How to Market an Unsexy Product, Become #1 On TripAdvisor & Quadruple Your Profits

IN: Marketing

I hate fish.

Don’t eat it. Don’t like it. And definitely don’t want to smell like it.

This is why I never understood why the fish gods picked ME to get even with. Because they did, those fish gods. They wanted a human to torture, and they picked this one. The girl who would never hurt a fly fish. They cursed me, alright.

It all started in 1994 when my dad forced me to put on a giant pair of adult-sized men’s waders. In case you don’t know what waders are, they’re like enormous canvas fruit roll ups with suspenders. Sometimes two-tone. Always hideous.

No matter what excuses I invented, I couldn’t escape these socially awkward cousins of snow pants to save my life. Fly fishing expos. Fly fishing conventions. Fly fishing speciality shops. My dad tried to convince me that Rainbow Trout were just as cool as Rainbow Brite—a story no fourth grader in their right might would buy.

“Cast this line for me just this once, would ya Ash?” he’d ask.

Four years later when my dad died, I sobbed into that pair of waders. I cried so much I thought I would fill them. I tortured myself, wondering why I just couldn’t have paid more attention him. Why I couldn’t be a better daughter.

To this day, I still think about waltzing into a fly fishing expo. And, I have to admit, while I haven’t always been the most spiritual, I laugh about where life has taken me. No matter how hard I try to escape the fish, they always find me again.

A few years ago, I got a new client inquiry. They had recently brought a new Director of Marketing onboard, and were working on a national re-brand in an effort to appeal to a younger generation. They wanted me to lead their copywriting efforts. You know what company it was? Winston Rods, one of the most notorious fly fishing rod makers in the world.

A few months after, I started dating this guy. Me and that guy fell madly in love. You know what he does for a living? He owns a sport fishing company. Naturally.

Today, I lead the marketing efforts for that guy’s sport fishing company. I regularly go out on our boats in Costa Rica, and I’ve caught fish bigger than your kid. We’re currently #1 on TripAdvisor under “fishing charters and tours,” and through a cohesive online effort, they’ve more than quadrupled their bookings.

For somebody who hates fish, I must say—we get along swimmingly. I’m incredibly proud of our accomplishments. A lot of people cringe at the idea of having to market something so…unsexy, so to speak, but I took it on as a big, fat challenge. I figured that if I can’t beat the fish, I might as well join ‘em. And you know what I’ve learned when it comes to marketing unsexy businesses?

Your product doesn’t have to be sexy. But your brand does.

In the case of sport fishing—as is the case with many businesses—you’re up against one very unsexy truth: It’s all pretty much the same. Every captain and every mate that work for any company in the area not only all know exactly where the best fishing grounds are, when—they actually radio one another to confirm where the fish are biting. Furthermore, they’ve all pretty much grown up doing this, so there’s no real difference in skill level. Really, the only difference is the size of your boat. <Insert dirty joke here.> And you know what all that means? It means that sport fishing in Costa Rica is pretty much a commodity. A banana is a banana is a banana, so to speak.

So, how do you become #1 on TripAdvisor, then? If all of the sport fishing companies are essentially providing the same product, how do you become the best at the same?

The answer: You don’t build a different product. You build a different brand.

What we’ve done right? Is modernizing the experience, in an industry that isn’t known for its modern approach—particularly in Central America.

Ding ding. That’s Jabber, our chat software that clients can use to communicate real time with our sales team…without having to call a foreign country.

Beep beep. That’s the GoPro our Captains carry on board with them to record our clients’ experience, so they can take a piece of their day back home with them.

Bloooop! That’s the sound our Google Spreadsheets makes (in my mind, at least!), every day as the team updates the fishing reports for day (which then automatically syncs to the fishing report shown live on the site.)

Cha-ching. That’s the sound Paypal makes when a client feels secure submitting a deposit or paying their balance…from 2,000 miles away.

Hashhhh. That’s the sound that secretly happens in the background anyone from the team uploads a photo to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with a hashtag, helping to connect them to the world—and others to us.

Whooooo! And that’s the sound I make every time I see the difference that a strongly-built brand (and business) can make. On your bottom line. On your livelihood. On your pride. And on your life.

It’s not about forcing people to like you. It’s about being easy to like.

Because when it’s an obvious choice, there’s not much left to do.

And in this sense, more than ever, the question you should be asking yourself isn’t, “What are we doing wrong?” but rather, “What is everybody else doing wrong…and how can we do it right?”

Right is always more profitable than wrong. Sexy…or not.

And as I stare into the ocean, wondering how I ended up here, despite every inclination to brush it off as a coincidence, maybe that’s not how all this works.

Maybe it’s my dad’s way of saying hello.

Maybe it’s his way of staying in my memory.

Or, maybe it’s a simple request.

“Cast this line for me just this once, would you, Ash?”

And finally, after all these years, I accept.