Marketing Your New Product

Experts say start small, use social networks, and consider sponsoring a good cause. And hire a PR firm if you've got the budget

I've created fancy plush kitten toys for girls. One girl grabbed them and ran when she saw them, so I know I have a product that girls love. I need advice on how to best market them. Should I focus on magazine editorial coverage? Local or national publications? Network morning shows? I'd love to get some to celebrities with little girls, but I don't really know how.—V.N., Los Angeles

When introducing a new product, it's always best to narrow your target down as much as possible, begin with a limited marketing plan, and build out from there. "It's hard to get traction if your focus is too large," says Jason Morrison, executive director of Capitol Media Solutions, a marketing firm based in Washington, D.C. "You should start by identifying a single demographic and geographic target area."

Start with a Los Angeles-based advertising and marketing campaign that includes feedback from a focus group of potential buyers. "Every entrepreneur is absolutely convinced that his or her product is the best thing around. But one great reaction from a little girl does not ensure success," Morrison says. You can assemble some informal focus groups yourself (treat adults and kids to snacks or a meal in exchange for their time and honest feedback) with the help of some employees or friends. If you have a budget, ask a marketing and public relations firm to get involved. "Gather potential purchasers together and get their thoughts, ideas, and personal opinions on your product. Their feedback will help you develop marketing that will attract potential buyers," Morrison says.

Using Social Media

Along with every new company today, you should take your products to the social media arena by building Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts for your kittens, says Gay Silberg, a Los Angeles advertising executive with GSS Communiqations. "Your page should tell a story about your plush kittens. What prompted you to create them? Where did your ideas come from? Ask for feedback on the design and offer a discount coupon to order," she says. If you offer a gift card specifically for social media users, you can compile an e-mail list of interested customers. When you have product distributions or are holding special events for your business, you can send electronic announcements to this list.

Along with your own social-networking presence, join online communities that focus on parenting or safe toys, Silberg suggests. "Cat lovers might also be an interesting affinity group," she says.

Creative partnerships might also be possible with high-end toy stores or department stores, Morrison says. "Can you make this product a high-end giveaway for a department store's holiday season promotions? Fads grow off of things like that," he notes.

Entertainment and Charity

In terms of the entertainment industry, you couldn't be in a better location. Send product samples to your local television and radio show hosts so they can see for themselves the quality of your product. Consider getting products to local children's television producers as well. As for celebrities, it is not easy to reach them unless you have personal relationships in Hollywood circles. Mine your network for possibilities, but if you come up empty, hire a Los Angeles public relations firm that is better connected to help you get access.

"A public relations professional with toy industry experience can help you gain entree to the editors in both parenting magazines and local or national morning shows," Silberg says. "You might also consider a product placement specialist for movies and TV. It sound like this product would make a perfect prop in family-oriented programming."

Another possibility for a special promotion is to align with a charity and donate some portion of every kitten purchase to a good cause. "It's great public relations on your part, and the charity you're helping will do marketing for your product," Morrison says. For more in-depth understanding of branding and marketing, he recommends Killer Brands, (Adams Media, 2007), a book about entrepreneurial branding by former Neutrogena executive Frank Lane.

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