Toggle Menu

Let us help you elevate your brand.

Greater Baltimore Driving Directions

180 W. Ostend St, Suite 277 B
Baltimore, MD 21230
United States

Central Maryland Driving Directions

11 Public Square
Hagerstown, MD 21740
United States

Elevating Brands 001: Rethinking Your Product Marketing

Len Sullivan:
This is a story about medical waste. Okay. Are you excited, Pieter? I know I'm excited.

Video URL

Pieter Bickford:
Always. Anytime we can talk about any kind of waste. It's just thrilling.

Len Sullivan:
And medical waste is so exciting. But I know everyone who just clicked the play button are very confused right now. So it probably a quick introduction would be in order. This is Elevating Brands with High Rock. It's a monthly series dedicated to, you guessed it, elevating your brand. My name is Len Sullivan and joining me--

Pieter Bickford:
I'm Pieter Bickford.

Len Sullivan:
Pieter Bickford, as usual. So, we're going to be talking...well, let's get back to the story, medical waste. So, it was probably a few years ago and I don't want to put anyone on the spot. So, I'm just going to say it was a sizable medical waste company. And we were in the process of doing marketing for them. They kind of came in and they asked us what can we do to...really what they were going to say was elevate their brand, but really what they wanted to do was increase sales. And when we came in, we started asking very basic questions. What do you do? Well, we pick up medical waste. What's different about what you do? Well, nothing. Really.

Pieter Bickford:
What's different about medical waste?

Len Sullivan:
What's different about what they do as a company when they pick up medical waste and really the answer was, nothing, and in all honesty. Now the CEO who first impressions where, he kind of reminded me of Ray Liotta, in the sense that he had that very kind of stoic face, looked very mean. Turns out the man was just very lovely. So after you kind of broke the ice with him, it kind of freed up. But the first part of the discussion was very difficult. Kind of getting a "what do you do? What's different about what you do?" Because he hadn't really thought about it in those terms before. It was always about price. It was always about how much traction we get just generating leads.

Len Sullivan:
But when we drilled down to it, he had some very interesting things to say about the company itself. And there was a lot of good stories about things that they had picked up. And its medical waste, but I was actually fascinated because he was talking about picking up things like giraffes and the president's blood. And all these sort of funny stories that just kind of...they were just sitting in the back but he hadn't really thought were really funny because he had dealt with them. So it was just one of those things that when you're so close to a product, that you fail to see what is really interesting about the things that you do.

Len Sullivan:
And we ended up kind of finding a sweet spot in terms of where they were going with their marketing plan and what they wanted to do, and really appealing to the things that they had. But it was a very interesting insight that the CEO said, which was, "We never really thought that our brand could be amusing. It's medical waste." But I hadn't really thought about that either until you kind of uncovered the process of branding. It's kind of something that you just uncover during that process. But today, we're talking about rethinking your product position. And I thought that that was a very appropriate story for just kind of rethinking about the way that you have a kind of a product and what you do with it.

Pieter Bickford:
Yeah. Okay. I got to go back though. Can you give me any more details about the giraffe and the president's blood?

Len Sullivan:
There was a whole...yeah, it was...obviously medical waste, they pick up things that you'd never thought of. Veterinarians' offices and zoos and you always think they go to a hospital, it's the needles and everything. But they picked up just a variety of crazy things. And picking up the president's blood is heavily regulated. It's like armed guards and stuff like that before...even, they watch it being destroyed. I don't think we're at the point of cloning the president...

Pieter Bickford:
Maybe we'll clone a giraffe. We're not going to clone the president, right?

Len Sullivan:
Exactly. Exactly, exactly.

Pieter Bickford:
But I was going to say that's one of the fun things that...it's actually one of the things I've really learned from you, working with you, is to make that one of the first questions you ask, because what...in my background in news, I was always looking for when we were doing interviews, what's that one thing that makes this person different from everybody else? What's that one thing that surprises you? And you sort of taught me to do that when we're going to talk to companies and draw that out of them, because everybody has a unique story.

Len Sullivan:
They do. They do. And I think people think marketing is some kind of mystical mumbo jumbo, but really it is finding the thing that's going to appeal to someone who's going to engage with your brand. And we say brand, but product or location or whatever it might be. And that...I guess that really kind of comes back to what we're talking about today, which is, rethinking your product position. And that could be so many different things in terms of what it is. I always like to bring it down to a very basic level because you deal with...there are marketers that deal with a lot of high-end brands and there's a lot of companies out there that help them kind of get there. And they buy television ads, but that's...marketing has changed so much and you're dealing with a lot of people that kind of sit in the middle and it might be just one marketing director or one CEO and they're always kind of wondering, what do I do next? How do I position it?

Len Sullivan:
So, I always like to bring it kind of down to one thing. Something very simple that people can understand. Something as simple as like a hair salon. It's like, "Well, I'm a hair salon." What do you do? "I cut hair." It's no different than the person next to me. So, if somebody opened a hair salon that is right next to your hair salon, what is going to make them open your door and not their door? Maybe you offer massages. If you look at the things that people talk about when they go to get their hair cut off, then they talk about getting their hair shampooed, it's like a little mini massage. So, what do you do that differentiates you from your competition, right?

Pieter Bickford:
Absolutely. That's actually one of the things I've missed the most in COVID is you don't get to...when you go to get your hair cut, they can't really touch you as much.

Len Sullivan:
I don't have much hair to be cut anymore. So, it's not something I really...I guess I'm using an analogy there that I'm really not comfortable with because I can't remember the last time I actually went to get my hair cut.

Pieter Bickford:
But I love the hot towels over the eyes and all the pampered stuff that you're supposed to pretend you don't really go there that you want, but that's why you got to go.

Len Sullivan:
Exactly. But it comes back to what you were talking about with the news, is really finding the...you're finding the angle, right? You're looking for something that is relevant that makes people engage with the story. And sometimes you're using emotion to kind of get the most often in the news, so you can't go under. There's a difference now between what is emotional news and what is informational news, but of course, you want to have a very compelling story. And marketing is no different in terms of compelling stories, right? It's sort of the same thing.

Pieter Bickford:
And one thing I always found is the people who don't think they're interesting at all, usually tend to be the most interesting. They just...they're very humble and yet you find out that they actually adopted 12 kids and have saved lives and things like that. It's just...so it is important to ask those questions because like you even said, the gentleman who deals with medical waste, he's part of the minutia of running a business every day. And he forgets that there's things about what he does that's really interesting.

Len Sullivan:
Yeah. Well, and at this point, I'm sure there are people listening that are like, "Okay, that's great. You're talking about somebody who adopted somebody. How is that relevant to my brand?" And the simple fact is, you want to make relevancy in something that is interesting to appeal to a certain person. So, I guess if you're really going to sum it up, repositioning your product or your service or whatever it is to appeal to new people.

Len Sullivan:
An analogy. Another of one of my horrible analogies that sort of is grossly over-exaggerated. Let's say you make peas. Frozen peas. Probably one of the most unexciting products that you can possibly make. I make frozen peas. How are your frozen peas different than someone else? They might not be different, but how you pitch your frozen peas. So, what if your marketing now turns to five pea-based desserts that will get your mouth watering. Now you're appealing to the demographic or something that is completely different to sell peas to people who might not have thought of them. Now, I don't actually even know if there is a pea-based dessert, but hopefully that sort of exaggerated analogy kind of gets to the point of, now you can sort of blast out to a different audience, the same message about what your product is. And hopefully sell more frozen peas, to make some kind of crazy dessert.

Pieter Bickford:
I will say, you have to make your message really good for me because that's the one thing I don't like.

Len Sullivan:
Well, and that's kind of why it's sort of, I picked probably one of the worst...one of the vegetables that sort of really offends people the most.

Pieter Bickford:
I don't know. Brussels sprouts are everywhere.

Len Sullivan:
There is someone that loves peas right now that is very offended by this entire conversation. But, it's probably what we're going to have to endure here. But again, it's finding that angle and you're appealing to someone who might not necessarily be your target audience, right?

Pieter Bickford:
Absolutely.

Len Sullivan:
So now obviously that leads to the next part of covering this topic which is just basically what...you've probably seen this. When you talk to people that are doing their marketing plan, it's like, what do you do with your marketing plan? Well, January we're doing this and we post on this, this, and this. And in February, we post on this, this, and this. And it's the same thing over and over again. So, then the question becomes if you put a pea-based dessert post on your post about vegetable lovers, it's probably not going to appeal to them.

Len Sullivan:
It opens up a new venue. So, your marketing message is tying into the venue or the platform in what you're delivering that marketing message, it becomes really appropriate for getting the message out there and getting what we always advise the call to response. What do you want them to do when they see? Do you want them to download the recipe? Do you want them to come to your website? Do you want to collect their information? Do you want to follow up with more pea-based desserts? Whatever it might be, to sort of make them engage with your story.

Pieter Bickford:
I will say, we can laugh about the pea-based desserts thing, but there is some real practicality there because taking that surprising message to somebody. They're not expecting you to be talking about a pea-based dessert. I'm going to want to learn more, just like I wanted to learn more about when KFC released their candle that makes it smell like fried chicken in your room. It's a little gimmicky, but it's still got people talking and it matched their brand, which is going for that hipper audience. And let's face it. People love candles these days.

Len Sullivan:
You brought up the example of candles. I'm getting inundated with ads for candles, because I think it is sort of...there's a level of creativity happening in the candle world. This sounds ridiculous. I can't believe that I've just uttered that statement. But there is a level of, "I'm getting ads for candles that are old bookstore and sea voyage and...what was the one that really..."Alien Encounter." There was a candle called "Alien Encounter" and it had some very strange sort of scents that went along with it. If you described the scents, inevitably cinnamon is very tied to "Alien Encounter." So that's--

Pieter Bickford:
Okay. What do aliens smell like? I'm just picturing goo for an alien.

Len Sullivan:
Evidently cinnamon. Aliens must smell like cinnamon. But it is...that's shareable and it's viral and they did...yes, they created a product, but it isn't your traditional mint or whatever. I'm not a candle expert, whatever might be the most popular flavors of candles out there. But really, what they did is they generated buzz. And it's not just one candle company. It seems to be kind of a motif going on right now as is these sort of crazy names and it's shareable. You watch people engage with these things on social media and it's not only because they find them funny, but then the curiosity sometimes. I want to know what it smells like. What does an alien encounter smell like. I want to smell the cinnamon in an alien encounter, so I'm going to order this.

Pieter Bickford:
I have to have that now. Does it say something about me that I'm pretty confident the most popular candle smell is probably lavender?

Len Sullivan:
I think that probably sounds accurate. But yes, it does say something about you. You obviously love candles...or someone in your house does.

Pieter Bickford:
I live in a house filled with women. So, we have lots of candles burning here, so...

Len Sullivan:
Well, at my house as well. But the thing is that what we're talking about while it sounds kind of ridiculous on a level of just...it's entertaining, but it's also still getting their brand out there. If you get to click for the "Alien Encounter," they're most likely going to get to your websites, see the other candles that you offer. And they might not...the audience person who clicks that sort of...can you call it a chachkie or do you just really call it a peripheral? It's not really your target audience, but they're on your website and they may end up buying a candle for their wife because they thought it was...but now you're appealing to a different, and I guess I'm making an assumption here.

Len Sullivan:
The person who is not the candle lover that might click on the link and then buy a candle for their significant other who actually does like candles. And they may buy that lavender that you think is the most popular. So, while they're promoting something else, they're actually fishing for leads for what is to get them to your website. But that comes back to call to actions, right? You wanted them to land on your website. You wanted them to peruse your catalog and possibly place an order. So then the question becomes, what do you do to get your brand out there in a new and different light?

Pieter Bickford:
Yeah. Well, I can tell you, I take care of giraffes and I need somebody to remove them. Does that make sense?

Pieter Bickford:
I'm just trying to tie it back to the medical waste.

Len Sullivan:
You're trying to tie it back to the medical waste.

Pieter Bickford:
I'm still thinking of that movie with the giraffe and the poor giraffe. What was it, "Hangover 3" and the poor giraffe on the highway? This is the image that's going through my head this whole conversation.

Len Sullivan:
Great. That's exactly what you want to take away.

Pieter Bickford:
But that's effective marketing because you have me thinking about the medical waste company. We started with that. And I'm back to thinking about all the ways. Which is what you want people to be doing. If you get them with something interesting and you also get to the heart of why they're in that business, a lot of times you can communicate your message to your likely client, your possible customer. And there's people out there that need medical waste companies. So, they're interested in the creative things that you do and then it's a wonderful way to get them interested in your product. So, I really see what you mean there.

Len Sullivan:
Yeah. I guess if we're going to sum up what we're talking about here, it's when you're rethinking...if you take a few moments for the person who's kind of listening to this, looking for some marketing advice on what you can do now to affect -- especially in the pandemic that we have right now -- is to rethink your product position. Talk about your product, find the things that really appeal to the customers that...what are the things that they talk about? What are the things that...what is the experience that they get when they interact with your brand? And in some cases, services might be different than products, but what do you do differently that really resonates with your customer base? And then reposition your...whatever that might be to appeal to someone who might not necessarily be your target audience.

Len Sullivan:
And that can take a variety of different directions there, but really just kind of reach out and use those stories to kind of reach a new audience, or at least increase your exposure from just a PR standpoint. And then when you're doing that, always look for new distribution platforms and how you can get that message out. And the distribution platforms are just very specific to what you're trying to do. So whether it be on social media, or is it a press release, or is it a news story where you're going to put it out is important because it's almost like you're pushing in that direction and you're looking for results from that. We don't have to...you can go into the, measure your results. Have something clickable that you can measure where your results and sort of know how well you affect it, so you can plan for the future. But really...I guess what we're talking about here is just kind of take a baby step towards repositioning and opening up a new marketing opportunity. We only have a...this is a lunchtime timed exercise just to sort of put out some quick advice to people. So we don't want to belabor the point. There's a lot you can get into from a marketing standpoint.

Pieter Bickford:
Yeah. And what I'm hearing you saying is, just sort of take a moment. Sit down and think about the things that you do every day for your company, but also think about the war stories that you tell when you meet other people in your industry. Everybody's going to have great stories to tell about what they do. And sometimes those can turn into...those can get the creative juices flowing that go down that path of what can be a new way to approach your customers.

Len Sullivan:
I love it. I think that's a great way to end this. So we'll be back. This'll be -- every four weeks we'll be posting a new, sort of, topic. We would love to, if you're listening to this today, we would like to hear your feedback. Please post comments, send us an email at info@highrockstudios.com. If you're interested in having something that you're struggling with or things that you want to talk about, we can possibly get them on here. And really what we're looking to do is just sort of give really solid advice to you if you're a CEO or a marketing director that just sort of needs some help rethinking about your brand. So until next time...

Pieter Bickford:
I'm Pieter Bickford.

Len Sullivan:
And I'm Len Sullivan. Thanks for joining us.

Pieter Bickford:
Bye-bye.

Nikoletta Gjoni

by Nikoletta Gjoni, Project Manager

As a graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a degree in English Literature and Journalism, Niki's passion has always been storytelling and all the forms it can take. As such, her professional experience has ranged from working in cable news to holding communications and marketing director roles in the nonprofit sector. She enjoys connecting with audiences through strategic branding and marketing approaches and believes a good story will almost always win someone over for a new product or experience.

Outside of work, Niki is an award-nominated fiction and creative nonfiction writer, as well as a manuscript editor and creative writing coach for new and young writers. She enjoys traveling, eating good food, supporting indie bookstores, and combatting writer's block, among other things.

Work with us

Make it happen.
Do you have an exciting idea, challenge, or opportunity? Let’s talk.