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Making unglamorous products exciting to the unexcitable

Although I know a few readers of this blog are responsible for the marketing of relatively sexy consumer products, the vast majority of us spend our days thinking about how to sell white plastic boxes or hard-to-explain software. What’s more, it’s always a worry that at least some of the customers are as unexcitable as the products are unexciting. Making our marketing human – which we must – can be really hard.

As a writer on an engineering magazine, I once went to see an automation product in use at a factory, on a trip arranged by the product’s supplier. Their customer was apparently a hard-to-impress guy, although relatively satisfied with the product. He was considerably more impressed by being visited by a reporter. My eventual article had to go through the normal approvals process, but I was able to feature the customer by name. Much later, the product supplier told me that the customer had been so proud of being featured in a magazine article that he’d become a real evangelist for them, much to their delight (and surprise). We may think we’re just another supplier, but maybe we can go beyond the others in unusual ways.

The human angle of our marketing is impossible to define as a set of rules. The product may not generate much of a thrill, but what it can do for the customer could be a different matter. And the more generally unexcitable the customer, the more their reaction to a benefit might surprise us. Could our product save them a lot of sourcing effort compared to alternatives? Could it help them impress their colleagues or managers? These are the things we need to consider.