One of the biggest marketing challenges I have ever faced was running PPC for an invention - a sanitary toothbrush holder. The toothbrush holder operated under the principle that people’s toothbrushes do not get to properly dry out between brushes so bacteria is allowed to grow. The invention was simply a holder for day of the week toothbrushes – Sunday to Saturday you would brush with a different toothbrush, which would allow the other days’ toothbrushes a rest to dry out properly. This was quite a few years ago now, so this new-concept product has long since given way to much more advanced products, but I will keep the real name of the product anonymous for privacy reasons anyway. The issue with this invention (as is the issue with many inventions) is that no one was looking for a sanitary toothbrush holder. So, how do you market an invention like this toothbrush holder? These tips will help guide your PPC efforts, and hopefully put you on the track to success:
1. Ensure your Product is Ready to Sell
I know this seems obvious, but the one common thing about inventors and entrepreneurs is that they tend to be quick to action. Sometimes in the frenzy of getting a new product developed and launched, you can get tunnel vision and forget to step back and ask yourself, “Will people buy this?” Do your research – gather data, conduct focus groups, ask for honest feedback from friends and family.
In the case of this toothbrush holder, there were some serious flaws that needed to be fixed. For instance, the toothbrush holder was designed under the assumption that a family of four was using it (which meant that it was very sizable because 7 toothbrushes x 4 people = 28 brushes … wowzers!). There was no smaller option for individuals who lived alone or couples. This simple fact reduced the target audience to families of four that all brush their teeth in the same place and anyone who had a very large bathroom to accommodate the device and didn’t mind that part of the device would remain unused. The toothbrush holder also only came in three colors – white, off white, and orange. I’m not sure where the owner came up with these color options, but it probably would have made sense to offer the devices in more colors that are commonly found in bathrooms (like grey or stainless steel, brown wood grain, bathroomy green, and some various shades of blue). To the inventor these seemed like trivial details, but to the people buying the product they mattered.
2. Focus on the Problem your Invention Solves
All viable inventions do one of two things – solve a problem, or improve upon an existing product. The key to marketing your invention is to focus on both of those angles. Tell the market what problem your invention solves and why it’s better than everything else out there.
The sanitary toothbrush solved the problem of bacteria forming on your toothbrush and spreading germs and disease. That became the basis of their PPC. We bid on terms like “antibacterial toothbrush holder,” “bacteria on toothbrush,” “keep toothbrush clean,” and “cleaning a toothbrush.” We also bid on questions that people were searching for online like “is my toothbrush sanitary?” and “when to change your toothbrush” and “how to keep toothbrushes clean” This allowed us to put ads in front of people who were looking for exactly what the sanitary toothbrush holder had to offer.
3. Bid on the Names of Similar Products
Getting your invention’s name out there means getting creative and all is fair in love and war and marketing. So, if there are some existing products that are similar to your new invention or solve the same problems in different ways, consider bidding on their names if they aren’t restricted by trademark.
In the case of the toothbrush holder, all of the major oral care brands like Oral-B, Sonicare, and Braun all have models of electric toothbrushes that reduce bacteria build up so we used terms around their existing product lines and then pitched the benefits of the sanitary toothbrush holder (like the ability to work with your existing toothbrush and the much lower price tag) in the ads.
4. Promote your Product in Places where Related Products are Found
Regardless of what you’ve invented, it has some sort of related products. Go to where people are talking about those products or finding those products and advertise your invention there. This is a great way to get in front of people who value what your product is offering and who may be interested in giving it a shot.
With the toothbrush holder his meant going on to dentist forums and chat boards to buy ad space. It was also a great opportunity for the inventor (who had actually been a dentist formerly) to join the conversation and link back to his product when appropriate.
5. Know your Audience
Sometimes inventors think too big. They say, “How many people could use this product? Okay, that’s the size of my target audience and I want to blitz them all with my product from day one!” But in reality they need to think more like marketers who have set budgets and goals; because while you can go after everyone, financially it often makes sense to hone in on whatever audience is going to bring in the most dough to focus on first.
With a product like a sanitary toothbrush holder, you probably have two audiences – families looking for a clean and healthy solution for their bathrooms, and dentists who recommend and sell products to their clients. On the surface it would seem like you should go after both of these markets right away, but which makes the most sense to target first from an ROI perspective? Marketing to families was really going to be an uphill battle. Families have a lot of things to worry about and deal with, so they are going to be less likely to pay attention when someone tries to educate them about the hygiene behind toothbrushes. And even if you can get them to listen and sell them on the idea of needing a special toothbrush holder, one very important detail to understand about this toothbrush holder is that it was absolutely indestructible and it was surprisingly low-tech with no electrical components or moving parts. If a family bought one of these it would probably last them a lifetime – that means that it would only ever result in a few of purchases (one for their own household, and perhaps another couple if they recommended it to friends). Targeting dentists, on the other hand, means that for every person you convert over to the necessity of having a sanitary toothbrush holder, you could potentially sell hundreds (depending on the size of their practice). Therefore, we devoted more of the budget to dentists and less of the budget to households.
6. Be Open to New Opportunities
Sometimes the best opportunities are the ones that you don’t plan. As an inventor or business owner you have to work with what you have and adapt as you go along. Some of the best inventions have occurred from doing just that, and some of today’s most common products were once inventions that took an unexpected path.
Surprisingly, the sanitary toothbrush holder found its own niche that we never could have imagined – daycares. Daycares were just the right niche for the sanitary toothbrush holder because if there’s anything you need when taking care of a whole bunch of kids, it’s a sanitary bathroom solution. The sanitary toothbrush holder became less about hygiene and more about housing a bunch of toothbrushes. Facilities that looked after large numbers of kids around meal-times like breakfast and lunch began writing names on kids’ toothbrushes and sticking them in this large toothbrush holder to provide kids with an easy organized routine around dental health. The toothbrush holders sold and kids around the country had cleaner teeth – I’d call that a win-win!
Need help selling something tricky or niche? We can help! As an internet marketing agency, we have over 6 years of PPC experience across hundreds of industries – so chances are, if you sell it, we’ve advertised it!
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Web Consulting for small businesses, Copywriting and Local Online Marketing. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and enjoys cooking, watching sports and spending time outdoors. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about marketing theory and SEM trends… so beware!
Photo from Flickr (Nathanel Boehm)