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How to sell your product without a single ad

The success of Swave-boards in many countries represents one of the most successful examples of “Diffusion of Innovation” and many companies can learn from it.

Vivek Bali | Print Edition: May 17, 2009

Have you heard of a new kind of skateboard called Swave-board or Ripstick? If you haven’t, but do have a son or a daughter in the age group of 7 to 13 years, you most probably will. In fact, you might even purchase one for them very soon. You will also probably buy the product for him or her without seeing a single advertisement, thanks to the powerful word of mouth and trial experience of your child. The success of Swave-boards in many countries represents one of the most successful examples of “Diffusion of Innovation” and many companies can learn from it.

Vivek Bali
Vivek Bali
Till a few months ago, I had never heard of anything called a Swave-board or a Ripstick. In our condominium in Singapore, hardly anyone owned one. Instead, most of the children were crazy about cycling or roller skating. Then, one or two boys bought a Ripstick from the US and it caught on like wildfire.

Soon, most kids in Singapore had one. In the last few months, ownership of Ripsticks and Swaveboards among young boys and girls in the condominium has gone up from less than 5 per cent to more than 80 per cent. “Toys R Us” stores are unable to meet demand for the toy and you need to reserve it in advance. In some stores it is not even displayed and you have to go to the counter and request for it.

The phenomenal sales of this product have taken place without even a single advertisement being aired. Product acceptance has taken place without any money being spent on advertising. The ubiquitous model of needing to advertise a product to generate interest has been turned on its head. Three main factors have contributed to the amazing success: an intriguing product, easy trial, and a delightful experience.

The example given above is a classic case of “Diffusion of Innovation”. Diffusion refers to the way that new products are accepted into a community. The theory suggests that there are five main categories of consumers based on how quickly they adopt new products and ideas: Innovators (2.5 per cent) who are well-informed risk-takers, willing to try an unproven and new product; Early adopters (13.5 per cent)—educated opinion leaders who, influenced by innovators, go on to purchase the product; Early majority (34 per cent)—careful consumers who tend to avoid risk. They rely on other’s recommendations; Late majority (34 per cent)—somewhat skeptical consumers who acquire a product only after it has become commonplace. Laggards (16 per cent)—those who avoid change and may not adopt a new product until traditional alternatives are no longer available.

Leveraging diffusion
In an environment of slashed budgets, conscious re-application of “Principles of Diffusion” can prove to be extremely useful. Here’s how any company can leverage Diffusion principles during tough economic times:

1. Make “Diffusion Marketing” an integral part of the launch plan for any new product. Imagine for a week that you have no advertising budget. This will force you to think of creative ways to leverage aspects of “Diffusion of Innovation”.

2. Identify Innovators and Early Adopters and reach them quickly. The five categories of consumers can be derived from past behaviour as it cuts across product categories. Segmentation based on past adoption rates is in many ways more accurate as the behaviour has already been demonstrated. For instance, I can claim that I like adventure sports and you’ll have no way of knowing the truth, but if I’ve done bungee-jumping, you’ll be sure of my predisposition.

3. Induce trial in an unusual and interesting manner. Trial could be generated through sampling with an element of mystery to create intrigue and “talking points”. The dissemination of information will take place through word of mouth/spread of e-mails and, therefore, much cheaper to accomplish.

Lower budgets should not limit your plans. The only limitation should be your own imagination.

(The author is a Director at ANV Consulting, Singapore)

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