Yesterday I was a guest at the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s annual meeting. (Thanks, IBM!) One of the panels was a terrific round-up of the CEOs and founders from four local innovation stars: iRobot, CSN Stores, Carbonite and TripAdvisor, moderated by Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe. Good conversation and discussion of upcoming hiring from the four companies (all told, probably over a 1000 hires coming this year from the group). I particularly liked it when the CEOs asked each other question. The panel wrapped up with a question from the audience. “Could each CEO tell us about a marketing moment that made a difference for the company?”
Awesome question, and one I didn’t expect to hear from that audience. Kudos to the asker! All too often we get deep technology questions, or how to get funded questions, and rarely is marketing acknowledged as something that can change a company’s fate.
David Friend from Carbonite gave a wonderful anecdote about the company’s first (controversial) use of talk radio to communicate its message to the average consumer.
Then the iRobot CEO talked about a humorous Pepsi commercial that featured a robotic vacuum cleaner that suddenly had Roombas flying off the shelves at the iRobot warehouse. But the robot in the commercial wasn’t an iRobot product. It was a prop. But it was called a vacuum, not a robot. It got people to think about the possibility of an automatic vacuuming device, one that would vacuum without human guidance. People went looking for such a product and discovered Roomba — success! I imagine iRobot’s corporate cafeteria only serves Pepsi now.
I was awaiting more detail — how the company had get the product in the commercial (product placement), or how the PR team had worked to place educational stories about robotic vacuums or something. But no, the commercial was simply happenstance. A lucky and serendipitous turn of events. Awesome! But that’s not marketing…
Or is it? Don’t forget that there is more to marketing than promotion. In order to capitalize on this lucky turn of events, iRobot had to have the right product, capture inquiries, be able to take orders and move actual product into the hands of credit-card wielding consumers. Pricing had to be right. The distribution had to be there. All of these pieces of the marketing mix had to come together for iRobot to survive.
Lesson: marketing is more than promotion. Is your company ready to sell when the fates smile on you?