I am so grateful for the experience of appearing on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” While many of the viewers at home think those who appear on the hit show become instant millionaires, the reality is most don’t, and some consider their exposure and re-runs a key ingredient in marketing their brands. Should anyone rely on a television appearance or a write-up in a notable magazine as the cornerstone of marketing strategy?
Entrepreneurs from the second and third seasons who slipped out of the limelight due to the saturation of nearly 200 entrepreneurs who have appeared since, are now seeing a second wind that comes with the show’s syndication on CNBC. Shark Tank is indeed the gift that keeps on giving. But, just like any media, that boost should not take the place of marketing strategy, but rather act as a supplement to a strong, existing program.
My background in the marketing-heavy sport of NASCAR for over a decade was somehow overlooked during my pitch, but as someone who has seen the gam-met of the best and the worst of marketing, I wanted to share several principles to help steer my fellow entrepreneurs, Shark Tank or not, along a successful path in marketing their brands.
Determine your ROI up front
Not having a clear marketing budget can put you in dangerous territory. Hopefully, you’ve determined what your annual marketing expenditure is and your metrics for achieving a return on investment (ROI). For every $100 you spend, how many units do you need to sell to break even? Know your number. Of course, I would argue that any business starting out, especially if it is a CPG brand sold at mass retailers like mine, investing heavier in marketing the first several years is a must. You need sales to maintain that shelf space you’ve worked so hard to gain, and you’ll be more likely to reap the rewards over the long-term as a result. If you’re not investing in opportunities that will, at the very minimum, allow you to see an equal return on your investment, you’ll soon find yourself without any marketing dollars because your sales have not kept up with your spending.
Consider your type of business. Know your audience
What works for my business won’t work for others. In fact, I would say that my marketing program wouldn’t work for most other grocery items and hence, a targeted approach needs to be planned. Just like your packaging needs to be specific to reach your audience, what is the most efficient way to speak to your potential customer and get them to act?
Fellow Shark Tank alum Susan Petersen, who also appeared in season 5 with her Freshly Picked baby moccasins, took a completely different approach than what I could take. Her focus was to drive immediate online sales via exposure that she gained on Pinterest and Instagram. Moms saturate those social media platforms and she capitalized in a big way as a result. Since Susan is an online retailer, she will be more successful to invest in retargeting ads, reaching out to mommy bloggers and the like. On the contrary, had Susan focused on selling her moccasins in retail stores, she would have likely had to invest in displays and point of sale (POS) combined with retailer promotions. While I am sure Susan has many repeat customers, hers is not a CPG brand, and thus she needs a different approach than I do.
To back up, let me explain what CPG stands for: Consumer Packaged Good. Any item that could be purchased on a consistent basis or used daily would be considered a consumer packaged good. My brand, Slawsa, is in the grocery industry and just about everything you’d find in a grocery store would be considered a CPG. Our goal is not to sell our products a few times in a consumer’s lifetime, but often (referred to as household turn). On the positive note, our products are more recession-proof and when I gain customers, they have a better chance to be long-term because it is easy to pick up. On the negative note, because our industry is highly competitive since we work off higher volumes, we also work off lower margins, thus making those marketing dollars that much more valuable. Bottom line: know your business structure and market with that in mind.
There are a hundred different things one can do to market their brand and making a few wrong decisions along the way could have severely slowed progress for my company. I credit making wise decisions in marketing as a primary reason I went from selling zero units to several hundred thousand units within two years, operating only off of profits all before the exposure that Shark Tank brought. I am extremely strict to ensure that every dollar I spend will find its way back. There are a lot of bad buys out there and while I am vocal about some of the deadly sins in my industry (i.e. hiring demo agencies to execute in-store demos, for one), if there are no guarantees, I need case studies to prove a program’s worth before I commit. Know that every investment in marketing is a two-way street, set those expectations and don’t be afraid to negotiate. It must be at least as equally beneficial for you as it is for the recipient of your valuable dollars so make those decisions based on facts and numbers.
Know what works and spread it out
Investing in syndicated radio programing outside of traditional media buys is just one of my many tools, but tell me, if I invested in the same programming time after time, would I be reaching new potential customers? Don’t put your eggs in one basket, but at the same time, stick with what works if you’re still seeing your needed ROI. We live in a society that has become immune to traditional forms of advertising so be on the lookout for new and creative ways to market your brand.
Allow marketing to evolve with your business
Just as Susan is aware of her competitors who are selling similar items at retail as a result of her success, she will evolve her marketing to coincide with the direction of her growing company…whether or not she decides to expand into retail. Scaling your business will bring about new opportunities that you couldn’t do in the beginning so always be open to taking all proposals into account. Use your past experience in knowing what works as a tool moving forward.
Some of my fellow Shark Tank alumni who secured deals will no doubt see additional long-term media exposure from their investor due to the nature of Sharks wanting to promote their partnerships. I’m thrilled the show itself wants to promote their success stories. However, knowing none of us are permitted to use those Shark Tank logos on anything related to our product at retail, whether it is logos on packaging, POS, shelf talkers and displays, why would any business use that intermittent exposure as a primary marketing focus?
I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to grow your brand through marketing based on the merits of your business and product. Never expect any media exposure to carry your business. Instead develop a marketing program to create your success.
Julie Busha, owner of The Busha Group and the Slawsa brand from Cramerton, NC. With a deep history of marketing within the sport of NASCAR, Julie used her branding, marketing and sales experience to launch Slawsa, a unique slaw-salsa hybrid condiment, in late 2011. Within a mere two and a half years after launch, Slawsa gained placement in the relish aisle in over 6,000 stores in the US and Canada with rave reviews from critics and consumers alike. More information for Slawsa can be found at www.slawsa.com. Watch the interview with Julie on the Small Businesses Do It Better Show.