What Happens When No One Knows About Your Great Product?

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Many companies develop great products.

The problem is few people know about them.

These companies struggle with a lack of money to do marketing. There's too much competition, or they're product-based.

Andrew Grubb is experiencing this first-hand. 

As the CEO of ThinkSound, which makes earphones and headphones, Andrew heads up a company that has loyal customers....but not enough of them.

In this episode of Marketing Spark, Andrew talks about the challenges of attracting the spotlight and how Think Sounds plans to leverage community and influencers to drive sales.

Hi, it's Mark Evans and you're listening to marketing spark, which features conversations with entrepreneurs and marketers, both business sales and, of course, marketing. In an ideal world, marketing put the spot light on your brand and products to drive interest and purchases. Well, that's marketing, one of one. But many companies, even ones with great products, struggle because the spotlight is elusive. Maybe don't have enough money to do marketing, maybe their product doesn't capture the imagination of consumers, maybe there's too much competition. What happens when you make a great product that no one knows about? How do you become a viable company? What are the different levers that you can pull to generate attention? These are questions that we're going to explore today with Andrew Grubb, CEO with think sound. Think sound is a company based in Toronto that makes personal audio equipment, including headphones. Welcome to marketing spark. Hello Mark, thanks for having me. Why don't we start with some background on think sound and your journey to the company, which was somewhat a little unorthodox given your background. So I actually started as a customer thinks sounds maybe six or seven years ago and I remember, I still remember kind of how I stumbled across it, and it was really through, you know, the kind of audio file forums and looking for even just like a set of earbuds or headphones. It didn't really matter, but I kind of had this hink, this kind of like inkling to try something new, to kind of like elevate my game and really know what that meant. And so I bought a pair of things sound earbuds at the time and I refer to it kind of jokingly, but it's also all too serious that it's the most expensive hundred and fifty dollars I've ever spent, because it really open on my ears but open my mind to kind of what music should sound like. And you know, it was it was a really hard journey after that because I had to you know, my car, Stereo, my homest everything had to change. So it really made like a profound difference in my life because I've always been a huge fan of music, but I just never had experienced it in that way and so, you know, that was kind of my personal obviously like a massive personal impact. But then I found you know, I guess maybe I guess it's around a few years after that, you know, when you're traveling a lot and a lot of virtual meetings work. That was kind of picking up then and I found that there was like a you know, the kind of the standard kind of I guess speakers in my laptop would kind of bug me and and I would go to words kind of more higher end audio products because it represents the voice a little better and I wouldn't get fatigued and I realized it made, you know, kind of made a big difference for me. So I would buy think sound earbuds for like everyone on my team and people in my company and it just I just felt like people deserved to give it a shot. And then maybe yea, about two years ago or so, I reached out to the founder because I've been the customer forever and I bought the stuff from them and I was just kind of wondering what was going on. He said, yeah, you know, it's like getting a little tired running the business. Is Solo Printer and you know, wasn't really sure what the the future was and it convinced him to kind of you know, I guess let me in another person, partner in with a company and sort of bought a big chunk of about off of them and moved it to Canada and it's now a kind of like we called like a repatriated company, Canadian firm. So very much out of like personal interest, in passion. It's kind of that old story. I think it's Victor Kayam who bought you Latin and he ran these commercials for years around the idea that I love the company so love the products so much that I bought the company, and that seemed to be the path that you took. Provide some background about you. Like you're not a music executive by any means. You're not even a like I don't even know if you play music for that matter. What was your professional journey like before? Thinks down. Yeah, yeah, so, no, you're right. I mean what I when I pick up an instrument, I don't think many people would call it music. So so I don't have a lot of like...

...talent in music, music production, let's say. No. A background is funny enough. It's started off as engineering but quickly switched into, you know, management and entrepreneurship, and I was, you know, I've been in corporate innovation for a number of years. I also still run a you know, Boutique consulting firm around in pay experience design. So very be to be working with, you know, fortune five hundred companies in a management consulting context. Why don't we talk a little bit about thinks sound? What does the company do? What kind of products does it make? Where does it fall in the scheme of things, because obviously you can buy some cheapy headphones off Amazon for ten bucks and at the High End you can buy beats and bows and all kinds of really amazing products. What does think sound do and where does it fall in the spectrum? Primarily, like the number one kind of condition we have to satisfy is does it sound good? What our kind of internal goal is to make to make sustainably made portable audio products that beat our competitors at three to five times the price. That's sort of like our internal mission, if you will. The way we go about it is a lot of a lot of companies have manufacturing set up overseas, whether it's Taiwan or Korea or China. We're no different. The difference here is our original founder are and Fornia. He spent five years in, you know, overseas, primarily in China, working for high end audio houses. You know, the infinities and Clipsus of the world setting up manufacturing and product development and design, and and he actually that's when thinks sound was born. was out of just a sheer discussed of how few companies actually used engineered products in they just took off the shelf. You know how expensive everything was, you know how inaccessible kind of audio file level quality like headphones were, and also that everything ended up in the landfill. And so those are kind of it I call it. It was like this think sounds kind of based off of three disgusts, not not necessarily a passion, but like a like a violent reaction to kind of have a world was working. And so so where we sit is there's a pretty linear relationship like it in the market between, you know, cost and quality, like sound quality. We're going to air quote that, because there are soon as you as soon as an audio file, here's this and likes. So much subjectivity, and so of course there is this tons. And so what we do is we try, you know, our goal is to kind of disrupt that that that curve a little bit, and there are there are other companies doing it, of course, but but we try and sit kind of in the I don't know, bowers and Wilkins were kind of in the BW range of audio quality of a little bit less expensive. So our headphones, like I'm wearing our ov twenty ones right now. There the retail for five hundred dollars and we regularly compete against you one Thousan five hundred to two thousand dollar clip shed phones as an example. Our kind of internal mission is for more people to hear music the way it was meant to be heard, and there's two parts to that. There's music the way it was meant to be heard, so it has to sound great, and more people. So it has to be more accessible and that generally means lower price. Where's the company at in terms of its growth? You repatriated the company back to Canada. You're making product. It sounds like the portfolio is expanding. Where are you from a sales perspective? It's interesting and one hand it's like not encouraging at all, but it's very much by design. When we kind of reset, when we join the firm, we reset the entire company. You know, rebranded absolutely everything, like we did all of our product line and we so we started in our rd so we basically took everything off the shelf for about a year and then we and then we started with kind of what we could get quick ast to the market, which was a wired ear bud, and then eventually we came out with these over ears. We have a couple of other products and development it's been very challenging. So I would say right now quick answer to products and market, both wired, one in ear, one over ear. We have multiple wireless as well as in home we have a parent pair of bookshelf speakers that were kind of designing. It's COVID has been incredibly challenging, not only with the global sub global chip shorted supply. So all of our Bluetooth products just like ground to a halt a...

...year ago. We can't do any more research and development on them. Dealing with manufacturers overseas without being able to go and sit there in the factory. That's difficult. It's so things take a lot longer. So we're probably we probably lost a year of development in the past two years, which I know is a common story, but for us it's kind of it's kind of frustrating when you put everything on hold, like you just completely reset the firm and then when you start it's a lot slower than you want it to be as far as development. Luckily, we so when we launch a new product we always do presale with our existing cup and our customers, and the uptakes really good. Like we you know, we have we have a loyal group of customers and I'm always I'm always overjoyed that, honestly, that anybody buys a product without hearing it like that. That's all. It's all. We always makes me happy. So what kind of marketing has thinks sound done over the past year or so? Obviously, when you've got supply constraints and development challenges, you probably want to throttle back on marketing. Are you doing any right now and, if so, what kind of marketing is happening? So it's interesting. I was kind of thinking about this like and kind of preparing for our conversation. The company was was found, the growth of the company, let's say, was founded on kind of word of mouth, grass roots marketing, and literally what that means is Aaron, our original founder. He's a bassist for a metal band. He's a huge metal head and he would kind of almost roady with a lot of metal bands and he go to these festivals and concerts and everyone would kind of get along and then the musicians would start using the headphones and then it would kind of circle through the cycle, through the network and then, you know, fans of those of those types of music would kind of like catch on, and so we have like a die hard metal and jazz following. So people who listen to certain bands would kind of have an affinity to to our products, which is very which is you know, I think that's like a it's a wonderful feeling to know that, you our growth is a authentic it's through authentic relationships. And when we kind of translate that to like the last couple of years, that wasn't possible. There's nothing about that that was possible. There's no music festival, there's no concerts, none of that has happened. So we've experimented with kind of sponsoring at home concerts, very limited success with that. We've also sponsored music festivals. You know, it's interesting because there's there's kind of two sides to it. One is, Hey, what kind of reaction do we get from artists like so so, the from from hip hop and RB artist? What kind of is this is this one festival in Toronto. What kind of reaction do we get from them? And then be as how many sales do we make as a result? And it's hard because, as fans of music and obviously fans of our product, we get caught up in just caring about artist feedback and when people listen to it and they say this is amazing. I would rather hear a compliment than make a sale, it's almost like we're, you know, we're being a little self sacrificial by saying, let's put ourselves into a place where we develop interest and validation and what we're doing. But those aren't the same people who buy our products necessarily. So there have been a lot of like commercially, maybe unsuccessful ventures and in marketing and sales, but they feel really good, which is which is really funny and considering this is very much a passion for all of us, it's not necessarily our core source of income. We don't really question that. Maybe enough, but but we but you know, it aligns with our philosophy. But as far as what has worked kind of commercially, we have again kind of thinking about networks and musicians. There's a lot of musicians kind of that were, you know, friends, friends with and they've promote to our products on their channels and you know, we're we're allowed to kind of promote their their new album releases and to our dates on ours, and we have kind of a bit of a collaboration. That generates a lot of interest, which is good, funny enough, because we have such a loyal following any time we release a new product. That's where most of our sales come from, is people who already know us. Couple of places where I want to go. One there was an article written about thinks sound and I think the title was how do you sell...

...a product that no one knows about? How do you sell a great product that knows no one knows about? So, from a Marquis perspective, what are your thoughts about the fact that this product is so good? You have raving fans who obviously upgrade every time that you launch new products. The Bank for the Bach obvious. It sounds like it's amazing, which makes me believe that there's lots of people who like the combination of good prices and great quality. Where does that plane in terms of the whole marketing and sales scheme? How do you get that message out to the market place? Well, I think. I think embedded in that is a bit of education if we're trying to disrupt that curve that I referred to a while ago. You know, there's the idea that you need to kind of educate some of the market, and I know this is something we've spoken about. Is, you know, do you spend all of your time and effort educating and then hoping that that gets attributed to you, that you don't just convince people to go look for better things than they go buy somewhere else? We obviously want both. We want people to make an intelligent purchase. We also want them to make that purchase with us, part because we're a business and partly because we believe in what we make. So there's there's, you know, there's kind of like a synergy there, if you will. If I had a good answer, I think that'd be too simple. It's it's a really tricky question because there are you know, I guess might my kind of like more skeptical side would say that we've kind of fallen into this this this sort of expectation within, you know, BTC goods, that advertising is the way that people learn about things and advertising is the way that companies reach people, and those with bigger advertising budgets will get those people. And that can be true and and so the question we have to ask ourselves is, does that align with how we want to grow our company? In the bbsass world, where I spend a lot of time these days, most of my time these days, a concept that is ruin its head is community, and community is sexy right now because it's a way of doing marketing in sales, but having other people do it for you. So rather than having to spend the money on advertising and content and going to conferences, you nurture these communities where you have raving fans and they become evangelist and advocates and they amplify the brand and spread the word. And it strikes me that the marketing asset that think sound does have is a community. What are your thoughts and plans to leverage that? People love your product, people love to talk about your product. You. How do you activate them so that they become, in some respects, I'm marketing and sales O army. Yeah, it's a great question and I would say we've actually done a decent job and activating it. Our problem is our community small and and I think our core challenge right now is to grow the community, which I can't really speak to the success of that because we are literally just starting that. In the past couple months we started trying to grow a community and a lot of that it's through influencer marketing. It isn't necessarily like I'm not not a huge fan of paying people a ton of money because they have a ton of followers. I'm more of the Nano and microinfluencers because they tend to have more relevant and aligned followers and and people pay attention to what they say. In general. I would say my response, it's a bit of a fictitious and imaginary response, because it's what we plan to do. Talk Talk to you in three months and tell you how it goes. But we need to go create a network of I say influences, but I don't want to use it in the same term that would like as are kind of common barlence, like people who can influence others and we want to incentivize them to influence others. A lot of these people aren't necessarily music lovers, so we know that. You know, used to be the headphones were used for music and the headphones started being used for like work and travel and gaming is massive and we have to kind of we know we have to branch outside of music in order to kind of really broad in our community. When I think of influencer marketing, it sounds kind of slimy, it sounds a little dirty. It sounds like like there's a lot of pay for play and perhaps a lot of influence and marketing is not authentic. These influencers don't necessarily like the products or...

...love the products that they're promoting. What's your approach influencer marketing? How do you identify them, how do you attract them and how do you compensate them? Because you want people who are obviously music lovers or video game lovers or they're always on zoom and they want a better approach to using audio. How do you discover them and how do you get them on side and how you how do you keep them three months from now? Let you know I have guesses like this is where we're starting to experiment with that, but I absolutely agree. So, considering I know I've set it a couple of times, but we kind of demand authentic growth out of ourselves, and so we don't want to convince people that don't want to be convinced. We don't want slimy influencer marketing. We don't want to grow through channels that don't believe that we actually have a good product. The idea of pay for play without alignment of like why the product exists. I'm not into that. You know, I can't. I can't say exactly how we're going to do it because I don't actually know yet. To try a few different ways. But absolutely one of our goals is to grow through growth, like, let's say, through influences and specific, specifically have the have people who believe in and who agree that our product is good. Those are the ones we want to work with. The hard part for us is that means we have to send out a bunch of free headphones a lot of time and that can be expensive. That's kind of our commodity. That's our currency. I guess, not a command, it's our currency at the moment, which is, in honest, in a lot of sty no different than the reviewer space. If you think about how, like how I first found out about things sound was through Stereo file, which is an audio file publication and how did things sound? Get reviewed on the Stereo file seven, eight years ago? Is kind of the same question we're answering now. And when you go to reviewers, there's we have, luckily, Aaron. Aaron has been a part of this community for many, many years. There's a lot of reviewers that really like him and really trust this product and they'll de'll, they'll put us ahead a line from you know, whatever is coming out of you know, Sony ear clips's lab. They'll say, yeah, no, we know this is going to we know that we're going to have an emotional reaction to this and we're going to have thoughts about it, so we'll write a review on it, and that's great. There are still a ton of reviewers that say yeah, no problems, give me ten grand and all review your product. Right, thanks. Right of zero interest. We've had. We've been approached by so many publications for the Christmas, Christmas wish list. Like to get onto Oprah's, you know, kind of like holiday gift given guide. You got to cut a fiftyzero check. Like to me, that's not authentic, that isn't that isn't, you know, the kind of the channel, believing in the product. That's the channel, believing in the PAYCHECK, and I'm that that doesn't interest me. Well, that's the reality for a lot of companies, particularly startups, who have a limited marketing bud jets. They are the David's trying to battle the Golias. What are your thoughts from a management perspective, from a strategic perspective, in terms of the levers that David can pull to battle Goliath when you don't have the financial resources to go ahead to add? It's so funny. I used to have this similar conversation. So I used to for Mercer, big HR consulting firm, and we would talk about market research all the time and and it was always yet to pay a bunch of money to get market research. You need to pay to get all these opinions. And there's a coffee shop at the butt at the bottom floor of the building, and in the coffee shop is twenty five people every fifteen minutes walking in that are already r ideal customer. What does it cost us to go down there and ask them questions? It's free. Some would call that guerrilla marketing because you're going out and getting in people's faces. Guerrilla marketing is absolutely free and it's a great way to go. You don't necessarily have to pay through the traditional channels. You have to have to start. Let me I guess the question you have to answers like so what works? And you can either figure out what works through paying for a bunch of different things or you can go talk too much people, and sometimes it cost money to talk to people. So if you have no budget, then you have to assume you have no budget and you have to figure out a way to do it. You know, it's hard to say in this kind of virtual world we've been working in for the...

...past while, but as as humans start interacting with each other more and more, we can start actually walking down the street and having collisions. That being said, reddit is a fantastic place and there is no advertising allowed on Reddit, but you have to be ready for the feedback on Reddit. So what is the marketing plan for think sound in two thousand and twenty two? Obviously community will come back and you've got some plans for community, which will be fueled by the fact that we'll see concerts come back. I guess in the States it's already happening. In Canada or waiting for that to happen, festivals, that kind of thing. If you're not going to be leveraging advertising, which it sounds like you that's not going to happen. What are your marketing plans? What are the channels that you're going to exploit? How you raise the company's profile, how you educate consumers to ultimately drive revenue? Because, I mean, you can run this thing as a hobby for a few years and if it's if long as it breaks even, I guess that's okay. But I suspect your aspirations are mixed. On one hand, you're an audio file who loves the product and just want to have some fun along the way, and the other had your business guy. You know, you can't, you know, allocate time when there's no Roy. So I guess that's a long winded question about what are we going to see from thinks sound as far as marketing is concerned, in two thousand and twenty two? Oh for sure. Yeah, so there's too easy answers, but I'm going to start with your last comment about the hobby. I agree that there is. There's like kind of like an internal personal conflict, right, but at the end of the day, a far mission is for more people to hear music the way it was meant to be heard. And if I believe in the product are that we've designed, then people, people deserve for me to try and grow the company and for not just me, the team, like this is what if I believe this is what the world needs and the world needs it, and and I you know, it has nothing to do with me finding time or investing it and running it as a hobby. Like I have to believe that there's a reason why we created this product. It's not just for me as much as like I joke that I'm really getting the company design products for myself because this is what I want. Like it's most expensive bare headphones I could have bought, which is kind of stupid, right, but design a whole for him product. Yah knows, there's like a little piece of me that's like a little bit like kind of rebellious to your to your your perspective, but I agree with your perspective completely. So the two way the two ways that we absolutely plan on growing. So, you know, going back to kind of the influencer marketing side, I don't want to call it that. So building that community, but key is building going deep on a narrow community instead of just spreading ourselves really thin and saying, Hey, let's go talk to gaming people. Yeah, no, like that's that's way too wide. So we need to go very focused on where we're going to be leveraging let's call it like personal individual brands to kind of like amplify our brand. So that would be my kind of maybe pc way of describing an influencer. So that's number one. For sure. We're doing that. We and we've lined actually that. I'm going to go give you a bonus third, which I don't know if it'll generate money, but it's really interesting. The second is through through music festivals and and again this isn't necessarily for the attendees of the festival, but we've already kind of lined up with a couple different festivals to be kind of backstage with artists talking to them. It's been a great avenue for more hardcore hardware producers, like there's a I know the CEO of the sound of Music Festival here in Burlington. He's telling me the story about a guitar designer and a guitar maker that got backstage with a bunch of bands. Like he just was like, you know, the guy loved his guitars. Okay, I come on backstage, hang out all day and he sold I don't know, Fiftyzero with the guitars that day. You just because he was there with a product that people loved and they said, yeah, you know what, I love this product and I support you and I appreciate that you here. So that's that's partly what that's this kind of the second main kind of lever for us, if you will. The third one, which I'm not sure if it's going to make money, like I really don't know and I really don't care, is I'm starting to talk to a couple different...

...artists and like musicians about kind of like limited run versions of headphones, and the idea being, and this is where it sounds good on paper but I really don't know how it'll go, is a lot of a lot of art a lot of bands have kind of a fan clubs, at least fan clubs. You to pay a nominal fee, forty or fifty bucks a year sometimes, and you get early access to tickets, you know, you get you know certain like limit edition Merch and things like that. And and really the idea is like hey, can we can we give bands another way to get in the home of their of their fans? It's a right. Now the way bands get get into kind of physical interaction with people's lives is you buy their record, you buy their t shirt, you go to their concert. The concert is the only musical piece of that. Like the record is there, for sure, obviously, but none of that, as you shouldn't say none of it, you know, kind of connects with an experience. But the headphone is another way to kind of to kind of bring the band into someone's life. That's something we're exploring. I like the idea of helping the band's establish a better connection. I don't know how beneficial it'll be, but it's something that I want to do. Two final questions, one hard one easy. With the hard question, if someone were considering the purchase of ear phones or over the your headphones right now, why should they buy think sound versus a Sony or clip? Sure, send hiser or beats. What makes think sound better? DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR? We're going to be better sound sound quality. Absolutely. That's the easy one to me. The other one is maybe this connects with like a secondary reason people, people make purchases especially for our over ears. Everything is made with an incredible focus on sustainability. So our over ear, all of our packaging, like from ground up, zero single use plastics. Everything is is paper or recyclable or made from recycled materials. I can't confirm, but we tried getting biodegradable inc even like it's something we really strive for. The at the plastic on here. As you know, as you make bigger products, you need to use more plastic. We've actually partnered with a company of the state's called Eastman chemical, as our plastic is made out of a bioplastic called Treva. So it's even our plastic is made out of wood, which is kind of funny. So if that's something that you believe in, you know good luck finding a sustainably made headphone for many of the big companies. See that. To me, that's the easy part. Is If sustainabilities you're focused and you're an audio file, there are very few options. The easy question. Thanks for that question. The easy question. Nice matter answer. The easy question is where can people learn more about you? And as important thing, sound thinks soundcom you could follow us on instagram. We we don't Pope we're not super active on instagram. We we really want to stay away from being spammy, so we kind of maybe over index on, kind of only only like posting every now and again, but those are the best ways to kind of find out about us and engage with us. We're super responsive because this is all of our passion. You know, our turnaround time on communication is pretty instant. If it goes a day without a response, that's kind of like it's kind of sickening to us. A comment in a n final question. The comment will be for anyone who is an instagram fan and a music fan listening to this podcast. I'm sure they're going to circle back with you and tell you that you can enjoy the best of both worlds. You can be on Instagram, you can have an active presence, you can build a community and you can avoid being stammy. So prepare yourself for the barrage of social media strategists who will come to you with with services. Maybe, maybe they'll maybe you can do a little barter swap, you know, headphones for headphones for free advice, something like that. The other question, well, see, Andrew, is a welcome to you for your social media strategist and you want prepare headphones for exchange, and exchange I'm sure really be you'll be all errors. The other question would be where can you buy think sound products? So currently we're direct consumer things. Soundcom is our primary source. We basically do you know? We three main sources, direct consumer, Amazon and then mob like high end audio retailers...

...all around the world. Well, thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review, subscribe by an apple podcasts or your favorite podcast APP and share via social media. To learn more about how I help bb SASS companies as a fractional CMO, strategic advisor and coach, sending need email to mark at Mark Evans Dot c a or connect with me on Linkedin.

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