When I graduated college with a biology degree, I had no idea that in a few short years I’d be building a brand that went from zero to $75 million in sales in just four years.
The path there was a winding one.
After graduating from college, I knew I didn’t want to go on to dental school.
I got my real estate license instead.
I bumped into a real estate agent who was doing seminars.
I started helping him promote the seminars both locally and nationally.
I found out I had a knack for marketing.
In 1989, I started a company called Trillium Health Products.
Within four years, we were doing $75M in revenue.
Trillium eventually sold to a Chicago-based company called Salton Housewares.
After Trillium sold, and I had some free time on my hands, people started calling me and saying,
“Hey, how’d you do that?”
And so my second career in marketing and branding began.
I started an agency, and the very first company we worked with was one called Optiva – the makers of the Sonicare Toothbrush.
Which leads me to an interesting story…
Many of the household brand names we know today – they didn’t get it right on the first try.
Sonicare was in this boat when we started working together.
Their $150 toothbrush wasn’t selling very well. It was a tough sell to start with, as most toothbrushes on the market were only $2-3.
The problem was that they didn’t have the right:
Value proposition that solved a problem for the customer.
We knew there needed to be a unique selling proposition – and in their case, it was the sonic technology and the ability to clean beyond the bristles.
To the customer, neither of those things are very interesting.
But when we positioned the product as a tool for fighting gum disease (because it could reach the nooks and crannies most other toothbrushes missed) – that was when sales took off.
No other toothbrush could tout that value, and so they gained a unique foothold in the marketplace.
But Sonicare wasn’t the only company we helped solve this problem.
Salton Housewares, a small appliance and housewares company, had a slanted grill called “Fajita Express.”
Essentially, it was a mini electric skillet that you’d cook hamburger meat in and then scrape into a taco shell.
It wasn’t a big seller.
Then we came in and repositioned the product with a unique selling proposition and marketing approach.
Today, we all know what started as the “Fajita Express” as the George Foreman Grill – one of the largest selling household products of all time with more than 100 million sold to date.
The difference was:
We took a taco maker and repositioned it as the “Lean, Mean, fat reducing machine.”
It solved a problem (reducing fat + easy cooking) and was paired up with a celebrity: George Foreman, the oldest person to regain the heavyweight championship–who was famous for eating a lot of hamburger.
In most cases, this is what home-run branding is all about: Finding out what the customer’s pain point is and then positioning the product to solve that problem.
There is no silver bullet to branding that works 100% all the time.
I do, however, believe in the concept of selling to build your brand.
That doesn’t mean you go down to your basement or study and make sure everything is perfect before your launch your product and say, “Yes, this is my brand.”
It means you:
Get out in the marketplace.
Start generating sales.
Look at customer feedback.
Then you let your brand evolve based on what customers do and don’t like about your product.
Doing this allows you to build your brand on what customers want and like, but more importantly, it helps generate cash flow so your business can grow at the same time.
It’s also a great way to collect testimonials that you can use later.
In fact, I like to gather groups of 10-20 customers and record them on video sharing what they do and don’t like about a product.
This way, we have video testimonials we can leverage down the road – and we have the exact language our customers use when talking about the product recorded.
With this information, we can mirror back that customer language in:
Doing this makes the branding and marketing feel more authentic for customers – and it takes some of the legwork out of technical copywriting, too.
Speaking of copywriting and advertising: Here’s the best advice I can give small businesses:
Don’t spend any advertising dollars on conventional brand advertising.
Any type of advertising you’re doing should have some form of direct response in it.
That way, when somebody sees your product, you’re giving them the ability to go to your website and purchase it right away.
This is what we did with GoPro.
GoPro started as a California surfer selling cameras you could attach to a surfboard out of the back of his Volkswagen.
Today, it’s a multi-million dollar brand with a wide range of products.
That growth happened thanks in large part to user-generated content and direct response tactics in our marketing campaigns.
With our TV ads, we used user-generated footage with a GoPro logo in front and then at the end told people:
Go to our website and enter to win.
One person will win one of every product we make every single day.
When someone went to the website, three things would happen:
They would register for the content, providing their name and email address (which helped us build our database.).
They’d like the product–and order it (which generated revenue.).
They would see the other user-generated videos on the site and share them (which was organic marketing for us).
And it worked.
Growth skyrocketed with this approach, and we were able to build an extremely engaged community around the GoPro brand that’s alive and well today.
So what can we take away from this?
There’s a saying in business:
“You should always start with the end in mind.”
When you look at branding this way and start with the end in mind, you can reverse the equation and build brands built on what customers truly want and need in a product.
Give your customers a voice, and they’ll always help you build the best possible product.
Following his passion for health and nutrition, Rick built his first business Trillium Health Products to over $75 million in sales in only 4 years, creating both the Juiceman and Breadman brands. While still in his early 30s, he founded Cesari Response Television, Inc. as a marketing agency to help other companies increase sales, build their brands and grow their businesses. A pioneer in direct response marketing he is responsible for helping to build many iconic household brands, products like Sonicare, The George Foreman Grill, OxiClean, Rug Doctor, Momentus Golf and more recently the GoPro Camera. He is the author of Buy Now and his newest book, Building Billion Dollar Brands. A sought after keynote speaker on brand building and marketing, his current company, Cesari Ignite helps small companies with their strategic planning and growth.