How to Successfully Market a Product No One Wants to Buy

How to Successfully Market a Product No One Wants to Buy

There are marketing challenges, and then there is the challenge of marketing a product no one wants to admit they use, much less talk about it in public.

Enter Whitney Vosburgh. He’s an expert, interim Chief Marketing Officer who believes that building community can be a successful marketing strategy.

It worked for ConvaTec, a company that makes something no one ever wants to buy (but many people have to): colostomy and ostomy pouches. Those are the bags used by people who have a bowel blockage, which means they must eliminate bodily waste outside their body. It’s collected in pouches like the ones made by ConvaTec.

Not surprisingly, this is not something people want to chat about with strangers. But, Vosburgh hypothesized, putting them in a room with others facing the same challenges could make all the difference.  

“We created a series of overlapping geographical communities of mutual care for seniors, adults, parents and kids so they could come together in person to share resources, stories, new and better ways of living their lives and of getting the most out of their ConvaTec products,” Vosburgh says.

“It was community and care first, products and corporate second.”

That approach “created a powerful, unshakable hold on the marketplace,” he says, “because people said, ‘Yes, ConvaTec products are as good or better than anyone else’s. But this company really cares so much that they help us be better together.’”

ConvaTec management was open to Vosburgh’s unorthodox approach because, he says, the company hadn’t succeeded in making its high-quality products appear distinct and desirable to consumers.

Sure, the company could have use traditional marketing approaches, such as direct marketing. But Vosburgh thought they could do more.

The question was, “How can we take something that people are reluctant to discuss with others and create a comfortable safe space, so they can share the experience of being dependent on these products? What are the challenges? What are the resources?  And how can we live fuller lives?” he says.

The goal was to build a community where people could see, “I’m not the only one in this boat.”

Building Community in the Pharmacy Sector

McKesson Corp., needed a Chief Marketing Officer for its $10 billion Health Mart division. Health Mart is the fifth largest pharmacy chain in the United States, with franchises operating mostly in small towns across the Midwest and Deep South.

Vosburgh was brought in to increase the number of franchise signups by 30 percent and, secondarily, to increase the number of pharmaceuticals sold through the Health Mart stores.

Most of the existing franchisees operate the pharmacies as family businesses. Some have been in the family for years. Often, there still is a soda fountain or a potbelly stove in the store. People come in, warm their hands, sip a cup of coffee or cocoa, and share the local gossip.

Vosburgh’s research told him that the pharmacy owners are more than small business people. They are the “Champions of Community Care,” he says.

“And McKesson didn’t know this, but they were essentially the Champions behind the Champions.”

His marketing plan revolved around repositioning McKesson and the local family pharmacies and pharmacists as champions of community care. In addition to paid advertising, he launched town halls, community events and a competition to find and reward “Champions of Community Care” in those small town communities.

“All of which meant that the community was involved and celebrated their caregivers, the people who made sure that their elders and their loved ones got the right meds the right way at the right time. And it celebrated the pharmacists and the pharmacies as their hubs of community care,” Vosburgh says.

“The end result was fantastic. It created a lot of positive buzz in the media, and in terms of word of mouth, and made well-known local pharmacists into local heroes celebrated far beyond their typical jurisdiction.”

He did not increase franchise signups by 30 percent; he increased them by over 300 percent in six months. He also added $1.5 billion in revenue.

“I have always been pro-profit, but I’ve also been pro-social,” he says. “I’m always looking for ways that we can be better together. Don’t make a sale, make a friend. The selling will take care of itself.”


InterimExecs RED Team is an elite group of CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and CIOs who help organizations through turnaround, growth (merger, acquisitions, ERP/CRM implementation, process improvement), or absence of leadership. Learn more about InterimExecs RED Team at www.interimexecs.org/red-team or call +1 (847) 849-2800. 

More Resources: 
*How an Outsourced CMO Enables Business Growth and Builds Brand Power
*Interim, Fractional, and Outsourced CMO