If your primary product is one that many people do not understand or have preconceived notions about, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

You might find yourself in this position for several reasons. In some cases, others in the market have behaved poorly and attracted negative publicity. Another issue might be the fact that your product is new, and there’s little in the way of trustworthy information for customers. Finally, you may simply face bias from those with ideas based more on opinion than reason.

Marketing a Stigmatized Product – What to Do When There is Consumer Bias

These are issues I’ve faced throughout my career in emerging industries. It started in the early days of internet streaming video and continues today with my work at one of the leading CBD companies in the United States, cbdMD. In fact, many of the techniques and strategies I’ll discuss are used by cbdMD and other companies I’ve worked for with great success.

Do the Right Thing

word of mouth referrals reviews stigmatized products

One of the best ways to attract attention to your products is to give people reasons to talk about you favorably. This strategy applies to every aspect of your business —how you treat employees and partners, the quality of your product, the information you provide, the buying experience, and customer service.

This point is especially important when you consider that emerging industries are often full of get-rich-quick types.

Customers are more informed than ever before. According to BrightLocal research on local business consumers, from late 2018, 91 percent of those aged 18-34 years trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

For those aged 35-54 years, 79 percent held reviews in the same regard. The number was lower (60 percent) for those 55 years of age and older, but we’re still looking at a majority.

The writing of online reviews is trending upwards as well.

The idea I want to convey here is the importance of allowing others to act as goodwill ambassadors on your behalf.

To accomplish this, you’ll need to:

  • Offer a top-quality product, regardless of price point.
  • Provide best-in-class customer service.
  • Back up any claims you make and be willing to make it right when you fall short.
  • Make your pricing clear. Never hide shipping or other costs.
  • Be honest in any communications with customers.
  • Treat employees, vendors, and other partners well; they can also review your business.
  • Make the initial buying experience and subsequent purchases easy.
  • Be certain you comply with any laws or regulations about your product or type of business.

If you’re meeting or exceeding the expectations above, then you should also actively encourage reviews from your customers. Follow up with them in some way, be it by email, a card packaged with the product, or similar. Let them know that you want to hear from them!

Another thing that’s worth mentioning here is that retaining customers can be just as important as reaching out to new customers.

It’s become increasingly clear that nurturing your current customers and encouraging repeat business can be a less expensive means to drive profits, and I highly recommend it.

Be an Expert

be the expert in your business niche

In industries where unscrupulous players have muddied the waters, or there is a clear bias against your product type, it’s important to help educate consumers. It’s one of the only ways to change hearts and minds.

Set up a blog on your website. Here you can, for example, speak about the value of your product and how it’s distinguished from similar offerings. Use objective information from experts to help people better understand your product.

Your story is also important. Let people know why you do what you do, and why it’s important to you. Your experience and motivation can appeal to consumers on an emotional level, which builds strong connections.

Along with your blog, approach other outlets and ask to write a guest column. Often you’ll be allowed to include a link back to your website.

And whether you’re writing for your blog or someone else’s site, avoid blatant sales pitches. Customers these days are entirely too savvy to fall for that. It can even turn them off entirely.

The bonus from writing for online outlets is that carefully crafted, authoritative text containing the right keywords will attract the attention of search engines. Search engines won’t always allow companies in stigmatized industries to advertise on their platforms.

But people still search for information about these products. If you’ve done your part, people could end up coming to your website for both knowledge and purchasing a product.

Team Up

expand market reach with affiliate program

One way to expand your reach is to start an affiliate program. When advertising options are limited, having a little help from the outside can be invaluable.

If you’re not familiar with affiliate marketing, the basic idea is that you authorize others (affiliates) to market or otherwise sell your products in exchange for a commission. Whatever platform you choose will track affiliate sales through specially constructed links to your site.

For the sake of brevity and accuracy, I won’t go into all the technical details here. You’ll want to work with the person who handles your website for help. Even so, here are just a few things to think about when launching an affiliate program.

First, figure out how much you can realistically pay in commission and go as high as possible. You’re more likely to attract valuable, experienced affiliate marketers with a generous commission percentage.

Next, make any guidelines very clear to affiliates before accepting them into the fold. For instance, if your product is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older, make sure they understand that, and they agree not to pursue sales from minors. It would also be wise to check in on your affiliates occasionally to make sure they’re following the rules.

Make sure affiliates have all the materials they need to market your product effectively. You’ll need to provide professional-looking, accurate images of the product, detailed information, and any other important assets. It also helps if you can give product demonstration videos, testimonials, and similar things that will help them engage potential customers.

Finally, you absolutely must pay your affiliates on time and accurately. There are no excuses for late or short payments.

Stake Your Claim

claim online listings and review sites

Make sure to create or claim any automatically generated business profiles on search engines, review sites, and social media.

Setting up a business profile allows you to control what information people see when they find your business in search results or on a social media site. This profile can include website address, physical address, telephone number, and more.

Otherwise, incorrect information could appear. In most cases, you’ll also be able to respond to reviews, which is something you should make a practice of doing. Just make sure you’re doing so in good faith.

Customers are increasingly using social media to learn about and communicate with businesses. A solid social media strategy is imperative if you wish to compete, especially in industries where traditional print and digital advertising opportunities are limited.

Any deep dive into social media strategies would require far more space than this article allows, but here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Use photos and videos to convey what you want to say, don’t just tell your story through words.
  • Engage with your audience. Ask questions. Answer questions and interact. Remember, it’s called social media for a reason.
  • Use business profiles that give you access to valuable information about your followers, interactions, and much more.
  • Be authentic. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to sound like everyone else. Stand out by being yourself.

Influence People

use influencers to promote stigmatized product

Partnering with celebrities who might benefit from using your product is one of the most powerful ways to get the word out.

Influencer marketing marries the traditional celebrity spokesperson with modern digital marketing. Famous people, or at least those well known to particular sub-cultures, hold a lot of power on social media. A celebrity endorsement can significantly raise visibility and interest in your products.

This marketing method can require significant investment. Johnny Rockstar isn’t likely to promote your company for free. But if you have a budget for advertising and nowhere to invest it, using influencers may be the next best thing.

Choosing the right partners is crucial. You’ll only want to work with people who are relevant to your audience and won’t likely tarnish your brand with tomfoolery. These people will become an extension of your brand. Make sure they are worth it.

Ask for Help

ask for help to promote stigmatized product

If you’re a small business or just starting, it’s almost impossible for you to do everything by yourself. You may do well to add an experienced person to your staff or utilize the services of a marketing company.

While this may seem like an expense you can’t afford, it could also be something you can’t afford to do without before long. In industries where advertising is difficult, or the court of public opinion hasn’t come around yet, it’s critical to reach customers by other means.

Between the choice of working with a third party or hiring someone to work in-house, I always advise the latter if it’s possible. Having an experienced person on your staff allows you to cross train others, and will help you better understand what works in your market. You’ll also be better equipped to make changes quickly.

Putting it All Together

I understand that this is all easier said than done. The likelihood of any business incorporating all these concepts and others in a complete cross-channel marketing fashion is almost impossible.

Don’t make that your goal. Set small, attainable marketing goals for your company, and build it piece by piece. Take time to do things right. Even without paid advertising on search engines, social media, or elsewhere, you really can make your product stand out among your competitors.

Terence Mann has spent most of his career assisting growing businesses in emerging industries. He currently serves as a content writer for the cbdMD Blog. His personal interests include travel, historical reenactment, mid-century jazz, cute animal photos, and advocating for the Oxford comma.

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