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Business

Sara Blakely’s Tips for Marketing a Product

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 6 min read

The meteoric rise of Spanx happened largely thanks to founder Sara Blakely’s marketing savvy. After founding the company in 2000, she sent some of her product to The Oprah Winfrey Show. That same year, Winfrey featured Spanx as one of her famous “Favorite Things,” helping the product take off and giving Sara the opportunity to work on Spanx full time. The following year, Sara made a deal with QVC, a home shopping channel, which led to another major sales boost.

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Sara Blakely Teaches Self-Made EntrepreneurshipSara Blakely Teaches Self-Made Entrepreneurship

Spanx founder Sara Blakely teaches you bootstrapping tactics and her approach to inventing, selling, and marketing products that consumers love.

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Sara Blakely’s Tips for Marketing a Product

Sara is living proof that you don’t need a business degree to become a successful business owner. “One of the most common misconceptions of entrepreneurs is that we had it all figured out before we took the leap,” she says. Developing a great marketing strategy is all about mapping the terrain where you hope to land.

1. Patent Your Ideas to Establish Ownership

Sara decided to patent Spanx early. As she saw it, a patent was akin to a marketing asset. She thought it would garner press because it meant she’d done something. Having a patent pending indicated that her idea was both real and unique.

A patent is an official document that establishes your rights or ownership over a certain idea or invention. Inventors use patents to make sure they get credit for their work. If others use parts of a patented design, they have to pay the patent-holder.

Patent writing requires the use of specific language and structure—something Sara was unfamiliar with until she went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book on the subject. Using that knowledge, she wrote most of her first patent herself and hired a discount lawyer to add in the legalese.

2. Use Your Packaging to Stand Out

Your packaging is an opportunity to make your customer smile. Think about what it feels like to open a beautifully-wrapped gift: The paper, bow, and presentation can be as delightful as whatever is inside. That’s the note you want to hit with your packaging.

For Sara, making her packaging stand out in a sea of beige and gray hosiery containers was easy; all she had to do was add color. Spanx’s packaging shone in bright red—and the color alone subsequently became a form of advertising. Find something to set your packaging apart—whether that’s a uniquely designed box or a handwritten note to customers who order your product.

For inspiration, go on a recon mission to the types of stores that might carry your product. Take a good long look around. What packaging trends do you see? More importantly, what do you not see at all? Write your observations down and look for a packaging niche you can fill.

3. Position Your Product at the Right Price Point

“I wanted [Spanx] to feel like a gift people were buying themselves.”

When you’re developing a marketing plan for your product, you have to think about whether you’ve priced it properly. You might have an amazing product, but it’s not going to sell if you don’t put it on the market for the right price. When you think about your own product, do you think of it as premium, mid-tier, or value-based (aka affordable)? Determining where your product falls on this spectrum will not only help you price it properly but also position it on the market—for example, if your product is a premium one, it won’t serve you well to compare it to cheaper competitors. You need to know your target audience.

4. Break Conventions to Get the Word out About Your Product

When you’re a small business, you’ve got to be scrappy. Email marketing and SEO (search engine optimization) campaigns are tried and true strategies for getting the word out about your product, but it’s also useful to remember the power of unconventional methods of generating engagement and word of mouth.

As soon as Neiman Marcus started stocking Spanx in seven stores around the country, Sara called up friends and acquaintances in all seven areas. She asked them to do something that, at first, seemed odd. When she was at stores pitching her product directly to customers, she requested that her friends in the area come listen to her pitch and pretend to be exceptionally interested potential customers. They would then buy her product, for which she’d later reimburse them with a check in the mail.

Spending time in the stores where your product lives will not only let you pull sneaky marketing maneuvers, but it will also let you learn directly from customers about what’s missing in your market.

Do some research and find out what podcasts, television shows, publications, social media platforms, and events your target demographic is into. Dive deep into the annals of Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok to find the people who represent your product’s ideal consumer. Next, make a list of those influencers, media, and events that your demo cares about the most. Use this as a checklist when you try to secure media appearances.

Sara’s top media priority was Oprah, so she sent the TV mogul a gift basket of Spanx to get her attention. Don’t be shy about sending samples of your product to your favorite podcasters, Instagram celebs, or journalists in the hopes that they want to review it.

In 2017, Sara invited her friends to take pictures of themselves skiing in Spanx. In your notebook, label a page “(Kinda) Crazy Marketing Tactics.” Come up with at least 10 out-of-the-box marketing ideas, from having your friends take silly pictures with your product to hiring a photographer or videographer to help you conceive of a funny Instagram campaign.

5. Master the Art of Pitching Your Brand Story

You brand story is what you tell people when you’re marketing your product. It’s what journalists will write about. It’s what radio hosts will talk about. The more open you’re willing to be about who you are and what you stand for, the more likely it is that people will relate to you and therefore your product. Here are some prompts to get you thinking of how to frame your brand story:

  • Have you overcome something to start this business?
  • Where do you come from?
  • What was this idea born out of?

Once you feel you have a brand story that encapsulates your unique vision and product, reach out to:

  • Radio shows and podcasts
  • TV news
  • Talk shows
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Digital publications
  • Digital influencers
  • Mainstream celebrities

6. Hone Your Social Media Strategy

Thinking about filters when it comes to social media extends beyond just aesthetic. Your social presence should be carefully filtered to reflect positively on your brand. Sara uses the following four in thinking about her content:

  • Will it make people feel good?
  • Will it cause people to laugh or smile?
  • Will it make viewers learn something?
  • Will it help someone?

If the answer is no to just the first one, then that should be enough to keep you from posting it. You want people to associate your brand with positive thoughts.

7. Set Reasonable Expectations, Then Exceed Them

“Under promise and over-deliver” is some of Sara’s best marketing advice. Expectations are everything, and you don’t want your buyers to expect one thing from your product only to receive another.

This doesn’t mean you should sell your product short—just that you should be honest. If your product doesn’t do the things you promise upfront, consumers will learn that they can’t trust your brand. Use your marketing efforts to set reasonable expectations. Spanx promised to remove visible underwear lines and make it easier to wear white pants in style. And it did.

Learn More About Entrepreneurship

Sara Blakely had no fashion, retail, or business leadership experience when she invented Spanx in the late 1990s. All she had was $5,000 and an idea. Which means you can start your own billion-dollar business, too. Learn more about finding your purpose, making prototypes, building awareness, and selling your product in Sara Blakely’s MasterClass.

Get the MasterClass Annual Membership for exclusive access to video lessons taught by business luminaries, including Sara Blakely, Howard Schultz, Anna Wintour, and more.

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