Guns, Ammo, And Product Managers

by drjim on December 16, 2009

How Would You Market A Commodity Product Like Bullets?

How Would You Market A Commodity Product Like Bullets?

So there you are: the product manager for a boring product. How often have you caught yourself gazing longingly over at one of those iPhones, Kindles, or some other such highly desirable product and though to yourself “Now why couldn’t I be the Product Manager for a cool product like that?” I have one message for you — get over it. It turns out that there are other product manager who are responsible for products that are even less cool than yours and they are doing some pretty amazing things to make their products successful…

How One Goes About Buying Bullets

I’m sure that there are some of you out there that have very strong feelings about guns and such. Let’s put those feelings aside for a few minutes and take a closer look at the issue of, what else, bullets. If you are not an avid survivalist or hunter, you probably haven’t purchased bullets before.

It turns out that people really care about what gun they buy. However, bullets are almost an afterthought purchase. Sorry about that bullet product managers. Rob Walker over at the New York Times got interested in this product conundrum when he researched a company called Alliant Techsystems (ATK)<.

One of the products that ATK makes is bullets. In fact, they make a lot of different types of bullets — currently some 20 different brands. Awhile back ATK bought a company and inherited the Federal Premium brand of bullets. I think that most of us will understand that the way that this brand of bullets was being sold was based on function and performance. That’s ok, but it really wasn’t brining in the big sales.

Building The Better Bullet (Brand)

The next line of bullets that ATK brought out was called Fusion. With this product line the product managers at ATK were targeting (sorry!) the 25-35-year-old deer hunters. In order to catch their eye, the company created a new “aggressive” box design and even went so far as to add a foil label. They basically pimped the box.

These two products gave the ATK product managers the experience that they needed in order to gain the confidence that they needed in order to do their biggest product launch to date. They recently rolled out a new line of bullets for duck hunters called Black Cloud. This time around they are showing that they know what needs to be done to turn a commodity product into a must-have product.

ATK has partnered with a well known TV personality (in duck hunting circles): Phil Robertson who is known as the “Duck Commander”. They’ve also gone ahead and made a couple of “viral videos” in order to build some buzz around their new ammo. Just to show that bullets also play a role in the 21st Century, they’ve gone so far as to create their very own social networking site called StormChasersNetwork.

Just to top things off, they have also make sure that the box for the Black Cloud product virtually jumps off of the shelf. They dressed it up in a bright color scheme that is designed to catch a hunter’s attention and remind him of the first light of day (which is the best time to be hunting ducks).

What All Of This Means For You

I can’t say for certain what kind of product you are responsible for managing. However, I can bet that it’s probably a little bit more interesting than a commodity product like a bullet. In fact, no matter how boring you may find it, it’s probably a whole lot more interesting than a bullet.

With a little luck this story about how the product managers at ATK were able to see beyond the simple fact that they were charged with trying to sell more of a commodity product that the other bullet makers should inspire you. What the ATK product managers did was to step into their customer’s shoes and identify how they see the world. Once they knew this, it became clear as to what they needed to do.

Spend some time thinking about not what your product does, but rather what your customers will do with your product. This can point the way forward for how you can turn your boring commodity-like product into something that will take off like a (what else?) bullet.

What do you think that ATK could do in order to make their bullets stand-out even more with their customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers, one of the things that we enjoy doing the most is sitting back and counting the number of customers that our product has. Customers are great to have, but it turns out that what we should really be doing is looking for ways to turn them into something much more valuable: partners.

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