"I put away the shotgun/Borrow me a Glock," rapped Cypress Hill's B-Real on the group's multi-platinum 1993 album Black Sunday. At the time, over a quarter million Glocks, a semi-automatic pistol invented and manufactured in Austria by Gaston Glock, had already been sold in the United States.
The fact that B-Real—a fully credentialed representative of rap's gangsta wing—was rapping about what was quickly becoming the sidearm of choice for law enforcement and military organizations around the world testified to just how far this unconventional weapon had come in a a very short time.
Marketers can learn a lot from the runaway success of this handgun. To tease out some specific lessons, we invited Bloomberg Businessweek's Paul Barrett, author of the recent book GLOCK: The Rise of America's Gun, to Marketing Smarts.
To be fair, the Glock story isn't about marketing genius alone. It's also, as Paul says, about "good luck and perfect timing."
"Everything always broke the right way for Glock," he insists.
Gaston Glock, for example, had never made a gun in his life when he set out to design and manufacture a pistol based on specifications he'd received from the Austrian armed forces. Being a novice ultimately worked to his advantage, however, on several fronts.
First of all, he had no preconceived notions of how guns should be made, which allowed him to consider innovative solutions such as making the gun primarily of super-strong polymers rather than the traditional metal and wood.
Second, being a noobie also meant that to manufacture the gun he didn't have to worry about retooling existing machines to make something entirely new. Instead, he began producing pistols in a small, super-modern, computer-driven factory. The efficiency with which he could then bring these pistols to market eventually left his competitors—including venerable brands such as Smith and Wesson—in the dust, desperately trying to copy him in order to catch up.
Glock's luck and timing may be difficult to emulate. However, the basic strategy the company pursued is not. That strategy basically entailed what we nowadays call "Influencer marketing."
"The strategy was to break into the law enforcement market at any cost," Paul told me, "to turn particularly big-city police departments into customers, even if they were not initially profitable customers... understanding that in this country, that would give [the Glock] credibility with the much more lucrative and larger civilian marketplace."
If police departments around the country functioned as influencers in this way, with American gun enthusiasts following their lead, the question became, How to influence the influencers?
The answer was to convince well-known gun instructors—Barrett cites the example of Emmanuel Kapelsohn, among others—to become advocates and introduce police departments to the gun as part of their firearms training. By reaching out to these trainers directly, as well as by offering open-house seminars to federal, state, and municipal trainers in targeted regions, Glock built a loyal following among them and thus established itself solidly in the law enforcement market.
Popular culture playing the role it does in gun sales, Glock also reached out to the entertainment industry.
"Gun manufacturers do not have to pay anybody to cast their products in movies or television shows," Barrett points out, but they do have to work with prop masters, those "super specialists in weaponry" who are "in a position to spread a brand in a way that very few individuals are."
By cultivating relationships with the weapons master–giving them preferential treatment and being generally easier to work with than their competitors—Glock eventually got its star turn in Die Hard II. This gun was off to the races.
In addition to Hollywood and the police, Glock also found an unlikely influential ally in the anti-gun lobby itself. Controversy was a big part of the Glock story from the outset, when it encountered opposition based on the (false) claim that it could evade detection by airport security, later when it was banned by name in New York City, and finally when it was used in several horrific shootings.
The irony is, as Barrett notes, that "the divisiveness about guns actually drives gun sales... In the gun industry, if you tell American gun owners there's a model you can't have, that's the model they want to run out and buy two of."
Not every industry is like the gun industry, of course, and not all products serve both the B2B (in this case, a range of governmental institutions) and B2C markets. Nevertheless, the Glock story highlights the power of viewing your customers as major influencers (everyone taps into this by listing their clients on their websites or invoking them in sales meetings) as well as the critical importance of targeting those that "influence the influencers"—trainers, suppliers, and anyone else who has the power and authority to get your product into the right (influential) hands.
Who influences the influencers in your market?
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