Strategic Marketing: Lessons from the start-up world, with Thalmic Labs

One of the main challenges facing Alex and the folks at Thalmic is how to answer the question, “So, what do you do with a Myo?”

The last Strategic Marketing P2P of the season focused on marketing lessons from the start-up world. We had the pleasure of hearing about the experiences of two local start-ups: Aterlo Networks and Thalmic Labs. This post focuses on Thalmic; you can go here for the Aterlo session.

Thalmic logo

At the time of the session, Alex Kinsella was the Lead Product Manager for Thalmic Labs’ Myo gesture-controlled armband. Alex and I have a few mutual friends, and Thalmic has received an enormous amount of attention these last few years, so I was eager to hear what he had to say.

One of the lessons that Dan had shared earlier during the Aterlo session pertained to clarity of branding. Feedback suggested that customers and prospects were confused when they saw two brands in a single communication (e.g., Aterlo Networks and NightShift). Alex echoed this experience: Thalmic Labs is the name of the company, but the Myo is the flagship (and only, at the time of the session) product.

People outside of the Kitchener-Waterloo region know Myo (pronounced “my-o”) but don’t know Thalmic. Is this good or bad? Is it OK if the two are equated? Alex mentioned that he has to remind people in the office that Myo is just the first product that Thalmic is building, but they’re going to build more! To separate the two brands, Thalmic had just launched the http://www.myo.com domain.

One of the main challenges facing Alex and the folks at Thalmic is how to answer the question, “So, what do you do with a Myo?” It’s an almost impossible question to answer, because the product is really an interface, so what you do with it is up to you.

This challenge really points to the importance of knowing your market and building buzz. If you build a product for everyone, then you’re building it for no one.

Alex explained how, initially, Thalmic didn’t know who their customers were, and they let anyone order a Myo. Based on a video that garnered enormous attention among the techie and hobbyist crowd, they received 40,000 pre-orders in less than a month.

As a humourous (only in retrospect, I’m sure) anecdote, Alex noted that many of the customers lived in countries with severely restrictive import permits. Oops!

Thalmic placed quite a bit of focus on looking at partners and developers, but as they got closer to shipping Myo units, the folks started looking increasingly at the muddled consumer story. Thalmic needed to appeal to consumers and provide a great experience, but also had to learn what was driving consumer interest.

They started focusing on desktop users and on creating a very strong out-of-the-box experience. Have you ever bought something from Apple? Did you notice that their packaging, unwrapping experience, and quick set-up puts pretty much every other consumer device unwrap experience to shame? Thalmic set out to replicate that as much as possible.

Ultimately, they shipped eight months later than planned, but they had engaged with customers the entire way, which kept people in the loop and kept them interested and positive.

They shipped eight months later than planned, but they had engaged with customers the entire way

Thalmic needed to learn why customers were ordering Myos. Doing so would help them market to these folks more effectively, and would also help them to identify new use cases that could continue to feed increased adoption.

The folks at Thalmic decided to focus on two things:

  1. The maker/hacker community
  2. Presentation use cases

Analysis revealed that many people were using the Myo for presentations (Alex was using one for his presentation), and that this was a larger potential audience than the (still important) maker/hacker crowd. So they set about making sure the presentation features were well-polished.

The next task was to determine how to reach consumers in general.

Like Dan’s experience with Aterlo, Thalmic’s marketing folks had to do fun things like experiment with email campaigns, study topics and open rates, etc.

But beyond digital marketing, though, Thalmic have invested heavily in retail marketing. At the time of the session, they were just gearing up to launch in Best Buy stores across Canada, and Alex shared some of the opportunities and challenges that such a big-box retail environment poses.

For instance: how can you tell a story in-store?

The retail experience also posed some other problems. In a Best Buy, people often want to pick up and try things, but they don’t particularly like trying things that are wearable due to the germ factor. Additionally, Thalmic can’t control in-store charging, so how can you ensure that the device will even work when someone picks it up? Plus, you can’t guarantee that it’s been linked to a display, so even folks just interested in the presentation features might be unable to give it a go.

One technique that worked was to associate the Myo with other things that are available in Best Buy, like drones. Someone dropping coin on a drone might want to control that drone with gestures. Link those two things in a story and trigger an emotional response, and the likelihood of a sale increases.

…and with that, Alex’s time was up!

Alex’s Lessons Learned

Alex shared with us a number of valuable lessons:

  • Figure out your branding: don’t confuse your audience
  • Prioritize a great customer experience, and don’t forget about unboxing
  • Customer engagement and intimacy goes a long way

My thanks to Communitech and to Alex!

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Posted in Marketing
One comment on “Strategic Marketing: Lessons from the start-up world, with Thalmic Labs
  1. […] The last Strategic Marketing P2P of the season focused on marketing lessons from the start-up world. We had the pleasure of hearing about the experiences of two local start-ups: Aterlo Networks and Thalmic Labs. This post focuses on Aterlo; you can read about the Thalmic session here. […]

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