What a $52,000 potato salad can teach you about marketing


As a small business owner, you probably know a thing or two about marketing. After all, getting word out and spreading the message about your goods

and services is how you grow your business. So here's a question for you: What does potato salad have to do with your marketing? The chances are, unless you're running a salad bar, relatively little. But now there's a marketing lesson to be learned from this popular side dish thanks to a young, and hungry man, called Zack Brown.

Zack started a Kickstarter campaign, perhaps half jokingly, to raise the money to make a potato salad. He was only seeking $10 but his savvy campaign has now raised $52,000 in donations to date. That's a lot of green stuff going into just one salad!

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that attracts entrepreneurs, musician, artists, designers, authors or anyone else looking to raise some money for their project. In exchange for a donation, users receive a reward. For example, if a band is trying to record a new album, a small-time donor might receive a digital download of the album while someone investing more could be offered an autographed vinyl version of the album.

And Kickstarter has recently gone crazy for Zack’s potato salad. Viral isn’t even the right word to describe how huge this has gotten. What started with a craving for a tasty snack and placed online on a whim has become an epidemic as backers from all over the world want a piece of Zack’s salad. He even made an appearance on Good Morning America. So what can small businesses like yours learn from Zack and his potato based treat?

Be different

A typical Kickstarter campaign focuses on launching a new product, starting a new business or working on a large project like a film, novel or album, but Zack went in a different direction. His entire pitch was: “Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.” And he was only asking to raise $10.

Going to your clients and saying you want $10 for a potato salad probably isn’t a good business plan, but there are correlations with the small business world. Compared to all the other campaigns on Kickstarter, Zack’s potato salad was unique and refreshing.

Take a look at the marketing messages your competitors are putting out there. Are they all essentially the same? Chances are that most businesses in the same industry are pushing the same basic benefits. One competitor says “We’re great at x, y and z,” while another says “The best x, y and z-ers in town!” After seeing the same message over and over again, consumers start to zone out.

What you need to do is to find out what makes you different? Work out your unique selling points and focus your marketing around them.

Be funny

Just by doing something so wildly different than what people usually expect to find on Kickstarter, Zack was injecting humor into his campaign. It turns out that he’s also a pretty funny guy. Under the Risks and Challenges section of his campaign, he wrote, “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad.” Also, knowing that a salad couldn't be shared between his 6,498 (to date) backers, those who pledged the largest amounts would become part of the making process. Zack promised to recite their names aloud as he mixed the potatoes and eggs together!

Adding a little humor to your marketing message is a great way to instantly build a personal connection with your audience and this can lead to more business for you.

Be warned though, there is also an element of risk that goes along with being funny. There are countless examples of brands offending or alienating their audience through a failed joke. You also need to consider whether humor is consistent with your brand identity. Depending on your industry or how customers view your brand, using comedy might not fit well with the perception people have of your SME. Few people are looking for an hilarious funeral director or a wacky back doctor for example.

In short, don’t force funny, but if throwing a tasteful joke into your campaign makes sense or makes you stand out, go for it.

Don’t give up

Although this is Zack’s first foray into the world of crowdfunding, it’s not his first time crafting a message and connecting with people. When he’s not making potato salad, Zack runs his own software development company. His entire business revolves around taking an idea and turning it into a functional interface that people can interact with.

To be a really great developer and designer, you have to understand how people will behave when using your application. And marketing for SMEs like yours isn’t much different.

I’m sure this all originally started as a joke and Zack had no idea how big it would get. And surely most of the many small donations were pledged in the same spirit of fun. No one would really have expected to get a taste of the final salad or make big money on their investment. But it seems to me that years of practice engaging with clients, have put Zack in a good position to create the most viral Kickstarter campaign ever.

Marketing is full of failures. Your attempts at being different might not work right away. Your jokes might even fall flat. But you need to persist through those failures and learn from them.

Not many of us are going to go viral to the same extent as Zack but with enough practice and accumulated knowledge, you can craft a market message that connects with the right people and helps your business grow. And if you do want to emulate Zack’s Kickstarter success, here, for all you followers of SMB Nation, is a kickass recipe for potato salad.

Potato salad for two - the SMBNation way!

  1. Boil a small pan of water and sprinkle in a little salt to taste. Add 3 potatoes and let them cook till they are tender but firm. Then drain the water and leave them to cool.
  2. Take 2 eggs and boil them in a saucepan for several minutes until you’re sure they are hard. Put aside to cool.
  3. Peel the eggs and remove the yolks keeping them whole.
  4. Cut up your egg whites and potatoes, put in your serving dish and add around 1 and a half cups of creamy salad dressing.
  5. Toss the potatoes and egg; crumble the two egg yolks on top, add half a cup of chopped chives for flavor and chill in the fridge before serving.