Lessons Learned: How to Market Your Product

Previously I have written a lot about what I did wrong.  People appreciate the humor, but they also ask about what I did right so they can learn from it.  By far, the biggest question I get is “how do you market your product?”.  This is one area where we’ve been fortunate enough to have some success.  And it is also a major passion of mine.

First, let me define what I mean by “marketing” because it is such a vague term.  If you work for a big company it can mean strategy, product roadmap, positioning, etc.  For a small business it basically means “getting the word out about your product in a way that customers want to buy it”.  Its really that simple.

I am dividing this up into two sections.  First for people who don’t like marketing, and second for those two do.

If you DON’T Like Marketing

Hire someone to do it for you or convince a friend to help.

Thats it.

I often see inventors who are naturally introverts, or have no sense of humor try and market their product because they’ve constantly been told its something they NEED to do.  However, they hate to do it, and it comes off looking horrible.  Bad website, crappy collateral, stupid facebook posts.  It ends up hurting their product more than helping it.

I am a big believer in focusing on what you do well and spending most of your time on that.  Stuff that you don’t do well, or hate doing, learn enough about those tasks to be proficient.  Then pay someone else to do them.  By learning enough to be proficient you will know how much you should pay and can do the simple stuff by yourself.

One of the reasons for the success of Clean Bottle is that I was able to hire or bring on people who were very good in areas where I am not.  I hate shipping and packaging, so I outsourced it (to my Dad who does it for free, gotta love the art of the ‘guilt trip’!).  I am no good at product design so I found the best designer I could.  I have no idea how manufacturing works, so instead of trying to figure it out I hired a consultant who could help vet factories and customs.

Try to get others to do what you can't or don't want to. Parents are a great place to start because you don't have to pay them.

Sound expensive?  It is.  But if you can’t afford to do it right, you shouldn’t do it at all.  Sure, perhaps someone could climb Mt. Everest in Birkenstocks, but that shouldn’t be your plan going into it.

If you can’t afford to hire people, you can always give them a percentage of your business.  Or better yet, find friends in these areas who can help out.

As I learned in Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared". For a company to succeed you have to have excellence in every operational area. If you don't think you can cover an area yourself, find someone who can.

If You DO Like Marketing

I love marketing Clean Bottle.  Honestly, half the reason I invented a product was to get the opportunity to find creative ways to get the word out about it.  Every ride I do, every shower I take, every visit to the bano, my head is working on ideas.  Its just what I do.

I don’t think I have a natural talent for it, but I do have a total passion and dedication to it.  And that passion allows me to constantly work on it because it is fun for me.  Genius is overrated, it is all about constantly working and improving.  And it is much easier to do that when you genuinely like what you are doing.

So, I think marketing is almost like an equation with a few parts.

Yes, even marketing has equations.

1) How many eyeballs can you reach by what you are doing? Everything you are doing you should ask ‘how many people will see this?’.  If it is an ad – figure out the circulation.  If it is a facebook post, know how many people are following you.  That is the beauty of those mediums, it is so easy to track your audience and target it.


2) How many of those people will actually hear what you are saying? This is the most important part, in my opinion.  I’ve put an ad in Velonews and have gotten maybe 30 online orders.  When Velonews did a review of my product I got maybe 300 orders.  Why such the difference?  They are both in the same magazine.  Roughly the same size.  I think it is because we are constantly innundated with ads that we subconsciencely screen out EVERYTHING that looks remotely like an ad.

People hate ads.  People hate commercials.  People hate billboards.  Why?  Because they are getting in the way of the content we want to see.

So, the key is presenting your content in a way that doesn’t appear like an ad, so you can get people to actually digest the content.

You can't look like an ad, or people will likely ignore you. You have to looks like something people actually want.

Another way to get people to listen to you is to provide content that is useful.  Don’t be the ad, be the content.  What content do people like?  Stuff that is funny.  Stuff that gives them informative information.  Stuff that gives them an emotional reaction.   The best ads have these types of qualities so they become just as valuable to the consumer as the article they are reading or the show they are watching.

Why was this campaign so memorable? For the same reason most campaigns are: it made us laugh in a way that got the message across.

3) Do these people want your product? In other words, you need to have the right audience.  I can have a great Clean Bottle ad, but if it is in Harley Davidson Enthusiast magazine, it will be a lot less effective than in Bicycling Magazine, even if the circulation is the same.

Probably not my target demographic.

4) How easy is it to buy your product? Sure, you can have a great ad, but the goal is to sell product.  You need to make it easy for the viewer of that ad to take action and make a purchase.

Everything I am thinking of doing I subconsciencely plug in variables for each of these components.  If the math works out, I go forward.

Here is one example of what I did at the Wildflower Triathlon, a 3 day triathlon and outdoor expo, to maximize my exposure.

So, we had a 10×10 booth at the race, but we were in the corner and I wanted to make sure we had more visibility.  So I did a few things.

  • I Put up posters in all the porta potties.  They said “some things in life will always be gross . . your bottle shouldn’t be one of them”.  They also had a hang tag that people could rip off to get a discount.  Here is how I scored it on each of my criteria:

The poster that I put up.

  1. # of eyeballs.  HIGH.  Everyone at the event is hitting the porta potties at some point, especially the racers who want to ‘lighten up’ before their race
  2. will they listen?  HIGH.  People get marketed to in a lot of places.  But a porta pottie is not one of them.  They are actually looking for something to do to pass the time and don’t have their ‘anti-marketing force field up’ to ignore messages like they would when they are watching TV or looking through their race goodie bag.  It is also a funny ad, so you are getting people to laugh and have an emotional connection with you.  If you can get someone emotional you’ve given them something.  People pay $10 a ticket for a movie to make them laugh, cry or get scared.  If you can entertain them that is real value.  Plus, it made a pretty powerful point by associating their bottle to a nasty porta potty.
  3. Target audience.  HIGH.  All triathletes who use bottles
  4. Easy to buy.  MEDIUM.  I had hang tags that allowed people to buy the bottle at a discount with a promo code online or at our booth.  So, they did have a call to action.

Probably every 4th person at the event came to the booth and said “I saw your ad in the porta potty, and I loved it!”.  I could have probably paid $200,000 to be a title sponsor and have had posters of my logo up at every mile of the bike and run but still wouldn’t have gotten the recall I did with the porta potty posters.

  • We also had our Clean Bottle mascot on the course, cheering on the riders and runners.  Here is how I evaluated this:
  1. # of eyeballs.  HIGH.  This is everyone who is racing
  2. will they listen?  MEDIUM.  People aren’t expecting a giant costume to be around the corner from them on a race, so when they see it, it is remarkable.  Especially if they have seen it at the Tour de France.  So there is the humor.   I am not just an ad, I am content that they can get a laugh out of.  But,  I think more importantly, is that when I was in the costume I was cheering on each person and giving them hi-fives.  Clean Bottle was taking the time to support the athletes.  We weren’t trying to sell them anything, we were just cheering for them on a very big day for them.  You wouldn’t believe how appreciative people were.  The one downside with the Bottle Boy costume ist that if people hadn’t heard about Clean Bottle, they would have no idea who this was and what I was doing.
  3. Target audience.  HIGH.
  4. How easy is it to buy?  LOW.  There is no real call to action.

How can you NOT smile when this guy is cheering you on?

  • At the booth we also had a big sign that said “No More Moldy Bottles” and we gave out free water.  We also had a great discount going on.  I won’t analyze every aspect but the “No More Moldy Bottles” sign really had people coming up and asking how they could get rid of mold.  And the free water was really of value because a lot of the athletes were thirsty and hot – again, providing content that people want instead of just being annoying.

In the end, the booth was a hit.  We sold 220 bottles over the course of the weekend.  And between our booth, our posters and Bottle Boy, we definitely got the word out in a effective way.  And we had interacted with people multiple times before they even saw our booth – another key part of marketing.

Most small businesses don’t have the $$ to do traditional advertising.  I was shocked when I found out how expensive it was.  A full page ad in Bicycling Magazine for 1 month is $80K!  Who can afford that?!

But fortunately, there are other things you can do that rank highly in each of the metrics I laid out that can get you traction.  Here are a few:

  1. Product reviews.  An ad in bicycling costs $80K.  And people will probably glaze over it.  But a product review is free and people actually read those.  Go to every magazine and website you can and ask for a product review.  These are tough to get so you will have to be persistent.  My approach is to read the magazine and start writing to the authors of articles I like to start up a conversation.  Websites and blogs are easier because they aren’t space and time constained.
  2. Facebook.  Start posting on Facebook and advertising your page to people.  But here is the deal – make the content interesting.  Remember, it is all about giving something useful to the viewer.  There are only so many times I can talk about how the bottom unscrews from a Clean Bottle.  And guess what, that isn’t very interesting.  What is interesting?  Training tips are interesting.  Funny videos of my children are interesting.  Jokes are interesting.  Anything to make people laugh or be more connected with you.
  3. Twitter.  Twitter is a great tool because you can see who is talking about your product category.  With CLean Bottle, for example, I search for anyone who posts about triathlons or cycling.  And then I try to respond to EACH person if it is appropriate.  It takes a lot of work, but it is worth it.  But what I DON’T do is try to pitch people my product.  That is slimy and people get turned off.  Instead, I just have a dialogue.  If someone tweets that they are going to race this weekend I wish them luck and ask them which race.  Its a lot of fun to make friends on Twitter and people genuionly appreciate that I am asking.  I don’t even tell them about Clean Bottle unless they ask, and then I give them a discount.  Once people tweet with you for a while they will want to check out your profile and there they will find all they need to know.  Again, it is all about providing content instead of trying to beat people over the head with an ad.
  4. Get out to events. Hit the road and set up a booth.  People will appreciate that you are supporting the event and it will give you a chance to have conversations with people from your target audience.
  5. Target key influencers. Find the most influential people in your market, give them product and tell them your story.  For me, I reached out to triathlon and cycling coaches.  Their recommendation goes a long way.
  6. Look for good ideas in other industries and copy them. Why re-invent the wheel?  If you see a great marketing approach someone is using copy it and make it better.  Like I said, I don’t think I have any special marketing talent.  It is just a very big passion of mine so I am constantly observing about what works and what doesn’t when companies market to me.  The stuff that works I just copy and re-purpose.  As a consumer you are constantly marketed to, so if you put your antenae up you will find out what works and what doesn’t.

Thats all for me.  Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.  You can reach me at dave at cleanbottle.com

Ride Clean!

  1. Noel Spanier Reply
    Congratulations from your Scout Master. Nate has been forwarding me your stuff and I use it in my Marketing Strategy Class here at AUT University in New Zealand. Thanks for your contribution to marketing. I often lecture on the importance of passion. Cheers Noel Spanier
  2. Lonna Reply
    Greetings from Los angeles! I'm bored at work so I decided to browse your website on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the information you provide here and can't wait to take a look when I get home. I'm amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I'm not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, excellent blog!

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