Product Marketing On A Shoestring Budget

Sometimes you've got to make do with what you have
Sometimes you’ve got to make do with what you have
Image Credit: Mats Hagwall

So I’ve been a product manager at a number of startups and I’ve enjoyed every one of these experiences. I find that startups have a sense of energy that I just don’t find at the larger companies that I’ve worked for. However, what startups are more often than not missing is money. Cash. What this means for product managers is that because being able to make payroll (which they can’t always do anyway) is more important than marketing, you’ve got to learn to get by on a shoestring marketing budget.

It’s All About The Chocolate

Ok, so I’m going to start this discussion off with my best idea first. I can’t tell you how many trade shows I’ve been to in my career. Every vendor has a booth and everyone is giving something away just so that visitors will remember them. People who attend these shows are given a bag when they arrive just so that they can load up on this “swag” stuff. How is a small startup supposed to compete with the big boys who are giving away fancy flash drives, coffee mugs, and pen sets?

It turns out that the answer is rather simple – chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate (or they know someone who does). If you hand out chocolate then you will earn the gratitude of everyone who gets one of your chocolate bars. Buy a chocolate bar, remove the paper wrapper but not the inside metal wrapper, print your own wrapper with info about your product on it and then re-wrap the candy bar. Hand these out and watch a line form in front of your booth! Now that’s something that you’ll be able to add to your product manager resume.

Odd Shaped Handouts

Every product has a collection of information about it’s product development definition that you’d like to get into your customer’s hands. The problem is that every other vendor at a trade show is trying to do exactly the same thing. All too often I’ll see product managers create 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper with material on both sides. They then try to hand these out to passersby who will take them and then never look at them again.

I hate it when my hard work is ignored. That’s why when I have product information that I want to get into my customer’s hands I take a different approach. I create a brochure that doesn’t look like everyone else’s. My favorite is a 3″ x 9″ brochure. This is perfect to fit into a man’s suit coat pocket and will stand out among all of the other things that a person picks up during their visit to a trade show.

Read A Good Book Lately?

The problem with any sort of printed material that we hand out to potential customers about our product is that there is a very good chance that they are going to end up throwing it away before they ever get around to reading it. The reason that this can happen is because customers simply don’t value our material.

In order to get around this problem, I did a little bit of research: what did my customers value? It turns out that the answer was books. They never threw books away. Once I knew this, I realized that my product needed a book that talked about it. The good folks over at Amazon bought a company called CreateSpace a while ago and this company will print your book for you on demand – how many copies would you like? Each copy is going to cost you about US$2.50. Now when I hand out my product book, I’m confident that my customers are going to hold on to what I’ve given them.

What All Of This Means For You

Wouldn’t it be great to work for a company like IBM, Google, or Oracle who must have a virtually unlimited marketing budget? If you find yourself, like I have, working for a startup where every dollar counts, you’re product manager job description is going to have to include getting more creative with how you go about telling the world about your product.

There is no one answer to how to get your potential customer’s attention when you are working with a shoestring marketing budget. However, some things that I’ve tried that have worked out very well include customizing and then handing out chocolate to my potential customers. When I have to create a handout, I try to make them uniquely shaped so that they’ll standout later on. Finally, customers don’t throw books away so I’ll create a book that talks about my product and then hand it out to potential customers.

Creativity is a big part of what it takes to be a successful product manager. Anyone can create material that talks about their product. What it takes to be a successful product manager is the ability to create material that will really stand out. Consider the three methods that I’ve shared with you and then see if you can come up with even better ones!

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

Question For You: What could you do to make sure that your customers would open up a book that you gave them about your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just in case you didn’t hear about it, Verizon is rolling out a new wireless service that they are calling “go90”. The name comes from the product development definition that says that users will now start rotating their phones 90 degrees in order to watch videos on the go90 service. Now Verizon is a very large U.S. telecommunications provider, but they are not necessarily thought of as being a “cool’ company. Companies such as Virgin, Nike, and Facebook can claim the “cool” crown – not Verizon. Does this mean that the Verizon product managers are making a mistake in trying to roll out a cool product?