What Happens When the Right Product is Targeted to the Wrong Audience

Targeting the Right Product to the Wrong Audience | brittany hodak

Remember when someone said “Stanley Cup” and they were talking about hockey? Ahhh, the good ole days. If, like me, you roll your eyes when someone starts talking about the ~other~ Stanley Cup, I promise you’ll still find this deep dive highly valuable and interesting.

People are OBSESSED with the (other) Stanley Cup. It was one of the most loved and most-talked-about brands of 2023. Yet, the product first came on the market in 2016, and was “deprioritized” at the company in 2019… so why and how did it go viral over the last few years?

The Stanley brand has been around since 1913 and has historically marketed its products to men, particularly outdoor enthusiasts. According to Retail Dive, in 2012, Stanley claimed that its “products resonated with a ‘30-year-career veteran policeman’ and a ‘retired Army soldier.’”

However, once Stanley executives truly understood their customers’ story, it unlocked a new audience segment that eventually helped them increase their infamous Quencher sales by 275% over the last twelve months.

The Stanley Quencher started to gain popularity among women when The Buy Guide’s Instagram account — which is a product review and recommendation page (and blog) run by three women — started sharing it. Taylor Cannon, Linley Hutchinson, and Ashlee LeSueur wrote: “Of all the insulated cups… this is the one. Just trust.”

Eventually, Stanley caught wind of The Buy Guide’s support and offered them the opportunity to purchase 10,000 Quenchers wholesale for them to resell on their own. The Buy Guide sold out of the Quenchers within days. Remember, this was at a time when Stanley was on the verge of discontinuing the product.

Why were The Buy Guide women much more successful at selling the Quencher than the Stanley brand itself? 

Ashlee told Retail Dive, “‘Stanley had been a company only producing occasional-use items. They were making items for people’s camping trips or tailgating. We told them that this cup was a daily-use item. It was an everyday, all-day item. And that it needed to look good in people’s homes and kitchens, with their outfits, and not just in the great outdoors.’”

Stanley executives agreed to meet up with the influencers at the Outdoor Retailer Conference. Linley recalls telling them, “‘You’re marketing this cup to the wrong people.’” 🤯

As Stanley shifted its attention to women aged 25 to 50, the Quenchers exploded in popularity. Now, there are 700 million views of #StanleyTumbler on TikTok, all coming from customer-generated videos — aka, from their superfans

A few months ago, a TikTok user posted that her Stanley Cup survived a car fire, proving that its ice had not melted, despite her car… well… melting. Two days later, Stanley president Terence Reilley stitched her video and offered to buy her a new car. 

It was the perfect response — delivered exactly right (on TikTok, where the conversation was happening, not via a stuffy corporate press release) that it became the kind of viral, feel-good story that makes brand managers everywhere jealous. (“Why couldn’t our customers lose their cars in a fire?! Some brands get all the luck.” — definitely whined in a meeting by more than one C-level exec last November.)

In addition to capturing the mega-viral moments, Stanley has continued to use social media to listen to its audience and understand exactly what they love about the product.  For example, they realized that their customers like to collect the Quenchers in different colors to have options for various occasions. This has led the company to create hype around limited edition shades and celebrity and brand partnerships. 

Customers are voluntarily waiting in line outside of Target at 4:30 am to grab the newest styles, and the FOMO is so strong that those who miss out are willing to pay up to $200 for a Quencher on resale sites. 

Not only did Stanley refine its product design with ergonomic handles and narrow bases that fit into car cupholders, but it also tapped into the experience that customers have with their Quenchers. How the tumblers make them feel while using it.

With a fanbase primarily comprised of women — many of whom are working (and parenting) from home — Stanley recognized the increased demand for aesthetically appealing everyday items that can bring a sense of peace and calmness. Fans of the Quencher find joy in the colorful water bottles that can match their outfit or mood on any occasion – and be perfectly organized in their cabinets. When you feel positive emotions about the design of a product, you’ll naturally feel happier while using said product.

By shifting focus to a previously overlooked segment and actively listening to their needs and preferences, Stanley not only revived a product on the brink of discontinuation but created a raving army of superfans that will position the brand for resilience and long-term success.

What does this mean for you?

  1. You can’t be truly customer-centric if you don’t understand your customer’s story. When you’re clear on your ideal customer and their preferences, expectations, and emotions, you can tailor your offerings to their needs and create exceptional experiences.
  1. You absolutely must know what customers are saying about your brand, your employees, your products, and your competitors. Social listening and search monitoring are mission-critical for every business that exists today. And, when you respond, do it where your customers are talking, not where it’s most convenient for you.
  1. Position your brand to be able to adapt to changing consumer trends. 
  1. Don’t just sell the product; sell the transformation. Because real change extends far beyond the surface problems others may see, emotional transformations are where superfans are made. Stanley superfans aren’t just looking for an insulated container that can keep their beverages cool; they’re looking for a sense of belonging or community, a hobby, and the opportunity to bring small moments of joy to the most mundane tasks. 
  1. The best marketing is FREE! If your customers aren’t talking about you, you’re in trouble. You have to be in the business of making people’s lives better, regardless of the industry you’re in.

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