Product Promotion On A Budget

by drjim on February 8, 2016

When you don't have a lot of money, product managers have to get creative

When you don’t have a lot of money, product managers have to get creative
Image Credit: Tax Credits

There are a lot of companies that a product manager can work for and it sure feels like I’ve worked for many of them. During my career so far, I’ve worked for four very large international firms and four startups. I can tell you that when I’ve been working for a startup, money has always been tight. However, as a product manager, I still needed to let customers know about my product and why they needed it. Product promotion on a budget is a skill that every product manager needs to have!

The Problem With Getting Attention

One of the main ways that a small startup can get some attention is by attending a trade show. Trade shows are a great place to be because your customers will be there and they expect to see vendors there – they are ready to be sold to. All of a sudden you have as much of a chance of getting your potential customer’s attention and telling them about your product development definition as the big boys do. However, as we all know, a trade show can be a busy, crowded, messy place. You are going to have to work hard to get your customer’s attention.

When I’ve been working for the big boys, getting a customer’s attention was a relatively straightforward process. First off, we always had a big booth. This made it easy for our customers to find us. Next, we made sure that our booth was well staffed – if a customer dropped by, there would always be someone knowledgeable about our product there. Finally, we generally had a professional presenter give a show once an hour in our booth talking about all of the new things that we were bragging about at this show. People who sat through the show were entered into a contest to win a valuable prize such as a iPad, Kindle, or some sort of Bluetooth device.

When I’ve been working at startups, the world has been considerably different. We haven’t had a big fancy setup. Instead, more often than not we’ve had a table with a banner on it. That’s it. Our staffing of the table has been slim. Generally there are just two of us there because that is all that the company could afford to send to the show – now there’s something to add to your product manager resume! Finally, we had no big ticket items to give away. This is where my product management skills came into play. I always like to give away chocolate – everyone in the world loves chocolate. I’ll buy chocolate bars, take off the paper wrapper (not the foil wrapper), and then rewrap them with a wrapper that I’ve made that talks about why my product is so great. Once people at the show learn that I’m giving out chocolate, they come flocking to my little table.

The Problem With Remembering Who You Are

No matter how much chocolate you give away at the show, you want your potential customers to remember you long after the show is over. In order to make this happen you are going to have to get them to pick up and keep some of your product’s promotional literature. This of course means that long before the show starts you are going to have to create the material that you are going to want to be handing out to them.

While working for large firms, I have become the master of creating promotional literature for my products. For every trade show I’d show up with US$100’s of printed material. When potential customers dropped by the booth, I’d make sure to hand them one copy of everything that I had and if when the show was over if I had given away most of what I had brought, then I felt as though I had been successful. I never really gave much thought to what everyone did (or didn’t) do with what I gave to them. I will confess there were a few times that I discovered my material in a trash can on the show floor.

Once again, things were very different when I’ve been working for startups. We simply didn’t have enough cash to create lots and lots of promotional material. What this meant is that we had to be smart about what we did. Two things that I’ve done that have worked out well have been to create an odd sized booklet: 3″ x 6″. This fits into a suit coat pocket well and does not look like any other vendors material. Additionally, I’ve written and self-published a book. Unlike other promotional material, nobody will throw a book away – they’ll take it home and put it on a shelf somewhere.

Another thing that we had to do when I’ve been working for startups is to be a bit more careful who we gave our promotional material to. Since we had a limited supply, we couldn’t just hand it out to anyone who passed by our table. Instead, we had to have a chat with them and evaluate their level of interest. If they seemed like they might really have a need for a product like ours, then we’d give them some of our literature. If they said that they were a decision maker, then we’d give it all to them!

What All Of This Means For You

In tough times and when working for startups, product managers have to get used to doing more with less. This should almost be a part of a startup’s product manager job description. Large firms come with large budgets and so when you attend a trade show you’ll have the cash that you’ll need in order to do the show the right way. If you are working for a startup, then you’re going to be on a budget and you’re going to have to do things just a bit more carefully.

Startups have to approach a trade show differently than a large firm will. One of the most important things that they have to figure out how to do is how to capture a potential customer’s attention. My approach has always been to give away chocolate. Once people learn that I’m doing this, I always have a line at my booth. The next challenge that a startup has to solve is how to be remembered. I’ve tried to accomplish this by creating oddly shaped promotional material and by writing and giving away a book.

Limited funds means that you are going to have to become creative. The good news is that creativity comes free and you’re just going to have to find the time to think about your customers. If you can understand what problems they are trying to solve and what kind of solutions they are looking for, then you’ll be one step closer to being able to provide that to them. Winning another customer does not take money; it just takes good product management thinking.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What can a startup do before a trade show to get customers to seek them out?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

p>As product managers we like to work hard. The reason that we like to do this is because we all believe that the harder we work, the more progress we’re going to make. What we are trying to achieve is to move closer to our target of total market domination, unlimited customers, and the ability to set our product price as high as we want and still have too many customers. All of this may not happen any time soon, but if we want to have a chance of making it happen, then we had better be sure that we know what the big picture looks like.

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How can product managers find ways to keep Coke growing?

How can product managers find ways to keep Coke growing?

Image Credit: Allen

As product managers the one thing that we’d all like is to manage a product that everyone already knows. In fact, if the product was a part of the popular culture that would be even better. However, if you were selected to be a product manager for the soft drink maker Coke, you might want to pause for just a moment. As people globally start to become more health conscious, sales of Coke products are slowing down. Would this really be a product that you’d want to be managing?

The Decline Of Coke

Ok, so let’s face it – no matter how you look at it, the Coke brand is very big and very powerful. Coke recently had to announce that their growth was going to fall short of their target of 3% – 4%. Last year Coke made a lot of money, US$46B, but their profit fell 14% to only US$7.1B over the previous year. One of the big problems that Coke is currently facing is that people are simply drinking less of their product. In the past two years sales have declined by 15% in the U.S., Coke’s biggest market. Their global growth over the last two years has been a measly 1%.Sure sounds like it’s time to update someone’s product development definition!

Coke, the company, is dependent on sales of sodas. Roughly 70% of their revenues comes from this line of products. Their portfolio of sodas does not just include Coke, taken together the portfolio is estimated to be worth $20B. One of the big problems that Coke has run into is that one of their largest markets, the baby boomer generation, is turning away from their product. This segment of the market is seeking products are healthier, taster, and are more unique. They are starting to shun mass marketed products like Coke.

The market that they serve is changing and Coke seems to understand this. They have tried in the past to diversity their product offerings. They purchased EnergyBrands who make the Glaceau Vitaminwater product for $4.1B in 2007. However, soon after that purchase growth in this area slowed and everyone thought that the purchase price was too expensive. Coke has also made investments in Monster Energy and the coffee machine maker Keurig.

Coke’s Plans For The Future

Coke has a goal for the future: they want to return to the high single digit growth level (can you say 9%?). The product managers at Coke are under a lot of pressure to find ways to make this happen. Some creative ideas are being explored. One such idea is a new soda fountain machine. This machine, called FreeStyle, has the ability to allow consumers to mix and match 100 different flavors of soda. Now that’s something to add to your product manager resume.

The secret to Coke’s long term growth may not lie in its products. Instead, it may reside in how those products are created and distributed. This is why Coke spent US$12B to purchase most of their North American bottling and distribution operations. The purpose of this purchase was to allow the product managers to work with the rest of the company and find ways to get Coke’s profits moving by finding ways to improve their manufacturing and distribution operations.

One other area that the product managers are looking into is advertising. Coke already spends a great deal on advertising: $3.3B in 2013. However, the product managers are considering increasing this by US$1B in order to once again capture the attention of their target customers. Coke’s advertising has always been powerful and effective; however, will it do enough to boost sales this time?

What All Of This Means For You

Becoming a product manager at Coke sure seems like it would be a dream job. That is until you take the time to think about what Coke is going through right now: the world has stopped drinking their primary source of revenue. Yes, this would be a good job, but it would come with it’s own set of unique challenges that might not have been spelled out in your product manager job description.

Coke is struggling because baby boomers are changing their eating habits. Their product managers are searching for new ways to keep their business growing. Their techniques so far have included creating a new type of soda fountain, purchasing the means to manufacture and distribute their product, and producing more advertising for their products.

Managing a large and established product like Coke is a significant challenge. Coke products come with their own unique sets of issues that need to be dealt with. The benefit of working for Coke is that the firm has a great deal of money. If their product managers make the right decisions, then they’ll be able to reverse the current situation and once again make the Coke products a success in the future.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the first thing that Coke product managers should do to turn things around for Coke?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There are a lot of companies that a product manager can work for and it sure feels like I’ve worked for many of them. During my career so far, I’ve worked for four very large international firms and four startups. I can tell you that when I’ve been working for a startup, money has always been tight. However, as a product manager, I still needed to let customers know about my product and why they needed it. Product promotion on a budget is a skill that every product manager needs to have!

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