These rocks rock my world.

Can you find my Pet Rock?

The inventor of the Pet Rock, Gary Dahl, passed away in March. If you don’t know what a “pet” rock is, you must google it. It’s one of the most amazing marketing stories of the 20th Century. Pet Rocks were first sold in 1975. Gary Dahl was a millionaire almost instantly. The craze ended quickly, but sales were brisk, brisker, and suddenly beyond belief. He hit a nerve, or maybe a “funny bone”.

Each Pet Rock came in a small carrying case – with holes to supply air, of course! The plain, brown, cardboard case was similar to what you might use to transport Fido to a Veterinarian. The roughly egg-sized, “easy to care for” Pet Rock came with an “Instruction Manual” and a “Certificate of Obedience Training”. Your Pet Rock was already trained to “sit and stay”. Genius.

What can we learn about this successful product and can we apply the lessons to our businesses?

To start, this is an example of quintessential “value added” merchandising. At $3.95, your initial thought might be who would buy a rock in a box when minimum wage was only $2.10 an hour. You might conjure the phrase, “there’s a sucker born every minute”. What fool would spend money on an ordinary backyard rock?

This was no ordinary backyard rock. To start with, it was a no-apologies gag gift. And it was impossible not to want to share. It made people happy to buy it and happy to give it. Most importantly, people were thrilled to receive a Pet Rock. (And yes – people actually named their Pet Rocks.)

Have you ever thought you had a really great idea?

Maybe you have something in development or ready for market? If only you could get it in front of buyers! You are sure it will sell, right? If only!

You wonder about a Facebook page or maybe Etsy. You consider a Kickstarter campaign or maybe Shark Tank. Maybe you can get a grant. Or should you take out a loan? Mortgage your home? What about selling shares to friends and family. If only!

So how DO you get “it” to market? And more importantly: How do you get the market to notice and buy?

It’s all in the packaging, my friends. And, by that, I mean the entire “package”.

It’s in the logo, the business name, the font and package, the graphics, and on and on. It’s the shopping cart description, the website landing page, the copy you create for a press release. The emails that have that perfect subject line and irresistible call to action.

Of course, the Pet Rock had awesome visual marketing material and plenty of silliness that made people want to be “involved” and sharing. The Pet Rock came in it’s very own “carrier box” with instructions and the warning label: “IMPORTANT: Open box carefully. DO NOT remove rock before reading instructions.” This was a very organic time in advertising when word-of-mouth was exactly that. There was no “online”; no computers in 1975!

In today’s world, it would be so much easier. Or would it?

We have a very easy-to-access marketing stream that works incredibly well for this exact kind of selling. We can reach out directly to other people with social media and put up a shopping cart in minutes. But standing out in the noisy online world is actually much harder.

Everyone wants approval for purchases. As marketers, we need to tap into our “clan”, our fans and followers, and other like-minded people. It’s what Apple taps into with every new phone launch. We want to feel like we are part of something special – the “in-crowd”. We want a sense of belonging. Many of us still have high school memories knocking around in our sub-conscious. We have remnant feelings of the pain AND the pleasure we experienced among our peers. We often “act-out” those intense teenage experiences when we shop for anything that will be seen by another person – no matter what age we are today.

(Anyone want to wager a bet on the opening weekend sales for the Apple Watch? 50,000 on the first weekend? 500,000? Personally, I think it will hit a million in the first few hours! I think there will be a lot of “acting-out”!)

There is nothing wrong with wanting approval and wanting the newest “thing” and good marketing practices acknowledge this. As a result, marketing hasn’t changed over the years and the moral of this story is simple: Fine tune your message – broadcast it to right people.

Follow these three basic rules for effective marketing:

  1. Solve a problem – the Pet Rock was an anecdote for a self-absorbed generation. It would likely fall flat if launched in today’s more cynical and less nuanced environment.
  2. Be as real and human and personal as possible. The Pet Rock was an in-your-face “rip-off”, but that was part of the charm. We have a big advantage with emails, social media, and other “friend-like” communications. Be yourself first, be aware and target the emotions you might stir up, and then “package” your product.
  3. Have a complete picture of how to create the deep connections that you want your buyers to feel. If you are selling health and fitness, make sure you sell more than a pill or shoe insert. Sell and promote what it “feels” like to be healthier and more fit. Will you need to do a video? Is your target market going to relate to tweets? What marketing strategies fit your message best? Have testimonials galore from your demographic.

There is no magic wand. There is persistence, self-confidence, and then more persistence. Visibility is key. You will be forgotten if you are not visible on a regular schedule with emails and at least a little social media posting. Don’t be fooled into thinking that all you need is a site on Etsy or Ebay, or spend hours (or lots of money) on Facebook to be successful. You need a plan – a marketing plan that solves a problem for a select group that you can target with select messaging. Your plan could include Etsy, but only if you have a clear path to sales on that site or any site.

Marketing is a verb. Go DO something; something that will bring you closer to a sale. Today!

Need a little help to get on the right path? I am a great brainstorming partner and even better campaign designer.

My reasonable rates can be found here.

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