“But Wait, There’s More!”: 3 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Infomercials

Infomercials, though identifiable across generations, are not universally beloved. While some might give them two thumbs up, most people don’t think of infomercials as anything more than the annoying breaks between off-hour TV shows.

But entrepreneurs should pay more attention because the truth is: infomercial marketers are genius at many of the things entrepreneurs struggle to get right.

Every single aspect of an infomercial is optimized for selling the most amount of product for the least amount of money, and all startup founders should strive to be as strategic and resourceful when selling their own product.

Here are a few important lessons to be learned from the world of infomercial marketing:

1. The impact of your product is its biggest selling point.

Infomercials rarely sell a product through an in-depth look at its functions and features. Instead, they complete the sales process by highlighting the product’s impact through the visceral reaction of a relatable customer:

Image credit: Snuggie

Infomercials excel at crystalizing the features of a product into personal reactions. This gives potential customers a clear picture of how much better their lives could be if only they would make the purchase. Relatedly, the best Amazon product pages focus on the benefits of a product, not the technical specs (like this product page for Eero).

2. Wait for demand to emerge before investing your resources.

In the quest for agile and capital efficient product fulfilment, startups should look to infomercials as a model.

You’ve probably heard this familiar infomercial phrase before: “Allow 4–8 weeks for shipping and handling”. Everyone who has ever shopped on Amazon knows that shipping takes a couple of days, not months. So why do infomercial products take more time? The company just hasn’t yet manufactured the product they’re selling.

The product has been designed, the price picked, and the infomercial created. Now, if enough orders are received, the product will be made. Infomercials created this “Kickstarter model” decades before Kickstarter and IndieGogo existed. This careful allocation of resources and long lead time enables infomercial marketers to solidify demand first before investing even more money.

One great way to assess product-market fit is to “get out of the building and talk to customers”, to cite Steve Blank. Talk to people in a store, put up a poll on Facebook — do a lot of primary research. This is often ignored and ends up leading to major product issues later. The best tech companies are customer-obsessed and don’t build and test, they test and then build.

3. Carefully target your ads.

The term “customer acquisition cost” (CAC) has only become common in the startup world in the last ten years or so, but infomercial marketers have been talking about it for closer to thirty.

Infomercial marketers know that if they run an infomercial at 2:00PM, they will sell more product, but running the ad will cost much more. Alternatively, if they run the infomercial at 2:00AM, they will sell less product but the cost of running the ad will be disproportionately cheaper. So they methodically test many time slots, watch the conversions, and steer advertising spend to their lowest CAC channels/time slots.

When making a sale to a customer, focus on the benefits, but when deciding how to sell to a customer, use all the metrics you can.

Next time you’re up in the early hours of the morning mulling over your product, turn on the TV and watch an infomercial instead. You just might learn something new! And if you do, I want to hear about it. Leave a comment or get in touch with Ubiquity Ventures.

Ubiquity Ventures — led by Sunil Nagaraj — is a seed-stage venture capital firm focusing on early-stage investments in software beyond the screen, primarily smart hardware and machine intelligence applications.

*Thanks to Kate Whitcomb of HAX for her help with this post.