In-Ear Insights How To Market Boring Products

In-Ear Insights: How to Market Boring Products

In this episode of In-Ear Insights, the Trust Insights podcast, Katie and Chris discuss the challenge of marketing products and services that are considered boring or mundane. They emphasize the importance of identifying the right audience for such products and reframing the marketing approach to make it more appealing to that specific audience. They provide examples like industrial concrete and ball bearings, highlighting the need to showcase the practical applications and benefits of these seemingly dull products. Katie and Chris also discuss the significance of differentiation and storytelling in marketing, emphasizing the need to communicate specific value propositions and address the pain points of potential customers. They mention the Heaven and Hell exercise, where businesses should articulate the positive and negative experiences customers can expect from their product or service. They also stress the importance of understanding the customer’s perspective and stepping out of the curse of knowledge to develop effective marketing strategies. Tune in to the full episode for more insights and strategies on marketing “boring” products successfully.


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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:00

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, we as marketers love to tell great stories, we love to have a great product that is exciting, revolutionary world changing, you know, everything from cool AI tools to things like Apple’s new goggles, everybody loves to talk about a great product.

But sometimes a product is important, and is useful.

That is boring.

For example, industrial concrete, very hard to get excited about a new mixture of industrial concrete, even though it’s stronger, and it makes for safer bridges and buildings.

It’s tough to market a boring product.

So Katie, when you think about products and services that are commodities, products and services that are not the most exciting things, well, even things like Google Analytics, how do you? What do you do to help make a product less boring when you’re marketing it?

Katie Robbert 0:56

Well, and so I feel like it, the whole beauty is in the eye of the beholder kind of thing.

And so you might find industrial concrete to be incredibly boring.

But the right audience, the right market, engineers, contractors, construction workers, are going to be really excited to learn about these things, you know, chemists, people who are like really interested in the composition of it.

And so not every product is for every person, you know, so you’re really passionate about artificial intelligence, I would place a bet that there are times when in your household may be sitting around the dinner table, you kind of get a lot of eyeballs from your family, because maybe they’re not as passionate about artificial intelligence.

The same is true at my house around the dinner table.

When I talk about change management, or you know, whatever I’m working on, I might get the head nod in the blank stare of like, is this conversation over yet? Because it’s not of interest to the other person? That doesn’t make it boring.

That just I think we need to reframe the question or the topic, because what’s boring to me might be really exciting to you.

I could give, you know, two flying figs about DC and Marvel and Star Trek and Star Wars and all that stuff.

I don’t care.

To me, it’s boring to you.

It’s really exciting and interesting.

That’s my personal opinion.

But there’s a huge market for DC and Marvel and Star Trek and Star Wars, I just happen to be the wrong market.

So I think that it’s really focusing on like, if you have a product, like industrial concrete, if you’re struggling to market it, you’re marketing to the wrong audience, the right audience is going to be really excited about it.

Christopher Penn 2:53


This is a question that came from an event we were at marketing props event.

That was, someone was asking about how you would market something like ball bearings, which, again, are not, are not something that a whole lot of us think a lot about.

And it’s certainly not something that we spend a lot of time discussing.

But if you are in that industry, you do have to sell them, you do have to market them.

Katie Robbert 3:18

So you start to think about the way I would approach it is I would first try to figure out like, what are how are ball bearings used? What are the different things that are reliant on a ball bearing? And so, you know, my first thought, and this is, you know, because I know very little about ball bearings, is there’s like an 80s game that was literally like, you’d shoot ball bearings at each other through this, like, it was this board and sort of like this, like, spring loaded thing where you would shoot the ball bearings at each other.

I, as a marketer would think, okay, let’s think of all the really fun things that ball bearings are a part of, and then take out the ball bearings and show how not fun these things are now that because they’re reliant on ball bearings, and tell that story of like, Oh, you want to play this really cool game where you shoot your friends with these little, you know, metal pieces.

Try doing that with a piece of cotton, it’s not so fun anymore.

Christopher Penn 4:18

The most most of the time they are used to for rotating joints to make the joints more durable and lasts longer because the nature of the way they work is they have there’s less friction in the joint, so it rotates easier.

So if you ever see like a lazy Susan, you know, that’s got a bunch of ball bearings in the bottom of it.

Katie Robbert 4:37

So but I think that that, to me is like that would be a really interesting way to show the usefulness of a ball bearing is try to use a lazy susan without ball bearings.

You just have a shelf.

Christopher Penn 4:51

You have a round shelf, right?

Katie Robbert 4:53

And that’s not super, that’s not really helpful.

And so you can start to tell that story around Why a ball bearing you don’t have to get into like a ball bearings, help the joints and then move the thing like that is sort of very technical and nobody really cares.

But if you show the practical application of what happens when you don’t have this, what happens if you don’t have industrial concrete? Guess what you’re landlocked? You’re not going anywhere.

Christopher Penn 5:21

That’s true.

So, in these cases, though, you’re still dealing with commodity stuff.

So what different? How do you differentiate yourself? Real classic example, we can bring it close to home.

We are obviously a management consulting firm, we do a lot of marketing analytics.

As of recently, we have been going all all out on getting people fixed up for things like the move to Google Analytics 4.

What makes someone look at the content we put out like our our GA four course, and go, Huh, I like this better than these 800 other people, you also do Google Analytics consulting.

Katie Robbert 6:08

A lot of that comes down to you and me, honestly, you know, people, like the way that you present information, people like the stories that I tell in the newsletter.

And so then our job is to take what we know and our personalities and our expertise, and turn it into something useful.

Now, I’m not for everybody, and that’s fine.

But the people, it’s true, believe it or not, there are people who don’t like me.

I know they’re few and far between.

But the people out there who don’t like me, that’s fine.

I’m not going to spend my time trying to convince them to like me, what I’m going to do, which is more valuable, is to continue to retain the audience that I have built that does like the work that I do, we’re asked them, What do you need? What would you find valuable? And then give them those things? You know, I guess I suppose the same could be said of you, Chris, there may or may not be people out there who don’t enjoy you.

But the people who do stick around, they want to know more, because they want to learn from you specifically.

And that’s tough, because you can’t necessarily say okay, this is the magic thing.

You and I know, for example, the combination of the two of us is something that nobody else can recreate.

And I believe it was just yesterday in our analytics for marketers slack group, that somebody called our diet, you know, the report that we have magnetic, you can’t replicate that that’s a hard sell.

But that’s a differentiator because nobody else in the world has a Chris Penn and a que robear.

Christopher Penn 7:56

It’s a differentiator, but how do you market that? How do you communicate that to other people in a compact, efficient way, that says, This is why you should buy analytics consulting from Trust Insights versus this firm or that firm, this other firm,

Katie Robbert 8:10

you have to start to dig into the things that are classically boring, like our expertise, our experience our credentials, but also testimonials from other people who have worked with us and what their experience was almost like getting, you know, Yelp reviews for consulting agencies, you have to get those testimonials because you and I telling people that were awesome and entertaining.

It’s gonna fall on deaf ears.

Other people say and Chris and Katie together are awesome and entertaining.

People will pay attention to that.

Christopher Penn 8:44

That sounds awful lot like public relations.


In that context, though, if you are on the buying side, how do you what are the differentiators when you’re out to buy a a commodity product, for example, social media listening software? Obviously, you have the user stories and stuff that add the requirements if you’ve done up in front, but even still, you’re still going to have four or 567 vendors who all can match the user story that you’ve put together.

At what how do you then start to differentiate based on their marketing and sales? Okay, this is one this one we’ll put on the shortlist this one we won’t.

Katie Robbert 9:34

It’s tough because marketing is something that needs to be you need to reach people at an emotional level.

Mark, like what let me go back in time a little bit when I worked a few jobs ago.

We didn’t have a marketing team.

And so the stakeholders were struggling with things like value propositions and slogans and all that stuff.

So the best thing you could come up with, for the product that we were trying to sell was saves time saves money.

That was all we could say about it.

I mean, that was an all we can say about it.

But that was the most essential thing.

And that was the thing that went on the website, that was the thing that went on the flyers saves time saves money, that describes a frying pan.

Well, and that’s the thing is, it doesn’t tell me anything.

But to talk to someone who, you know, did the research on this tool and who built it, there was a lot of information about why, you know, this particular tool was different from everything else in the market, that there was no marketing, because what we couldn’t figure out how to do was to take this whole clinical trial, this whole idea, this hypothesis that we were able to prove, and bring it down in a succinct way that really, you know, hit on the emotion.

And the physical toll that being a substance abuse callin counselor is, and the reason it save time save money was because you, the Substance Abuse Counselor wasn’t going to have to sit with every single patient doing an intake.

But you could get the same exact information as if you did, you could then focus your time on treating the patient, not on asking them all the questions.

And we just we struggled to tell that story.

But as I’m telling that story, substance abuse counselors like oh, now I get it.

Now I understand how it impacts me, personally.

And so when we think about things like a Google Analytics course, yeah, there’s like 808,000, a million courses, experts, whatever we our job, Chris, is to reach people at those pain points.

To say, this is the pain point, you have told me you are experiencing, this is how I help you relieve your pain.

Christopher Penn 12:01

One of the favorite sayings I’ve heard about the Scotch comes from our friend, Andy Crestodina.

He’s talking about conversion rate optimization.

And he talks he’s basically said in a very short way.

Specificity correlates with conversion.

The more specific you are, the better your website copy and your marketing performs.

And this is even true with artificial intelligence specificity correlates with completion of the task, right? The more specific you are in your directions in a prompt, the better the results you’re gonna get out of a machine.

It’s like any creative brief.

And when we look at boring marketing, it is boring, usually, because it’s it lacks specificity, right? save time, save money, you’re like that’s, that could be anything that could be a faster car, that could be a new form of cooking knife, it could be anything.

If you were to say, our Google Analytics 4 course will tell you the 17 things that you’re going to do wrong if you don’t take it.

That’s a bit more specific.

Because it’s is telling you now it’s not a general overview.

It’s this is what you’re going to do wrong.

Katie Robbert 13:05

That’s exactly it.

And that is what I was saying is you’re telling people, we can alleviate your pain, we understand your pain points, we solve your problem.

And did the other product that was referring to we did we struggled to articulate to tell people what problem we were solving save time save money.

That’s not telling me what problem you solve? That’s just telling me something that, you know, might be a nice side effect.

Christopher Penn 13:36


Our other friend Tamsin Webster often says, in presentations that nothing builds rapport, and empathy faster than skillfully restating the problem.

Katie Robbert 13:49

And so, you know, I sort of turn it back to you, Chris, like, what is our different differentiator with our Google Analytics course? For example,

Christopher Penn 14:00

with our course, it is the practical application for marketers of Google Analytics 4, to make decisions specifically about marketing channels, because one of the things is different about the way we use Google Analytics and the way we talk about it.

We spend a lot of emphasis on sources on mediums on Channel groupings on attribution.

We don’t spend a lot of time on content, for example, we don’t, that it’s in there, it’s in the course.

But that’s not where we spend the time.

We spent a lot of time on governance and making sure the tracking data is right.

So our specific take on Google Analytics is this will help you better understand what is working in your marketing from a attribution perspective, we spend that’s that’s really been our focus for a while.

And so if you are looking for content analytics, this course will probably not help you all as much as you want.

Right you there.

There have to be a separate code was specifically on using it just for content analysis.

It’s certainly something we could do.

But it’s not what’s in there.

If you are sitting around going, I have no idea what’s working in my marketing, and I’m about to write my 2024 budget.

And I really would prefer not to waste another million dollars, this course will tell you how to do that.

So that you can say, okay, now I know what didn’t work this year.

Because I know I spent 100,000 here and I got five, I got 110 100,000.

Here, I got 30, and so on and so forth.

That’s in terms of specificity.

That’s what we really harp on, we really harp on governance, cleanliness of data, and attribution.

Katie Robbert 15:44

And I would argue that most people feel like governance, data quality, cleanliness of data are boring things

Christopher Penn 15:57

they are, they’re boring things that people don’t want to do.

Which is why after people take a course, they’re still like, so can we just hire you to do

Katie Robbert 16:06


But and so, you know, when we started this conversation, I was talking about, you know, the fun examples.

The other way you can take it if you have a quote, unquote, boring product, like data governance and data quality, is to tell the horror stories, because either way, you’re trying to evoke some kind of emotion out of your audience to react to go, you know, what, I do need this thing, It either makes me really happy, or it makes me really scared.

And so it really depends on, you know, what the thing is, like, telling people that they’ll have really good data governance really doesn’t land, it doesn’t make people happy, unless you’re me.

But if you have people like, you know, I guess basically every other marketer who isn’t me who doesn’t really give again, to flying figs about data governance, because it’s not their world, if we help them understand all of the pain and misery that they will experience if they don’t have good data governance, that helps us tell the story and helps us demonstrate why they need to work with us.

Because we can say, we know this is what’s going to happen to you.

However, we’re here to save the day, we can help you fix this before it happens, you do not have to go through 18 months of being audited by a federal agency because you screwed up your data governance.

Christopher Penn 17:32

Talk through our friend Gini Dietrich Heaven and Hell exercise.

Katie Robbert 17:38

So the Heaven and Hell exercise is very, you know, it’s, you know, along the lines of this, so the heaven is you write down or you sort of go through and explain the heaven, that someone will experience by working with you by buying your product by subscribing to your service, this is the heaven that they will experience, they will no longer worry if their data is correct, they will no longer worry that the FDA is going to come knocking at their door with a million dollar fine because they, you know, mistakingly started, you know, analyzing HIPAA data, for example.

The hell is the same exercise but in reverse all of the terrible things that you will experience emotionally, maybe physically depending on the product if you don’t work with us if you don’t buy our thing.

And so sort of the flip side of that is the hell is if you don’t have good data governance is the FDA will come knocking at your door with a million dollar fine because you were analyzing HIPAA data.

And so telling that story starts to resonate with individuals because like, oh, you know what, I can see that happening.

That is something that keeps me up at night.

Let me go ahead and hire Trust Insights, to restructure my organization to set up my MAR tech stack to clean up my data governance to analyze these piles and piles of data to you know, bring me more even more revenue.

And I’m going to sleep like a baby every single night.

Christopher Penn 19:14

I like that.

So how what order do we put these tools in? We have things like the Heaven and Hell exercise we have on the emotional impact the consequences, we have specificity and being being clear about what it is we do we have our our tools for understanding what it is that we have for sale and how we explain that to other people.

How do you put these things together?

Katie Robbert 19:42

I would say first and foremost.

You need to understand who you’re solving a problem for and what the actual problem is.

A lot of times there are solutions in search of a problem.

And that’s really hard to market because nobody has Just for this thing, nobody said, you know, it would be good.

I would love to have a VR headset that’s going to make me dizzy and bring me off to a different world.

I’m sure people did ask for that I personally didn’t ask for it.

So it doesn’t solve a problem for me.

And so again, I’m not the target audience for this.

So if they’re trying to market to me, they’re wasting their money.

Because if they took 510 15 seconds to talk to me, they would very quickly figure out, I am not the person they should be wasting their ad dollars on.

So first and foremost, you need to know what problem you solve and who you’re solving it for.

And then you can start to build up those Heaven and Hell exercises, you can start to do those value propositions, your differentiator from your competitors.

But first and foremost, if you don’t know who your audience is, for this product, boring or not, none of that the rest of it doesn’t matter.

Christopher Penn 20:55

Is this is the truth.

For companies with boring products, where he think your products are boring, the other thing to look out for is what was known as the curse of knowledge.

Right? You were seeing and hearing about your product all day long as you should be, it’s your company’s product, right? And eventually, you will get bored of it.

Because it’s all you see in here.

That is not the perspective of your audience.

That is not the perspective of your customer.

Because your customer is seeing and hearing about your product all day long.

They are seeing it sometimes for the first time when they have a problem.

And for them, everything is fresh and new.

Because they’re like, Oh, I Google Analytics just caught on fire.

Who? And you know, we’re over here going, Oh, my God, this is it.

28th Google Analytics 4 have repaired since we’ve done this week.

It’s boring.

And but a customer’s like Someone, please save me.

Because I have 21 days as the day of the square, you have 21 days to fix this before If anything falls down.

So that was that’s I get offers.

The last counterpoint is, do I have to step out of your world and into your customers world to see your marketing from their point of view,

Katie Robbert 22:09

I think this is where having a community doesn’t have to be a, you know, formal community, it can literally just be, you know, talk picking up the phone talking to a couple of customers feedback surveys, but having some kind of community and customer feedback is very helpful there.

So if you’re part of our free slack group analytics for marketers, which you can find at trust for marketers, or AI slash AFM, you will see that I ask a question of the day, every single day.

One of the reasons I do that is to help me step out of that curse of knowledge.

Because for a long time before we started the community, it was all day all along Trust Insights.

This is all we do.

So this is all I know.

So I’m having a hard time putting myself in the shoes of someone else.

Now, every single day, I’ve asked for well over a year, almost a year and a half, maybe to a different question every single day related back to marketing, except on Fridays.

Fridays is the fun question today was about aliens, for example.

But four out of five days, I’ll ask a marketing related question that helps me see things from a different perspective.

10 times out of 10 Somebody gives an answer that I wouldn’t have given.

Because it it’s not me.

And it helps me see what else is going on outside of our little Trust Insights ecosystem.

So for brands that are have that curse of knowledge, look to your customers, look to your communities, look to even look to your competitors.

What how are your competitors talking about things? Because they’re trying to do it? The same, but better? Maybe a little bit differently.

So what are they doing? So yeah, you have to look outside of your own bubble.

Christopher Penn 24:05


And if you’ve got some thoughts that you would like to share about this, please do join the slack communities right here.

Go to Trust Insights to AI slash analytics for marketers, where you over 3200 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.

And wherever it is you watch or listen to the show.

If there’s a platform you would rather have it on instead, we probably have it go to trust podcast, we can find us on almost every major service.

Thanks for tuning in.

I will talk to you next time.

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