lots of people, but they also may cause harmful side effects. Because of that unique situation, where the product’s drawbacks could impact human health, those in that industry must accept a policy of full disclosure.
- Remain ObjectiveAn unfortunately common mistake some marketers make is assuming that, if they don’t like the product, neither will others. Allowing your subjective tastes and preferences to blur your marketing vision will spell disaster for your efforts to promote a difficult product. Instead of focusing on why it doesn’t appeal to you, concentrate instead on possible reasons a product could interest someone else.
- Use Competitive Prices to Lure Them InNo one knows the challenges of marketing trouble products better than real estate agents who’ve been at it for the last several years since the U.S. housing bubble burst. When a surplus of supply or other conditions in your market beyond your control make selling difficult, consider adjusting your price to make an otherwise unattractive product more appealing.
- Collaborate with All Members of the TeamIf your organization is large enough that you have separate departments for design, manufacture, sales and marketing, strive to create a team mentality among everyone involved. The sales team likely receives the most direct feedback from customers, and they must share that information with the marketing folks so they can identify things that are working and things that aren’t.
Marni Mutrux is a content manager for V2Cigs, which offers an innovative electronic cigarette, a newer non-smoking alternative. From this experience, Marni has learned a tremendous amount about the intricacies of marketing. He blogs at the V2Cigs Blog.