In this week’s episode of the Marketing Smarts podcast, I interview Paul Barrett, assistant managing editor and senior feature writer at Bloomberg Businessweek and author of the recently released GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun. After reading the book and discussing the astonishing success of this unconventional sidearm with Paul, I realized that there were at least five lessons that marketers could learn from a lethal weapon designed by Gaston Glock, “an obscure Austrian curtain-rod manufacturer” and inventor of the Glock semi-automatic pistol.
1. Let your customers drive product design
Glock had been making belt buckles and knives for the Austrian military when he got the opportunity to design a handgun for it. He had never designed one, but his clients told him exactly what they wanted (and that they weren’t entirely happy with what his competitors were offering). Without having any preconceived notions of how guns should be made, Glock enlisted the aid of experienced gun designers, applied his own knowledge of modern manufacturing techniques, and came up with an innovative product that wowed the Austrians—and became the go-to pistol for police and military organizations the world over.
2. One high-profile client can bring more
The Austrian military isn’t exactly a trend-setter, especially when you are trying to get individual gun enthusiasts to check out and purchase your product. Big-city police departments in the United States, on the other hand, can be. For this reason, Glock’s sales and marketing people in the US made it their priority to get this gun into the hands of American cops. The idea was that, if the police were using Glocks, “that would give them [Glock and company] credibility with the much more lucrative and larger civilian marketplace.” As it turns out, Glock controls 65% of this market today.
3. Influence the influencers
To break into the law enforcement market, Glock went after the firearms instructors. These recognized and respected weapons experts hold a lot of sway with the departments they work with, so convincing them that the Glock was an interesting alternative was critical. In addition to courting well-known trainers, such as Emanuel Kapelsohn of the Peregrine Corporation, Glock also held regional open-house seminars for firearms trainers around the country. Convinced that these guns would basically sell themselves once people saw how well they worked, Glock created as many test-drive opportunities as he could.
4. Put your product in the right hands
Getting the Glock in movies was another strategy. Movie studios rely on prop masters who specialize in weapons to help them procure the guns they need to make movies and teach movie stars how to look like they know what they are doing when they have a gun in their hand. Glock went after these prop masters specifically, making it easy for them to get Glocks when they needed them (other gun manufacturers were seldom so accommodating), and not being too prescriptive about how the guns were used (some manufacturer insisted, for example, that their guns were only for the good guys). Thanks to their efforts, the Glock finally hit the big screen with Bruce Willis in Die Hard II.
5. It doesn’t matter what they say, so long as they’re talking
When Bruce Willis talked about the Glock in Die Hard II, he referred to it as a German gun that was made of porcelain and therefore could evade detection by airport security. None of these things were true (the Glock is Austrian, made primarily of plastic, and can be detected by metal detectors), but that didn’t matter. Gun fans were more than happy to jump on the inaccuracies and lampoon typical Hollywood idiocy, showing that even (or especially) bad information can feed the buzz machine.
So, what products have been surprising sources of inspiration for your marketing?