Project Grow

Inside the Subtle Marketing Shift That Changed Roomba's Fortunes

How lowering expectations and downplaying its own technology helped a cutting-edge company reach a whole new customer.
Inside the Subtle Marketing Shift That Changed Roomba's Fortunes
Image credit: iRobot
Magazine Contributor
Executive Editor
4 min read

This story appears in the July 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.

Related: How to Make the Right Sales Pitch

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.

Related: The Surprising Online Marketing Method Most Consumers Prefer

When Brown joined iRobot three years ago, he saw a similar opening. “My initial hypothesis was that if we start focusing communication on the benefit, and not force the consumer to think about the robot as a replacement, we might open the doors to opportunity,” he says. Working with the Cambridge Group in Chicago, iRobot surveyed existing and prospective customers and discovered two things: 1. Existing customers were satisfied with the performance of the product. And 2. Prospective customers were aware of it but didn’t think it would work well enough to meet their standards.

That meant that winning converts wasn’t about changing the product; it was about recalibrating expectations. “It’s not a technical issue; it’s a marketing issue,” Brown says. But to do that, iRobot had to better understand what the holdouts wanted. So it asked. 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. It crafted a new pitch, “Cleaner floors every day -- all at the push of a button,” and repositioned the product not as something that cleans for you but as something that cleans with you. Something that reliably frees you up from some mundane work and increases the baseline cleanliness in your home, without any additional effort on your part. In that formulation, Brown says, “the customer doesn’t even need to think about purchasing a robot.”

Related: 3 Ways to Avoid Mediocre Marketing Content

The initial feedback on this new approach was positive, and in the spring of 2015 iRobot launched a marketing campaign around it, including redesigned packaging, online and TV ads and in-store video displays. The early results were promising, and iRobot doubled down on the strategy for the holiday season -- leading to a 46 percent bump in sales in the final quarter compared with the previous year. Three years in, the new message continues to resonate. Sales were up 17 percent in 2016 (propelled in part by the Roomba 650, which became the top-grossing vacuum cleaner in the U.S.), and, Brown says, “our early 2017 results appear very promising.”

More from Entrepreneur

Grow Your Business at Entrepreneur LIVE! Join us on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn, NY, to learn from legends like Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova, pitch our editors, meet with investors, and potentially walk away with funding!
Register here

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

Whether you are launching or growing a business, we have all the business tools you need to take your business to the next level, in one place.
Enroll Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.