Marketing Physical Products with Drew Vernon of Tonies
The key to marketing is having a strategy and thinking through it. It is easy to throw out content, but you must be strategic and conscious about what you are doing and why it is important.
The key to marketing is having a strategy and thinking through it. It is easy to throw out content, but you must be strategic and conscious about what you are doing and why it is important.
The key to marketing is having a strategy and thinking through it. It is easy to throw out content, but you must be strategic and conscious about what you are doing and why it is important. In this episode, you will learn how to better market your products with Drew Vernon, a marketing strategist for Tonies, “the biggest adventures to come in a little box.”
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Jacob Harmon: All right. Welcome back to another episode of trust cast. It's actually been a while since I've been here because I prerecorded a bunch of episodes. So it feels great to be podcasting again. And I'm especially excited because today I have drew a Vernon with me and he is in the weeds when it comes to marketing.
[00:00:18] So I'm really excited to talk marketing with a fellow marketer. How are you doing today? Drew
[00:00:24] Drew Vernon: I'm doing great. Yeah. I'm happy to be here and, uh, thanks for having me.
[00:00:28] Jacob Harmon: Yeah. And one of the things that. Most fascinate me and I really want to dive into in this conversation is the whole physical product space. I mentioned briefly before we jumped on this call that because offer a service. Um, I think that I tend to skew the podcast towards let's talk about services.
[00:00:48] Let's talk about selling services and marketing services and, and personal branding and how to brand yourself for services. So I haven't really had the opportunity to talk a lot about. Marketing an actual physical product, but that's what you and your company do is you actually sell a physical product.
[00:01:03] So before we dive into that, let's talk a little bit about what is it that you sell so that we can then better understand how you market that object.
[00:01:11] Drew Vernon: Yeah. Sure. So, uh, I'm currently working with a company called Tony's. Uh, for those, uh, viewing the YouTube channel, I've got a point of sale display behind me. Um, but, uh, for your listeners, you'll just have to imagine a point of sale display with a bunch of characters called Tony's. Those are figures. They are paired with the Tony box, which is our flagship product.
[00:01:32] So it's about a five inch cube. It's a digital speaker system for kids and it's. Screen-free so it was founded by a couple of dads who wanted to provide an alternative to a screened entertainment. And so they created this speaker system that uses the characters.
[00:01:49] Jacob Harmon: Okay. And if I understand correctly, basically you put characters literally on the speaker and then it just starts to play sounds that are related to those characters. Is that correct?
[00:01:59] Drew Vernon: Yeah, exactly. So if you think of like a CD player, CDs have been around for, you know, 30 years, there's they scratch, they break. And most importantly, kids can't use them without adult supervision, at least the young kids. And so that's kind of what the purpose of the Tony's is. It's like your CD. So it's a, you know, a physical asset.
[00:02:16] I'm holding one in my hand to try to describe it. So we've got two kinds of Tony's. One is called a content. Tony. These are pre-programmed to play different types of songs or stories. Uh, so I'm holding Peter rabbit. My hand here, if you were to put them on the box, he's magnetic, he'll stay on there.
[00:02:32] Even if you turn them upside down, uh, there's a platform on the top of the box and, uh, to wake it up, you just squeeze one of the ears. It'll make a wake up sound. It'll take a second and it's going to start playing the Peter rabbit story. That's on this Peter rabbit, Tony. So we'll give it just a second.
[00:02:53] There you go. So there's a little bit of a musical prelude. It'll get into the story. You can actually chapter select by whacking it on the side of the box. It'll advance it to the next chapter. There's also a fast forward function by tilting it at a 45 degree angle and a to pause or stop you. Just take the figure off of the Toni box.
[00:03:15] Jacob Harmon: interesting. Um, so as a father myself, I, I'm very fascinated in this idea because, uh, I liked the idea of merging the physical and the digital. Um, obviously I'm very much into digital and digital marketing and web design is what I do. Um, but I feel like too much, too much digital and too much screen time is definitely a problem for kids.
[00:03:38] So that's super, super fascinating to me.
[00:03:41]Drew Vernon: Yeah, there's two, uh, two sides to that, right? You said the screen free, you know, especially with the pandemic, but even pre pandemic kids are, are glued to their screens. Hours and hours a day and they do it because they see us do it. We do it too. And so to be able to provide something that's as engaging as a video game or as engaging as a TV show, but to do it in an audio only way I think is really cool.
[00:04:06] And then your other thing about just being, it's a very tactile experience, so you can hold the figures. They're collectible. The box itself is squeezable. It's got a layer of foam around it, and it's very much a tactile physical thing to your point. Yeah.
[00:04:21] Jacob Harmon: Yeah. So I guess, especially since you're talking about tactile, um, and how, it actually feels in the hand. I assume that that's a pretty big piece of marketing, a physical product, um, is very much talking about the features, talking about how it feels, how this, our senses, right? The. Seed smell, touch, feel like all those things that we experienced the world around us.
[00:04:46] I bet you with physical products, that's even more important than with a service or earn online. Good.
[00:04:52] Drew Vernon: Yeah. Uh, I think there's something to that. You know, when you are trying to introduce a brand to somebody, the first thing that they learn about you is what you smell like, what you sound like, what you look like. We use our senses to, to gauge, to size up anything, right? And then we learn more about it and we begin to get an emotional attachment.
[00:05:13] So, um, I think that might be an advantage of, of physical good over a service is that you can see and touch and feel it.
[00:05:21] Jacob Harmon: Yeah. And when you do your marketing, I mean, you mentioned the point of sell stand behind you, um, is a lot of the marketing and the physical space actually centered around what it's going to look like in a store.
[00:05:33]Drew Vernon: uh, yes. So this is actually our point of sale display that goes into hundreds of independent toy retailers across the country. Uh, and so we, you know, designed it with, you know, specific objectives in mind, you know, around, you know, stop, hold close, you know, what is this thing? Uh, why should I care about it?
[00:05:51] And, uh, you know, how can I learn more about it and eventually purchase it?
[00:05:57] Jacob Harmon: And so what are some of the things that you guys, , Are looking for when you're, when you're marketing this physical product, what are some of the metrics that you measure and what are the goals that you go for?
[00:06:07]Drew Vernon: Yeah, I, I think, you know, taking a look at right now, I should mention it's a German company started about five years ago and just went crazy. They call it Tony mania because they're flying off the shelves. You know, when COVID hit, especially parents are looking for screen-free options, you know, a lot of toys and puzzles, you know, uh, those of us in the industry have seen just like ton of, you know, accelerated sales.
[00:06:32] Uh, they expanded into the UK and we just got to the United States last fall. So we're a few months into it. We haven't sold 2 million boxes like they have in Germany, we're trying to make a name for ourselves. And the biggest thing is just to let people know what it is and what it does. And that's kind of different.
[00:06:49] Uh, it's difficult to introduce a new product category to an audience because you can't just show a picture or do a reminder message. You really have to start from scratch. You have to tell your story. You have to, uh, illustrate, you know, why it works, why it's adding value to families, why they would benefit from, you know, giving their child and engaging toy.
[00:07:13]Jacob Harmon: Yeah. And when you're, when you're marketing a physical product, I guess I assume you're selling these online, but also in physical stores, is that correct?
[00:07:24] Drew Vernon: Yeah, we have a few hundred independent toy retailers. We're in a phase FAO Schwartz in New York, uh, and then mostly online through Amazon and DTC.
[00:07:32] Jacob Harmon: Okay. So when someone sees your product in a store, um, I assume that oftentimes that's the first time they've ever encountered it. Um, unless they've seen something online and ad or, or listen to podcasts like this or something, then they probably haven't actually encountered that product before. Um, what are some of the things that you guys think of to try to make sure that they notice.
[00:07:56] Drew Vernon: Yeah. Yes. So that's different by channel. So in our independent toy retail channel, that's where we have the point of sale displays. So we have the big Tony figure on the top. Uh, that's kinda cute and draws in your attention. We've also got like a Toni box. That's mounted that you can put the, the Tony figures on that'll play, uh, the content.
[00:08:15] So that's a very tactile, uh, demonstration that. Gets people to immediately like, understand what it is and what it does. You know, when you're in a big box retailer like Walmart or target, you can't really do that. Um, super expensive. And usually you're just going to have to rely on your packaging. So that's where your packaging, you know, we have this, you know, seven inches cued basically is what the starter set comes in.
[00:08:40] That gives you. How many panels, six panels minus the bottom. The bottom is a throwaway that gives you five panels basically to tell your story. And each one of those panels has to do a different job, you know, because all they see at the shelf is the front panels. So that's got to grip them, make them, pick it up and look at the sides and the back and the top.
[00:09:00] And each one of those panels is designed to sell a different part of the story.
[00:09:05] Jacob Harmon: Interesting. Yeah. And sorry for comparing digital things. Cause that's the world I come from, but it makes me, it makes me think of like the front page of your website, right. And specifically the top fold of that website, the thing that they see before they even scroll like that has got to be the most important piece that really catches their attention so that they will look at the rest of the page or go to other pages on the site.
[00:09:28] Drew Vernon: Yeah. And, and, uh, you know, even if they come to your site, like you've already gained a huge win because, you know, getting someone to your site is the first challenge. Um, but yeah, holding them there and really giving them, uh, you know, them, them giving you five to 10 seconds before they bounce, you got to intrigue them and give them that hook.
[00:09:48] That's going to make them want to scroll down and click through to the other tabs.
[00:09:52] Jacob Harmon: Yeah. Um, so. I'm going to dive into a little bit more of that, that idea of the different panels. What did you guys put on the front of the box and what made you think about what was the psychology behind deciding what to put there?
[00:10:07] Drew Vernon: Yeah. I mean, uh, I don't think this is unique to Tony's. I think, you know, your front panel has got a hero, the product, like what comes in this box? You know, we don't have any window packaging, so it's, it's literally just like for our Toni box, that's showing the Toni box. Uh, it shows that a character goes on the box.
[00:10:24] And then one of the, the really tricky things with packaging and with a lot of our communication is how you demonstrate sound. Visually. And so we can't play, you know, sound from the packaging. So we have to show it with doodles and musical notes, and we have to try to visualize the sound coming out of the speaker box.
[00:10:44] So that's kind of like our first, um, priority on the front panel, not to mention that the brand Mark that shows, you know, who we are.
[00:10:53] Jacob Harmon: very interesting. And so transitioning a little bit more to the digital strategy behind selling a physical product. Um, I assume you guys have a website. Uh, do you do any ads? Are you driving traffic to specifically target people to, to purchase? Or how does that strategy look on the digital side?
[00:11:14] Drew Vernon: Uh, yeah, so, uh, we do have our direct to consumer site at Tony's dot com. It's a great experience. Uh, if you go there, you'll see our full assortment, uh, you know, very demonstrative, visual, assets. We work with a really great creative agency. And then we also have a really smart e-commerce team. That's you know, putting out messages and, and getting people, uh, across the internet, whether it be, you know, search.
[00:11:38] Display or a social media.
[00:11:41]Jacob Harmon: very cool. Awesome. So, because the show is called trust cast. I really, I want to understand a little bit of how important is trust in a physical product space. Um, I know that. If somebody bought a Toni, I don't know whether they would buy a second Tony or not. Um, but I assume that they would probably tell friends and family if they loved it.
[00:12:07] Um, so , how important is trust in the Tony's brand and what do you guys do to foster trust?
[00:12:14]Drew Vernon: Yeah, so. Your, uh, your point about, you know, getting an additional one. We find, you know, families with multiple kids. They, they want to have a Toni box for each of their kids. And then once you get them in with the Tony box, that's really just the starting experience because we have a library of Tony's, you know, growing every month, we're bringing in all of these titles from favorite literary characters, blockbuster movies, TV, we're getting into meditation and calming.
[00:12:39] So there's definitely a reason to keep somebody in the Tony's family, which. Getting back to your question requires trust because the age that we live in with brands, isn't, you know, here's your product have a nice day. See, you never it's, we're building a community. And if you want to be a truly lifestyle brand, you foster that community and you give something more to somebody than the product that you sell.
[00:13:04] You give them, you know, playing with their kids. You give them, you know, Uh, connection. You give them education, you give them opportunity. You give them imagination. Like these are all the intangibles they go above and beyond a product. And none of those can happen if you don't foster a community of trust.
[00:13:23] Jacob Harmon: Ooh. I love that, that I love the fact that you talked about the intangibles and the real value that you provide. I feel like too often in business, people will sell a product or a service, um, rather than the value that, that. Product or service brings. Um, and I think that's one of the major mistakes when it comes to selling and to marketing is just understanding what value do I bring and then how to, I communicate that value to my potential clients.
[00:13:51] Drew Vernon: Sure. Yeah. And I see it as a continuum really because, you know, I see it as a communication hierarchy where if I'm coming to you, someone who's never heard of Tony's I can't talk to you about. Building your trust and imagination. I have to tell you, Hey, I have a Tony box. It plays music. It's great for kids.
[00:14:09] It's screen-free you wack it to advance the track. That's my introduction message to you as a new person. And then if you buy a Tony box, then I can tell you about all the benefits for your kids. I can tell them how, you know, we can foster creativity by allowing them to write their own stories and songs and poems and put them on a creative Tony, but I'm not going to ever get you to that message of.
[00:14:32] The intangibles until I build that foundation of you knowing what my product is and why it can benefit you.
[00:14:38] Jacob Harmon: Hmm. Okay. Super interesting. , that's really cool feature, um, so that they can actually record their own audio and put them on their own Tony.
[00:14:46] Drew Vernon: Uh, yeah. So we've got the content Tony's like Peter rabbit, all the Disney favorites, um, some of our own classic tales and such. Those are content Tony's. We also have another side to the Tony's called creative. Tony's. They come empty. They're just kind of like a flash drive or an empty CD, whatever you want to call it, it's just memory.
[00:15:04] So you can use our app to upload your own content. It could be from the kids, writing songs and stories. We've actually found that one of the most popular uses is from grandparents so they can be, you know, on the other side of the country use, our app to record a favorite bedtime story. And in 10 seconds they upload it onto the Toni for the child to be able to listen to on demand from grandpa.
[00:15:27] Jacob Harmon: Oh, that is really cool. And can you override that? So if you recorded one message, can you change that message in the future? Is it one time writing?
[00:15:35] Drew Vernon: Yeah, it's just like a track listing, like on a CD or anything you can do up to 99 tracks up to 90 minutes and that you can edit them or delete them or change the order. Uh, it's all customizable on the app.
[00:15:48] Jacob Harmon: Very cool. Sorry that as a parent, I'm just fascinated. I think I'm
[00:15:53] Drew Vernon: Nice because you know, I'm a dad, I've got three kids. Um, and you know, I started out by saying, Hey, go record something under the Tony. And my kids will go off and they'll giggle on it. And they'll like, make some weird noises and they'll take like five minutes and that's all fun. And so I found that if I give them like more specific instructions, they'll like go off and play longer.
[00:16:15] So I'll tell them to go off in the corner and right. Uh, a song about worms that has four verses and has to rhyme. And I give them all of these boundaries and they'll go off in the corner for like 45 minutes. They'll come back and re record it on a creative Tony. And I've just bought myself like an hour of like peace and quiet without a screen.
[00:16:33] Jacob Harmon: that's the selling feature right there to parents.
[00:16:37] Drew Vernon: Exactly.
[00:16:38] Jacob Harmon: Um, so we're actually already talking about this, but I'd like to talk a little bit about target markets. You mentioned grandparents, uh, That's a really cool feature. Um, we're talking about parents and obviously you're selling to the kids too. I know personally, if I go to the store, my, my kid actually is paying attention to the marketing and advertising more than I am.
[00:16:59] She wants to buy literally everything we pass and I got a three-year-old.
[00:17:06] Drew Vernon: Three year old. Okay. So yeah, she's right in the, uh, in a, in the toy industry, we call that pester power.
[00:17:13] Jacob Harmon: Well, she definitely has it. She has a lot of pester power. So how do you guys think about the different target markets and how do you actually create different, um, marketing objectives to reach all those marks? Okay.
[00:17:26] Drew Vernon: Yeah. Uh, I mean, The, the product itself appeals to a lot of people, you know, we're, we're even getting these into like some retirement homes because the elderly, you know, lose motor function in their hands and they can easily, you know, put a Tony on a Tony box to, to play content. Are we going to go after and target grandparents?
[00:17:46] Um, or for the elderly, for their own use, maybe someday, but right now we ha we're going in on mostly a parent target, you know, parents with young kids. Uh, and so we've got mom as a target. We've got dad, you know, dad has has increasingly become a target, you know, four years ago when I started in toy back at Lego, we barely ever talked about dad.
[00:18:09] And I think now, um, you know, dads are becoming a bigger part of their kids' lives because a lot of them are working from home. A lot of them are helping with the childcare and the, the driving to, to school. I know I'm doing that more. Uh, personally. And so I think more and more dads are becoming, uh, purchase, you know, drivers, um, in the toy category.
[00:18:30] So we're looking at both kind of separately.
[00:18:33] Jacob Harmon: Very interesting. And do you find, uh, that it's helpful to look at multiple markets or is it, is it usually easier or more effective to really focus on one market, even though your product can serve multiple markets?
[00:18:49] Drew Vernon: uh, yeah. In terms, in terms of communication targets, I think we're trying to a few different things. We're still just a few months into our launch. So we know that, you know, mom has a big. Um, purchaser of children's toys. Um, so that's where I would say our primary focuses, but we also want to see where dad spends his time, , You know, we got a parents magazine, said we were one of the top, 10, , products coming out of CES for, for families.
[00:19:14] And so that was great for moms, but dads didn't care about what parents magazine had to say so much. Like they were more interested in, in, you know, the fast company, you know, becoming one of the most innovative companies in education like that caters more to the dads that read fast company.
[00:19:30] Jacob Harmon: interesting. Um, and S so those placements and magazines, like fast company and parents magazine, um, were those, that, that seems like an interesting PR um, idea. And how did you guys, how were you guys able to get featured in those types of magazines?
[00:19:47]Drew Vernon: Uh, both of those were awards. So we do have kind of like our print strategy where, you know, we're contacting those magazines and, and, you know, doing digital campaigns and print campaigns. Um, but we also are, you know, applying for the awards and we're getting some recognition based on our success in Europe and what we're starting to see in the U S.
[00:20:08] Jacob Harmon: that's really cool. Are those rewards that the magazines actually give out themselves or is there, is there a place where you can go to research? Hey, what are awards? Could we apply for.
[00:20:18]Drew Vernon: Uh, yeah, so you, anyone can apply to be, you know, Mo fast company's most innovative companies. You, you tell them about yourself, you show them some of your, your success, what you've done, uh, with your market strategy. And they review those all and they pick the winners.
[00:20:34] Jacob Harmon: Super interesting. Okay. Yeah. Those are all areas of marketing that I have never even thought of let alone explored. And that's one of the things that's so interesting about marketing to me is that there's just so many different mediums in so many different places. Um, That you could market a product or a service.
[00:20:54] And it's just a matter of finding where your target market is, where they're at and meeting them where they are. Yeah.
[00:21:01] Drew Vernon: yeah, it's a right person. Right. Message. And right time.
[00:21:06]Jacob Harmon: Yeah, fascinating. Okay. Um, well, is there anything else that we haven't talked about yet when it comes to branding, marketing, uh, physical products that, that you think is important that we touch on?
[00:21:22] Drew Vernon: I would say a big focus for me is just, you know, uh, with how marketing has changed over the last five, 10 years. There's, there's a ton of influencer marketing now. So a lot of people working on lifestyle brand, like that's an integral part. , some brands do it really well. Some brands, I don't think quite get it.
[00:21:39] They think that, you know, an influencer is, you know, an affluent mom on Instagram. Um, and that's one definition of an influencer, but I try to be, you know, a little bit more specific in who are the people with influence, uh, for mom and dad, how do I, um, reach that person and get them on board to, you know, promote our product.
[00:22:02] And so I think that's a big part of what I try to do as a marketer is find the people who influence others.
[00:22:09] Jacob Harmon: yeah, really at the end of the day. I think the thread that's been present throughout the entire interview is just having an actual strategy, you know, um, and thinking, thinking through it, I think all too often as marketers, it's easy to just kind of throw a bunch of content out there, do a bunch of things.
[00:22:27] Um, but really being strategic about those things and thinking about them and being conscious about what you're doing is important.
[00:22:35]Drew Vernon: yeah, totally agree.
[00:22:37] Jacob Harmon: Awesome. Well, Drew, where can we go to learn more about you to learn more about Tony's. If we want to go purchase a Tony, what's the best place to do that? Uh, tell, tell us where we can find you.
[00:22:51] Drew Vernon: uh, yeah, me personally, you can probably find me on LinkedIn. That's the best place to find me, anybody interested in learning more about, you know, partnerships or things like that can reach out to me otherwise. Uh Tony's is Tony's dot com T O N I E s.com. Instagram Tony's dot us all the socials. Uh, and then I actually like to plug, , our community group on Facebook.
[00:23:12] There's a Facebook group called Tony box USA. It's not run by me. It's not run by the company. It's our growing kind of network of Tony's fans that talk to each other about creative ways to use the Tony's and, and to accessorize the Tony box. And they do all kinds of fun stuff that I like to, uh, to plug because, , they're much more creative than I am.
[00:23:33] Jacob Harmon: Super. Cool. Well, thank you so much. I've learned a lot about marketing, physical products. So like I said, that's not a space that I've been very familiar with, so it's been really enlightening and I'm so happy that we were able to, to have this chat drew. Thank you so much.
[00:23:49]Drew Vernon: all right. Thanks so much, Jacob. A pleasure being here.
[00:23:52] Jacob Harmon: Thank you.