John R. Kowalski Integrative Marketing Fusion

The Bear and the Trash Can

The Bear and the Trash Can

A brown bear sits in a forest staring intently into the distance


I’ve been working in marketing for a while now. I’m going to talk about not launching a product before it’s ready.

This is something that happens all the time but as marketers we need to make sure that our products are up to par before releasing them into the world. If not, there could be some serious consequences like wasting valuable resources or worse yet getting bad feedback from customers who can’t use your product because it’s not working properly.

You’re going to like this story.

I was about 3 weeks into a new job at a new company. This company produced, among other things, roll-out trash cans. You know, the one’s that you may have or see at the end of neighborhood driveways on trash day.

A brown bear sits in a forest staring intently into the distance

Anyway, my first big assignment had been to launch a bear-proof container. This was a big problem in the Rocky’s, Pacific Northwest, Canada…. During the night the bears would come out and stroll through the neighborhoods sampling from the buffet of containers at the end of everyone’s driveway, then after their fill… back into the woods and mountains they went. Morning comes and as people are taking out their dogs, going to work or school…. The street… trashed. Literally.

So, there was a need for something to keep the bears from making messes and probably saving them from some serious digestive issues.

Anyway, the engineering group had the can done and ready to go. I was going to do a product sheet, news release, photography, etc… As I started writing I asked if they got any third-party verification that the thing works. “Ohhh nooo… we don’t need that,” the senior engineering lead told me. “It works. No worries there.”

I replied, “Ok…. well… do you have a can I can take as I want to make sure. I’ll need it for some photography anyway. I’ll bring it right back when I’m done. That good?” After that quick conversation I was out the door rolling a 96-gallon roll-out bear resistant trash can.

I got to my office and went to the phone to get the number for our local zoo. They have bears. Just wondering if I can borrow one. 

I got in touch with their communications director who I told my predicament and wondered if one of their bears could play with the container while I documented. After laughing together and her saying this request was a first, she proceeded to talk with the zookeepers and got back with me with an excited “yes!”

Later that week I was set to show up at the zoo at 7 in the morning before it was open. The communications director met me with the head zookeeper and bear people. There were a couple.

As we marched through the zoo towards the bear exhibit, the trash container being wheeled behind me… other zoo employees seemed to just appear. I was the pied piper leading the group. I had learned that word of this “testing” had gotten around, and everyone wanted to watch.

Ok. We got to the bear area and needed to remove the 2 wheels and axel as the zookeeper didn’t want to take the chance of anything injuring the bear. The bear, by the way was a 780 lb brown bear named, I think, Stella.

We opened the lid and the bear team dropped in oranges, some sort of food that looked like giant sized dog chow. They also poured in honey and peanut butter in addition to slathering it on the inside of the lid and can.

I secured the lid then off it went into the exhibit. Stella was still in her “den” locked away safely. After the can was placed and the zookeeper safely out of harm’s way, they opened her door for access to the exhibit.

Here comes Stella.

She seemed to wallow out of her door and see this strange looking thing in the middle of her area. Her nose was also sniffing away, and she immediately knew food was close.

She comes up to the can. While walking around it she’s sniffing and licking a bit around the lid. She paws playfully at the top and lid area and knocks it on its side. She then proceeds to jump her front legs up on the side of this thing and start jumping to buckle the poor polyethylene container. Me and the group of about 30 people burst out laughing. It’s buckling as she’s about collapsing the can. She then starts chewing at the lid and top (the can’s still on its side). A few more forceful clawing motions at the same area and then with one quick motion of a paw, the lid flew about 30’ across the exhibit where Stella then proceeded to enjoy her winnings.

Now mind you…. this all took less than 30 seconds from her door opening to the lid sailing like a frisbee.

Playing with Stella the bear was definitely a marketing first for me. After about another 30-45 minutes and she had gotten all the food she wanted she satisfyingly wallowed back into her “den” and the zookeeper closed her in. They then gathered up the can, lid and various shards of plastic and brought it out to me. Another zoo person came up with a hose to hose the can down and I just stopped him in time. Nope. I wanted the can in all its bear fur and slobber glory to bring back to the engineering team. The scratches, bite marks and all the removed parts and pieces were tossed inside and away I went.

I pulled up to the engineering building and dragged this thing right to the senior engineer leads office. I told him I had a bear play with it and to let me know when it’s ready for market.

Fast-forward about 4-5 months… our bear-resistant trash container was ready. It had been redesigned and verified by a third-party company in Colorado. The launch then went onto a be a success. All thanks to a marketer who asked questions and challenged things. And also, a big thank you to Stella and the local zoo.

Now that your product is ready to go… is production up and running? What’s the lead time if a customer were to order one today? These are all important questions that you need to ask as you methodically plan your launch communications.

I’ve seen it time and time again… product launch planned and executed flawlessly. Only one problem. Product production isn’t quite ready. Prototype issues. Supplier issues. Production issues. I’m sure you’ve all been there which immediately throws us into damage control mode as we’ve just announced it to the world after teasing it for a month or so.

In a dream world wouldn’t be nice to not get thrown into that panic of an organization shooting itself in the foot and then you having to deal with the consequences from the market and customers.

I know this seems like a no-brainer but with leadership pushing to get things out and hoping to impact sales this quarter, so many marketers give in to that pressure. I also know that some marketers don’t even have a choice – it’s dictated of when to launch.

Regardless… speak up. Say “no.” And like I mentioned, you may not have a choice, but it is your choice and responsibility as a marketer to voice your thoughts and opinion and to give reasons why something may or may not be the best.

Things happen on the product side that are beyond your control, but you can control your realm of marketing communications. Have all the sales tools written and designed. Have translations and localized versions complete. You’re probably going to be waiting on photography but have everything to go so you can just drop the photos in.

Another key aspect of a product launches is training. Are your sales and distribution teams trained? Have you provided them with a ‘launch kit’ containing all the necessary sales tools, presentations, and photography? What about an email signature? Supply that and give them all the other tools necessary so they can run with it.

Timing is an issue… ideally, you’ll want to get the sales tools, marketing campaigns, website, and anything else you need done prior to training your team. After training, inform them of the launch schedule. You could launch a week or 2 after sales is trained – but that’s also dependent upon your industry and the complexity of the product. Time it appropriately.

Also, as a side note… do you need to get instruments to key customers for testing and testimonials or case studies? What about assembling a key target account list by region for your sales and distribution teams during their training?

These are all things to consider. In addition to the sales tools and internal planning my launch, at a minimum, consist of a:

  • News release
  • Advertising – both electronic and print – whatever’s appropriate for your audience
  • Direct marketing
  • An email campaign with 3-5 touches
  • A print campaign if it’s right for your industry
  • Customer webinars scheduled
  • Social media campaigns
  • Application or demonstration video if appropriate
  • Website – all the information there? SEO complete?
  • White paper or technical article on the product

This is just a quick summary… you know what your industry needs and responds to.

But coming back to the main topic… make sure you’re ready to sell your product before you launch. It’ll eliminate headaches for you and frustration for your customer – especially if they find out the lead time is 32 weeks.

Doing things the right way and timing things appropriately will give your efforts their greatest chance of success.

Hope you learned something. And until later…

happy marketing!

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