Last Updated: November 27, 2020

During the national economic downturn that began in 2008, many companies saw their equity suffer. In a time where consumers were buying less and saving more, how did a boutique outdoor clothing company like Patagonia see its sales skyrocket between 2008 and 2011? In short, they understood and respected their customers.

Rather than attempting to compete with other outdoor clothing companies in the marketplace and trying to convince consumers that its products were the best, Patagonia began building an image of respect between its customers and itself. In an infamous campaign on “Cyber Monday” 2011, Patagonia ran an ad that depicted one of its jackets with the text “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”

The online “Don’t Buy This” advertisements tied into a larger campaign that asked consumers to think twice about every purchase they made, especially during a buying frenzy like Cyber Monday. Patagonia created informative materials about how much waste and pollution is created by thoughtless consumerism. The company’s real message wasn’t to abstain from buying Patagonia products; it was to depict Patagonia as a company that is more concerned with sustainability and respect than its own profits. This message connected with Patagonia’s outdoorsy, green-thinking customers, and actually increased the company’s sales in a very effective form of reverse marketing.

What is reverse marketing?

Reverse marketing is any marketing strategy that encourages consumers to seek out a company or a product on their own, rather than a company trying to sell specific products to consumers. Companies do this in a wide variety of ways, but the most common method is to provide valuable information to consumers without asking them to purchase anything.

Key Features of Reverse Marketing

Though there are many different ways to use reverse marketing strategies, every method follows the same principles:

  • Know what your customers find important.
  • Give the customer a reason to come to you.
  • Offer the customer something of value before attempting to close a sale.

Building value is the central concept of reverse marketing. For Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This” campaign, the company succeeded in positioning itself as a trustworthy source of information about environmental and economic sustainability. Patagonia identified these qualities as important to its customers, so the company created materials to position itself as an authority on such topics.

Instead of trying to convince customers that a specific product, like a Patagonia jacket, is more eco-friendly than a similar product from a competitor, Patagonia gave customers a reason to believe the company itself is eco-friendly (See also Green Marketing). This strategy encouraged consumers to seek out Patagonia products on their own when they wanted to find eco-friendly clothes.

Who implements reverse marketing?

A business that sells goods can use reverse marketing to improve the company’s brand or image, rather than just raising awareness about products. For example, the Patagonia campaign consisted of ads that featured many of the company’s products, but the message of the ads was about the principles of the company itself. By redirecting attention away from goods and toward the business, Patagonia or any retailer using reverse marketing techniques can create customer loyalty to the company regardless of what its products are.

Service providers use reverse marketing to avoid what is known as “coercive” marketing. Coercive marketing tells customers that they should want a service, like getting a haircut, for a particular reason. A salon might use coercive advertising materials to suggest that people who don’t take care of their hair cut at a salon are less attractive.

Using a reverse marketing strategy, the salon might instead use ads to tell customers they are already beautiful, and that the salon admires their beauty regardless of whether customers choose to visit. This message is intended to create a positive, confidence-boosting association with the salon for the customer, which increases the likelihood that the customer will choose to visit the salon on his or her own.

Reverse marketing is also very useful for companies that can offer valuable information to customers free of charge as a way to establish the company as an authority. People trust businesses that make them feel informed about their purchasing decisions.

A book store, for instance, could offer anyone who visits the store a free newsletter that includes book reviews and recommendations. The newsletter would help the store’s customers better understand what products are available and what each one has to offer. (See also Newsletter Marketing)

Orabrush Sees Amazing ROI Through Reverse Marketing

Orabrush, a tongue-cleaning product, barely managed to sell 2,000 units total in the first year of its launch. Then, the company created a series of humorous YouTube videos that contained almost no sales pitch at all, only a man in a giant tongue costume who had little adventures just for the fun of it. Viewers loved the videos and they soon went viral. This led to a massive order from retail giant Walmart, putting 735,000 Orabrush units on Walmart shelves nationwide. Less than a year of low-budget video production and one, small Facebook ad worth $28 earned Orabrush a multimillion-dollar contract.

Orabrush Sales Figures:

How do you make a reverse marketing plan?

The first step of any reverse marketing plan should be an honest assessment of the company’s current image, the customers it wants to attract, and what those customers value. This is vital to crafting marketing materials that will connect with customers in a meaningful way.

In the previous example of a book store, the decision to make its review and recommendation newsletter resulted from an understanding of the store’s ideal customers. The book store’s owners knew they wanted to attract discerning readers, the kinds of customers likely to visit the store often to buy books for personal enjoyment.

The store could survey customers in the store and on the company website, asking what kinds of books they want to read, what compels them to buy a book, and how many books they are likely to read every month. Any way to gather useful data about customer desire and behavior will lead to a more successful campaign.

Once the store has collected the market data, it can identify that its ideal customers are most interested in the quality of the books they buy. Because the book store provides the newsletter independent of any purchase or other commitment, customers will see it as an act of good will and a demonstration that the staff of the store are people who care about books as much as customers do. Building trust between a business and customers can bring customers to the business repeatedly and on their own, rather than to simply seek out one particular product.

To test the effectiveness of this campaign, the book store should track any change in business during the campaign. If sales change, it is likely as a result of the campaign. If there is no significant change in sales, the campaign is a waste of resources and should be modified or dismissed entirely.

The Buyer Persona

David Meerman Scott is a leading marketing professional who uses his past experience as a marketing manager for several multinational firms to teach emerging marketers about new trends and strategies. One of Scott’s most important contributions is his promotion of the concept of the Buyer Persona. Put simply, a Buyer Persona is a fictional person created by a marketing team to represent a composite of the consumer attitudes a company surveys during market research. A marketing team can create a more focused understanding of what their customers want by taking a series of abstract opinions and giving them a face, a name, and a personality. Instead of saying, “our ideal customer wants X, Y, and Z” a team can think of their Buyer Persona “Bob” who not only wants X, Y, and Z, but has reasons for wanting them. In reverse marketing, it is vital to be able to relate to customers. It’s easier to relate to Bob than a faceless “ideal customer.”

Careers in reverse marketing

Reverse marketing is a team effort in any company. It requires good research, good customer communications, and a solid plan to be optimally effective. The following are three careers that are likely to involve work in reverse marketing, though any position on a marketing team can be valuable in a reverse marketing strategy.

Market Researcher

What do they do?

Reverse Marketing Salaries

  • Market Researcher
    Starting: $39,000
    Median: $51,000
    Top Earners: $65,000
  • Copywriter
    Junior: $28,000
    Senior: $55,200
    Top Earners: $109,000
  • Marketing Manager
    Starting: $41,480
    Median: $83,890
    Top Earners: $166, 400

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Before a company can create functioning reverse marketing materials, it must understand what customers value. Market research is the process of gathering data about consumer behavior and business trends that will be applied to marketing materials. This requires both a willingness to interact with a wide variety of people and the ability to communicate their opinions to a marketing team in concrete terms.

Education and Skills

Market researchers should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, psychology, sociology, or statistical analysis. High computer literacy is important for the use of database and information modeling software. It is also helpful to have previous experience in customer service.


What do they do?

When a company has gathered market research data for a reverse marketing campaign, it is a copywriter’s job to craft an advertising message from that information. Copywriters create ad text, taglines, marketing emails, and any other written campaign materials customers see. This involves strong written and verbal communication skills, as well as the ability to express complex ideas in a way that anyone can understand.

Education and Skills

A copywriter should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, English, psychology, or communications. Any prior experience in a writing-focused position is helpful, and a portfolio of work samples is a very important addition to any copywriting resume.

Marketing Manager

What do they do?

Marketing managers have a thorough understanding of every aspect of a company’s marketing strategies. In campaigns like reverse marketing plans that involve so many different assets throughout the team, leadership is necessary to ensure people in more technical, data-driven positions and people in creative, content-driven positions share the right information with one another over the course of the campaign. Marketing managers help everyone on the team communicate with one another and help set clear benchmarks for success from start to finish.

Education and Skills

Marketing managers have at least a bachelor’s degree. Because managers tend to have several years of experience in a non-leadership role on a marketing team, they will have degrees related to their specialty, i.e. copywriting, market research, or some other marketing role. Many managers also have advanced education like a Master of Business Administration degree.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

The basic principles of reverse marketing are simple, but the knowledge and experience to fully implement reverse marketing and other strategies driven by data and talent require more extensive training. An education program in marketing is a great way to acquire the expertise to be a leading professional in the world of modern business.

A marketing education begins with courses that create a framework that is not only valuable for the duration of the program, but for life in the professional world as well. Classes like Entrepreneurship teach the fundamentals of mindful budget management and branding, both of which are essential to the success of any marketing plan. Other classes focus on the creation of positive, efficient team structures, such as Cooperative Work Experience.

Hands-on software courses in marketing programs teach students how to get the most out of common business technology. This includes software like Microsoft Excel database management and Dreamweaver web design programs. Just as importantly, these courses will help students develop the skills necessary to learn new software as the field grows and evolves long after a degree has been achieved.

Marketing school students will also have access to extensive case studies of successful marketing campaigns to see real-world examples of reverse marketing and other strategies in action. Equipped with that knowledge, students will embark on their own business simulations, creating marketing plans from the ground up.

A marketing education provides a comprehensive experience in a complex field. Students will emerge into the work force as confident, prepared professionals with a lot to offer to any employer.