Inside the Subtle Marketing Shift That Changed Roomba’s Fortunes

Inside the Subtle Marketing Shift That Changed Roomba’s Fortunes

For years, this was iRobot’s pitch for the Roomba, its robotic vacuum cleaner. They worked hard at it. Dwight Brown, senior VP of global marketing at iRobot, had been here before. Which made a certain sense -- the tech was cool, and people who loved gadgets were into it. So Keurig tweaked the pitch: “Great coffee, made simply.” It paid off. When Brown joined iRobot three years ago, he saw a similar opening. Working with the Cambridge Group in Chicago, iRobot surveyed existing and prospective customers and discovered two things: 1. The consumers it was targeting said that while they weren’t looking for a robot vacuum per se, they did want a cleaner home. And in an ideal world, they wanted their home to be cleaned every day; they were just too busy to do it themselves. That was the opening iRobot was looking for.

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Inside the Subtle Marketing Shift That Changed Roomba's Fortunes

Let a robot replace you. For years, this was iRobot’s pitch for the Roomba, its robotic vacuum cleaner. And for years it worked well, generating strong annual sales growth for the Massachusetts firm. There was only one problem: A sizable cohort of potential consumers didn’t believe it. These were people who valued an immaculate home. They worked hard at it. They didn’t think a robot could replace them. And they were right. It probably couldn’t.

Dwight Brown, senior VP of global marketing at iRobot, had been here before. His previous employer, Keurig, had a similar pitch: “‘You need a single-serve coffeemaker because it’s an easier way to make coffee,’” Brown recalls. This made technology the centerpiece of the pitch. Which made a certain sense — the tech was cool, and people who loved gadgets were into it. The thing was: Not everyone loves gadgets.

“We very quickly learned that when you try to convince the consumer by starting the dialogue with the technology, you certainly attract some early adopters who are technically oriented,” Brown says of the initial approach, “but you may be missing the vast majority of consumers who are much more interested in hearing about the benefit.” Some people, after all, just weren’t looking for a new coffeemaker. But they were looking for a better coffee-making experience.

So Keurig tweaked the pitch: “Great coffee, made simply.” It paid off. Keurig boomed.

When Brown joined…

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