Are you currently interested in marketing products? Then this primer is for you.
You may enjoy marketing products that customers are already interested in. You may have done your homework and identified the need for a product. Marketing a product in which there customer interest is fine, but where is the challenge? The real challenge is in creating customer interest where there is none. Often, the key is to fabricate a need that the customer is comfortable with. In this way it becomes possible to market unnecessary products, old products packaged as new products, and inferior products as things to be desired.
1) Repurposing an existing product:
This one takes a bit of creativity, but that is part of the game, isn’t it? Take for example chewable antacid tablets. The cheapest antacids consist of calcium carbonate, essentially the same compound present in limestone. From high school chemistry, you know that calcium carbonate reacts with hydrochloric acid to give out calcium chloride, carbon dioxide, and water. It is a cheap and effective way to neutralize acid in the stomach. But marketing an antacid as only an antacid doesn’t give you a marketing edge. You need to sell it as something else.
The easy way to repurpose an calcium carbonate antacid is to market it as an effective source of dietary calcium. Now, you’ve got two uses for the same product, when there was essentially one. You’ve created a new market with your existing product.
2) Creating a market for an inferior product:
Suppose your company is in the business of making plastic straws. What happens if your manufacturing department messes up the specifications for the straws. You could throw them out and start over again. Or if you’re good at marketing, then you could try to sell them as inexpensive disposable stirrers for coffee and tea. You’ve taken the initiative and marketed an inferior product as something that it was not originally meant to be used for.
Let me give you another example. Desi dairymen are notorious for adding water to milk, or rather milk to water before distributing to customers. When confronted with the truth, they usually protest or blame it on ‘the rains’. That is the wrong business model, since it puts the business on the defensive. A way to create a market for milky water is to market it as “diet milk” to appeal to an affluent, health and weight-conscious segment of the market. Don’t laugh it off. These tricks work. How many people actually have the capability to make informed decisions about what they purchase?
3) Creating a market for an unnecessary product:
It is one thing to create a market for an unknown, product for which there is a tangible need. It is completely another to fabricate a need. Fabricating needs are deceptively easy. A celebrated example is the amplifier knob in This is Spinal Tap that goes up to eleven instead of the standard calibration based on the ten system. Think about it: do you really need ten devices that perform redundant functions? Sure, you do, because the advertisement tells you so. The used-car salesman uses knowledge of psychology to pitch unnecessary products to great effect, but you can train yourself in this art too.
A good way to market an unnecessary product is to point out the inferiority of an existing one with which the customer is familiar. Say for example, you want to market the edible flesh of sea scallops to vegetarians. How would you go about it? One way would be to create an image of scallops as a “new and improved” version of something the vegetarian customer is familiar with. You could go about by saying that scallops are the milder, more flavorful version of radishes or that they are the diced potatoes of the sea. By building a bridge to something the customer is familiar with, you’ve taken a first step in passing off an unnecessary product as something that is an improvement.
Here, I’ve given you three challenging scenarios, but this list isn’t exhaustive. You may call this sort of marketing deceitful, but I call it creative. It is also more common than you think. One day, I believe that the Great Indian Civil War will start over the eternal chakri versus murukku question: essentially a pointless debate over one snack-food called two different names by people from different parts of India. If people can do it to themselves, corporations have every right to do it to them too. After all corporations are people too.
And if you’re still confused, answer this question: why is selling a whole-wheat Mexican tortilla as a desi chapati wrong if you can satisfy the customer? They both taste equally disgusting out of the plastic wrapper.
© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban