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4 Ways to Sell Unsexy Products

Got a great product that's all steak and no sizzle? Road ID co-founder Edward Wimmer on how to craft the killer pitch.
Inc. Magazine | 26.01.2012
Face it. Most products just aren’t sexy.

The average product meets a need and solves a problem. That’s awesome, especially for customers whose needs are met and problems are solved.

But building a brand–and a community of loyal customers–can be incredibly difficult for a company when its products are all steak and limited sizzle. Building a customer base can be even tougher when the true value of your products only becomes apparent during an emergency.

Take Road ID, a company that custom-manufacturers a line of personal identification gear for outdoor enthusiasts, kids, and people with special needs. (Think of a Road ID as a cross between a military dog tag and a medical alert. Except a lot cooler.)

For runners, cyclists, and triathletes carrying ID is a hassle, so most don’t. That’s why, in part, every year over 450,000 people arrive at the hospital unconscious and without identification.

(Full disclosure: I would have been one of the 450,000 but I bought a Road ID after I learned a doctor who was cycling near where I live was struck by a car and killed. He wasn’t carrying identification and as a result the authorities were unable to determine his identity until the following afternoon.

Not long after, I wrecked and broke my collarbone and a few ribs. When I regained consciousness an EMT was bending over me, shouting, “What is your name? Do you have any medical conditions? Who can we call?” I was woozy and struggling to breathe, much less have a chat, so I just pointed to the Ankle ID strapped to my leg. Problem solved. Well, at least that problem.)

Like many companies Road ID provides an effective solution to a real problem–but how have they managed to build a customer base and average 50 percent year-over-year revenue growth for the past nine years?

In his own words, here are four strategies Road ID co-founder Edward Wimmer says any business can adopt:

1. Provide a great customer experience. We attribute much of our success to our focus on the customer. I know that might sound clichéd, but it’s true. Where Web functionality is concerned our goal is to make sure my grandmother can come to our site and place an order.

E-commerce is an inherently impersonal platform so we work hard to make the experience interactive and personal. While customers are ordering their IDs we provide recommendations for each line. We let them see what their Road IDs will actually look like. Any style and color changes they make appear instantly, and the text they enter appears on their virtual ID so they can play around with options.

The best way to meet customer expectations is to make sure the customer knows exactly what to expect. Remove the guesswork from the process. Provide answers to questions before the customer even has a question.

And never be afraid to take a fun and lighthearted approach to copywriting and customer messaging. Customers who take the time to read your copy–it's surprising how many do–definitely appreciate the personal touch.

2. Give back. We added a “give back” component to our purchase path that allows our customers to have us donate a percentage of their order cost to one of approximately 10 charities. We don’t tout it up front, and customers love discovering it when they’re completing their purchase. Even though we’re a small company, in 2010 we donated $145,000 and in 2011 we donated $228,000 to those charities. (Even Lance Armstrong took notice when we delivered a $37,000 check to LIVESTRONG this past December.)

Let your customers know they’re part of a larger community, and help them take part in making your community a better place. It’s a win-win on so many levels.

3. Be social. Social media is an extension of our customer-focused approach. We use social media as a way to communicate with our customers in a space they "play" while also having a little fun. And while we do provide a serious product, we take a lighthearted approach to our social media communications while still providing appropriate content like our cycling Rules of the Road. We monitor social media channels and respond to customer service inquiries quickly, often within minutes.

As a result we’ve gained over 30,000 Twitter followers and over 120,000 Facebook likes—and we’ve accomplished that in a little over two years.

Incorporate social media into all of your promotions. We let our fans tweet and post to Facebook as entry options, like during our recent Holiday Giveaway where we gave away a $12,000 Trek Bikes shopping spree. We gained over 6,000 new Facebook followers and saw 2,200 tweets reach over 2.4 million Twitter users during that promotion alone. And we raised approximately $13,000 for charity.

It’s your job to make it fun for your customers to interact with your company. Give your fans a great reason to engage with you and they will.

4. Partner with ambassadors. In 2009 we started working with a group of brand ambassadors that now includes Levi Leipheimer, Bob Roll, Craig Alexander, Dean Karnazes, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, and George Hincapie, among others. By partnering with such respected people we’ve raised the awareness of our brand while simultaneously turning it into a cultural identifier.

And in the process we made safety a little cooler.

We also leverage our ambassador relationships when we advertise within their respective sports. Our 2011 Bob Roll advertising campaign is a perfect example of how we incorporated a variety of our athletes into a campaign that spanned TV, print, and online.

Our ambassadors increase our visibility and we help them extend their brands, too.

Every industry has movers-and-shakers. Choose people who will reflect well on your brand. Then find ways to help them gain by the association as well. Always see "partner" as a verb and not just a noun.

If we can make safety cool, imagine how you can transform the perception and profile of your business.
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