Pop quiz: After perhaps the most successful product marketing campaign in history, this company’s stock price skyrocketed from $9.08 to $16.23, a 78.7% increase. The campaign turbocharged sales 36% year-over-year. And the company grabbed 42% more market share.
Ultimately, the company won a “Grand Effie” at the 39th Annual Effie Awards by unanimous decision. And today, this company keeps a tight stranglehold on its market-leading position.
Figure out the company yet?
Watch all 66 commercials from its historic campaign:
Apple is now a $753 billion company. It likely holds more than $203 billion in cash – more than twice the liquid cash of the US government.
You can’t have a marketing conversation without mentioning Apple. Why’d their “Get a Mac” campaign exponentially boost their already amazing success?
- Highlights advantages in a classy way
- Stays 100% honest
- Uses humor
- Doesn’t use any stupid gimmicks
- Communicates what the market cares about
- Didn’t fall into the trap of competitor-bashing
You may not have billions of dollars to throw at advertising. But you can certainly use the principles and techniques that create winning campaigns like Apple’s.
So read on to learn the seven secrets of the greatest product marketing campaigns – plus a few epic marketing fails you definitely don’t want to imitate.
1. Tell a (True) Story About Your Product
Many product marketers fall into the trap of “selling the product, not the experience.” No one wants your product. No one wants any product. They want a solution to their problem.
Only talk about the benefits, features, and facts, and you’re missing out on glaring opportunities for engagement. When you discuss these, you only engage Broca’s and Wernicke’s area of the brain. These areas simply decode words into meaning. That’s it.
Tell a story, and the game changes. When you do, and especially when your story features a character and intense emotions, you engage much more of the brain. In fact, you can put the whole brain to work.
For example, the limbic system bustles with activity when you describe emotions like love, hate, joy, anger, or sadness. When you discuss a lavender or cinnamon smell, the olfactory cortex goes to work.
It’s easiest to communicate your product’s value in memorable ways through storytelling. A 2012 New York Times article sums up research by cognitive scientist Veronique Boulenger (and many others) which concludes the brain:
“…[D]oes not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”
How do stories work in product marketing?
In the early 1900s, prospects didn’t look good for Milwaukee brewer Schlitz. They ranked eighth among American brewers, and had little hope for growth.
They eventually hired Claude Hopkins (now one of the fathers of modern advertising), from Racine, Wisconsin’s J.L. Stack agency.
Every brewer at the time screamed about their beer’s “purity.” With no clarification of what “pure” meant, no brewer could top the other.
Hopkins wouldn’t do a thing to help Schlitz until he intimately understood their product and market. So, Schlitz gave him a tour of their brewery.
He was shown plate-glass rooms that dripped beer over pipes, which filtered air to purify the beer. Every pump and pipe got cleaned twice daily. And Schlitz sterilized each beer bottle at least four times. Finally, Hopkins saw 4,000-foot deep (wow!) artesian wells that provided the water. Schlitz tried 1,200 experiments to produce the mother yeast cell used for brewing.
So Hopkins’ first question was, ”Why in the heck don’t you tell your market you do this?”
Schlitz’s reply: “Every brewer does this. It’s no big deal.”
They were right. But Hopkins strongly advised Schlitz to advertise stories about this because no other brewer did. The stories would clarify “pure” for consumers.
So Hopkins created ads like these:
All they did was go from the eighth to number one American beer in just a few months.
The takeaway: Tell a story about your products, but don’t just make one up – involve your potential customers by taking them behind the scenes.
2. Don’t Work Against Your Brand Perception (or Product Category)
Many product marketing campaigns fail. Some catastrophically.
Big brands sometimes go too far outside their market’s perception. For example:
Life Savers once marketed soda in the 1980s. It actually did well in taste tests.
But once sold nationally, it tanked. It turns out, consumers thought they’d be drinking liquid candy. Sounds delicious to me, but the market as a whole didn’t like the idea.
Clairol’s “Herbal Essences” shampoos have enjoyed massive success because of their provocative advertising. But in 1979, their “Touch of Yogurt” shampoo bombed in an epic way.
Some confused customers even ate it and got sick!
Mmmmmm…hairy yogurt anyone?
To cap it off, Clairol actually used some real yogurt (not an artificial scent) in this shampoo. Being dairy, it rotted. And reeked.
…How about you cap that off with a multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit while you’re at it?
Finally, McDonald’s took a big swing and a miss with the Arch Deluxe. They aimed the burger at a more sophisticated customer – adults. At the time, McDonald’s was known mostly as a restaurant for kids.
Have you ever thought about fine dining downtown…and had McDonald’s pop into your mind?
Their market didn’t either. Guess they weren’t “lovin’ it.”
McDonald’s dropped $300 million on the research, production, and marketing of the Arch Deluxe, “the burger with the grown-up taste.” And it’s now one of the biggest product flops in history. But strangely enough, you can still get it in France and Russia.
The takeaway: Consider your core audience carefully before you launch a product that might (really) not resonate.
3. Do What Your Competitors Won’t Do
Back in the heyday of Nike’s first explosion in growth, they fearlessly tried what other companies wouldn’t do. They failed. Sometimes, in big ways.
In the 1980s, they attempted to enter the casual shoe market. And it caused them to fall behind Britain’s Reebok, America’s athletic sneaker leader.
But Nike didn’t let that stop them. In the 1970s and early 1980s, they used a then-unknown, and sometimes scoffed at, marketing tactic: celebrity athlete endorsements.
Romanian tennis player Ilie Nastase, affectionately known as “the Bucharest Buffoon” for his on-court antics, was Nike’s first celebrity athlete endorsement in 1972. He ranked number one in the world in 1973 and 1974. Steve Prefontaine, a middle-distance track star, was another key signing in the mid-1970s. By 1980, this strategy catapulted Nike’s IPO and revenue growth to $270 million.
…And then they convinced someone named “Michael Jeffrey Jordan” to endorse their shoes in 1985. Fascinatingly, Jordan was a lifelong lover of Adidas. But Adidas didn’t offer him a deal. At the time of the signing, he wasn’t a superstar. But by 1990, Nike’s revenue hit $2.2 billion. And as of last year, it sits at nearly $32.4 billion.
Today, Adidas is about 1/3 the size of Nike. And Reebok about 1/45.
Check out one of Nike’s early commercials with Spike Lee and Michael Jordan:
And today, they’re pushing the envelope by hailing the participation of Middle Eastern women in sports:
The lesson to learn isn’t the obvious one: clearly, most small business can’t afford celebrity endorsements.
The takeaway: Try something new. Be willing to fail. Your competitors want to “play it safe” and do the same old thing because they’re afraid they’ll lose their market position and never regain it.
4. Market to Your Existing Customers
In the early 1990s, Pepsi and Coke dominated the beverage market. Both spent more than $100 million to advertise just one of their brands. At the same time, milk consumption was on the decline in California.
And what was so special about milk anyway? It was white. That’s it. Boring. Not much to say about milk. So, things didn’t look good for California’s dairy farmers.
Nonetheless, the National Dairy Board and California Advisory Board had to try something with their miniscule $23 million advertising budget. Eventually, they approached ad agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners (GS&P).
Previous campaigns attempted to draw in people who didn’t drink milk. But research by GS&P led it to believe it would work to advertise to current milk fans. Through focus groups, they found consumers only drink milk with something else. Also, they never think about it until they run out of it.
So that led to the creation of the first commercial:
“Got milk?” remains one of the greatest ad campaigns to this day. Though intended just for Californians, it became a cultural phenomenon. Today, it’s so embedded in American minds that it seems like it’s been a commercial forever.
The immediate results weren’t bad either. While national milk sales were on the decline, they increased 7% in California by 1994. And the campaign itself garnered three Gold Clios.
The takeaway: You don’t necessarily need to find a brand-new audience to increase product sales. You can increase demand even among your loyal fans.
5. New Product? Try a New Brand Name
Think of the Life Savers soda again. Say you have a product that’s perfectly within your ability to produce. And you’re confident your market will like it.
However, your product rests on the fringes of your market’s perception of your brand. They might think you rock at making the product (but they might not either). You don’t want to waste time and money creating a product no one uses.
What do you do?
Just look at Procter & Gamble. As of 2015, these P&G brands generated more than $1 billion each for the now $230 billion company:
- Bounty, “The Quilted Quicker-Picker-Upper”
- Gillette, “The Best a Man Can Get”
- Head & Shoulders
…And P&G has 55 total product lines:
The takeaway: If you have multiple products, create a completely new brand. Yes, you won’t have the built-in name recognition. But you’ll overcome the barrier that causes your market to think you can’t possibly do different products well.
6. Make an Exciting Promise – that You Actually Deliver On
A 2009 Consumer Reports press release debunks myths about three high-priced ab muscle machines:
- Ab Rocket ($100), which promises the body you’ve always wanted
- Rock-N-Go Exerciser ($230), which barely feels like a workout
- Red Exerciser DX ($175), which helps users “lose 4 inches off their midsection in 2 weeks”
In all cases, each machine engaged ab muscles the same or less effectively than working your abs without the machine.
A “big promise” makes all the difference to your customers. But you must deliver on it. Because today’s consumers will read reviews at Amazon and other websites to see how well your product actually works. Making a promise, without delivering, means you’ll only survive until your market figures that out.
You don’t have to come through on your exact promise. However, you do have to provide sensational value.
For example, Tim Ferris’ “4-Hour Work Week” sounds unbelievable. But the content of the book doesn’t boil your work week down to just four hours. However, it does give you a plan for “escaping the 9-5 workday, living anywhere, and joining the new rich.”
And Tim’s market finds that pretty cool.
The takeaway: Product marketers have to make promises to get people excited about trying new things. But if your promise is a lie, you’ll be in trouble.
7. Fail Fast and Move On
If you build it, they will come. Kinda. Sorta. Well…not really.
Trying to find a market for your product, before you know the market exists, is a practically guaranteed recipe for failure. Many new product marketers fall for this because they believe their product rocks. Unfortunately, they never checked with the market.
One such product bombed in the national spotlight. Code-named “Ginger,” renowned inventor Dean Kamen (now worth $500 million in spite of this product’s catastrophic failure) was the genius behind it. The rumors were that Kamen “was coming up with nothing less than an alternative to the automobile.”
He triumphantly predicted selling 10,000 units per week. And this product carried a hefty price tag of $5,000.
Instead, the product horrified both consumers and investors. It sold about 24,000 units in its first five years. Or, about 38 units per week.
Know the product?
Today, it helps mall cops like Paul Blart protect American shoppers:
It’s the Segway.
Yes, Segway has been one of the most epic product marketing failures of our time. Now, police departments, urban tour guides, and warehouses buy it for far less than $5,000.
Well, at least it has a market, right?
The importance of a culture of innovation
If you want to succeed as a product company, consider constructing your culture like 3M. Founded in 1902, it’s now a $114 billion company.
If you don’t already know, 3M holds more than 100,000 patents and has created:
- Cellophane tape (late 1920s)
- Waterproof sandpaper (early 1920s)
- Masking tape (1925)
- The first magnetic tape for recording audio (late 1940s/early 1950s)
- Post-It Notes (1980)
- Post-It Super Sticky Notes (late 1990s/early 2000s)
- Scotch Transparent Duct Tape (late 1990s/early 2000s)
- Optical films for LCD televisions (late 1990s/early 2000s)
- Scotch-Brite, the first disposable toilet scrubber with built-in bleach (2007)
- Respirators for general public use (2009)
- 3M Solar Mirror Film 1100, the world’s largest aperture for concentrated solar power
Jon Ruppel, VP of Global HR Business Operations presiding over 90,000 employees in 70 countries, said, ”We automatically share our discoveries and technologies across the company. No one business owns a particular technology and it's natural to work across business lines in support of the broader 3M goal.”
He said the company also:
- Listens to any new product idea, regardless of the employee or their position or the seeming absurdity of their idea
- Gives each employee 15% free time to explore new ideas
- Keeps a diverse workforce regarding thinking, culture, gender, ethnicity, and experience
The company also embraces failure. Employees do not get fired for failed product launches. In fact, they actually celebrate it.
Kurt Beinlich, technical director at 3M, said this about a failed heat-repelling cover designed to protect car paint from welding sparks:
“When we found that out, we celebrated that we had found something that was innovative and had its place. But we said OK; let’s move on.”
The takeaway: How can you ingrain innovation in your company’s culture? If you’re always trying new things, it’s OK if some of them fail.
In Product Marketing, Big Risks Can Mean Big Rewards
Doing anything outside the norm terrifies most companies. What if it results in failure?
What happens then?
But product companies that take risks not only recover, they often become enduring cultural icons.
And it’s due in large part to their willingness to integrate these secrets into their operations.
Which of these lessons inspires you most? Which will you use in your own product marketing?
About the author
As a freelance copywriter, Dan Stelter crafts persuasive lead-generating content for B2B software, SaaS, and service companies, earning him the moniker “The B2B Lead Gen Guy.” When you don’t find Dan helping B2Bs swipe more market share from competitors, you will find him reliving the good ol’ days of The Simpsons.