Product Counsel’s Robert Yusim on his long career, creativity and direct-to-consumer services
Robert Yusim lifts the lid on direct-response media, and his critical role at Product Counsel
Robert Yusim, thanks for making time. Where to start?! You have a passion for helping inventors and companies launch new consumer products… What kind of thing?
I began my career in the consumer product space in 1989, and have launched products across all categories including Housewares, Kitchen, Health and Beauty, Fitness, Hardware, Toys and more. In 1992, I was involved in the launch of the Suzanne Somers ThighMaster, managing the Canadian Market.
This is the classic keep fit device?
Yes, exactly. After that success, in the mid 1990’s I was primarily based in the UK for the better part of five years and launched products like the Sweepa Rubber Broom – which was an especially strong seller at the Ideal Home Show – Sophist-O-Twist and Ab Master. Also, are you acquainted with JML?
John Mills Limited? Absolutely, yes.
I was their North American partner in the early 2000s. I launched many of their well-known products and gadgets in the US and Canada. Over the past 15 years, though, I’ve really become best known for launching products in the toy category.
Right! And – for context – what products have you worked on in that arena?
Many! Current & recent brands include Wubble Ball, LaserX, Projex, Comfy Critters, Curli Girls, PowerTreads, Happy Nappers in Canada, and my two latest Pixicade and Pop2Play.
This is a over a long period of time, I should have said…
Yes, over the past 15 years or so. I’ve also launched and or marketed Moon Sand, Air Hog’s Havoc Heli, Pixos/Beados, Ready Bed, Vectron Wave, Glow Crazy, Kidz Bop, Seatpets, Kurio Tablet, Floam, Gak, Yvolution Y Fliker, Pom Pom Wow, Zippysack… And literally hundreds more!
I’m curious, then: how did you get into this industry?
In the early 90s, the company I was working with was marketing a very successful toy product known as Grip Ball, or Scatch…
Scatch? The ball game with the Velcro hand paddles?
You know it?
Yes! I bought about a dozen of them for one enormous family get together.
Well, thank you! We sold millions of units around the world, and it was Toy of the Year in Australia. Given its success, I was tasked with finding more outdoor toys to fill the pipeline.
I’m trying to think what year this was…
It would be 1994, I imagine. Anyway, I saw all these kids in my neighbourhood playing with Devil Sticks. These were two sticks you used to juggle a third. I did my research and found the company in Toronto. I arrived there and met with the creators; three young guys, fresh out of college: Anton, Ben and Ronnen…
The Spin Master founders?
Right! And during that meeting we shook hands on a deal to distribute Devil Sticks in Australia. I believe that was actually Spin Master’s first ever International distribution deal. Anton suggested we hire a couple of expert Devil Stick spinners, including his brother Lawrence. So I flew down to Australia with Lawrence, demonstrated the product to retailers and sold it in. Lawrence stayed behind and worked with our local team Down Under to set up a van tour and demonstrations around the country.
This is a great story! Did that strategy work out?
Yes, I think so. The product was pretty successful. More important, though, was the growing friendship with Anton, Ben & Ronnen. Meeting them in 1994 opened the door to begin working with them again in 2006. That early work in 2006 became the genesis of my current business model. I’m forever grateful for that initial meeting, and all the eventual opportunities that arose from it.
Brilliant. And historically, you’ve offered quite a bit of advice on combining direct-to-consumer TV, online and social to sell products. That’s a very specific skill! What are your top tips about doing that?
If you have the right product, consider a direct-to-consumer launch strategy. Recently, amazon and COVID have confirmed that a direct-to-consumer strategy is timely and important.
Imagine a media strategy that allows you access to longer-format media; to tell the full story about the product, at significantly lower rates than traditional media… And that this media strategy allows you to generate direct revenue against that media spend, to either subsidise the cost of media, or to cover it entirely. It also creates amazing awareness and demand that results in very strong retail POS.
I know a lot of JML producers turn over quite quickly… So does this work over the longer term, too?
Absolutely yes, for the right products. In fact, once you adopt Direct Media Strategies, you can adhere to them because they can be an amazing vehicle for building long-term brands. Wubble Ball and LaserX – in their eighth and fourth years respectively – are both brands I’ve worked on since their introduction, with 100% direct-to-consumer strategies.
What kind of toys or games work best on direct response TV, then?
Kids react best to products with a demonstration, process and/or magical transformation. Categories like Activities, Crafts, RC, Outdoor, Action, Plush, Wheels and Dolls with the above characteristics work great! The longer format of Direct Response Creative allows you the time to demonstrate a product’s features, process, and transformation, and to tell the product’s full story.
Anything else to keep in mind?
Its very important to consider the financial side. Product Counsel has its own proprietary financial models that tell us the gross margins, revenue/sales units to break even, as well as inventory requirements based on anticipated media spends. Products with the above attributes and margin have the best chance for breaking even or even being profitable, which means the media can be free.
I want to come back to Product Counsel in a moment. Just quickly, though, what about non-toy products? What works well there?
The best non-toy performers are those that are new innovations; things that solve a problem. The more acute and high-frequency the problem is, the more likely it is the product will be a success.
Got it. Good answer; thank you. So you mentioned Product Counsel – of which you’re the president… This relates to direct-to-consumer product marketing? Tell me about that!
So… Launching so many epic products and brands with Spin Master in the US, Canada & UK, from 2006-2011, helped to establish my reputation in the toy industry as someone with a successful strategy – and the ability to execute.
While the strategies have morphed with the rapidly changing world, Product Counsel continues to build on decades of expertise; helping inventors and companies turn their innovations into very profitable brands. In short, Product Counsel’s success is the culmination of over 30 years of working on the same critical path of direct-to-consumer product marketing. It’s exciting to have been part of hundreds of products that have had amazing results at retail, many of which having grown to be evergreen brands.
To that end, Robert, what’s your process for getting new ideas to market?
That differs based on whether I’m working on an invention, or on a company’s established product or brand. Product Counsel launches new products, licenses out inventions and also provides general business guidance to help companies and inventors position themselves for the best chance of success. Some inventors want to launch their product on their own while others prefer to license out their innovation. And actually, quite often, inventors intend to market the product themselves, but it often morphs into a license…
Can you give an example of that?
Sure! So in 2020 I was working on a new innovation that the inventor himself had launched on amazon. By providing general business guidance, I was able to help him reduce his Cost of Goods by over 40%; re-brand his product and help him increase year on year amazon sales by 2000%… All to put him in the best position for future success.
Presumably that also tied in with direct-to-consumer marketing?
Yes; we later launched a direct-to-consumer campaign in January 2021. It was so successful that – given their limited available resources to fully capitalise – we licensed out the opportunity… Product Counsel was able to put a very lucrative license deal together for them in 30 days.
And what about the inventors that intend to license out?
For those inventors, Product Counsel evaluates for Level of Appeal, IP, Cost of Goods to Perceived Value, Availability of prototype, Competition and assets to help in marketing the invention. Based on these variables, we decide whether Product Counsel can add value. We treat the invention side of the business as a boutique; we select a small number of innovations to work on per year. For the inventor, the best part of our model is that we charge no upfront fees, only earning a percentage if the inventor earns. That way, the inventor and Product Counsel are fully aligned.
Sounds very fair!
Well, yes! Product Counsel always works with inventors and companies with fairness and respect to create a win-win situation. As another example… In 2020, we worked on another invention that the creators initially wanted to commercialise themselves. They’d launched a Kickstarter and generated revenue of seven times their goal. The product was well received, but they weren’t a consumer-product company. They were also located overseas in a relatively small market. My recommendation to them was to license out, which they ultimately agreed to do. Once they agreed, we were able to put their deal together in less than 60 days. The product launched in early 2021 and is already trending to be a hit.
So what’s the process for established companies looking to launch their own products? Talk me through it…
There we start by reviewing the company’s own strategy and timing to ensure their goals are achievable. If we’re all aligned, the first step is to create an offer and run our financial models to ensure margins and metrics. For creative development, Product Counsel acts as the executive producer putting the team together, assisting with all aspects of the production including scripting, being on set and the edits and approval process. The creative process is very collaborative with the client deeply involved throughout.
Next, direct-to-consumer campaigns require extensive backend set up including, Fulfilment, Merchant Account, Website Development & Integration and more. We will evaluate the company’s capabilities and plan from there.
Finally, there’s Media Management. Product Counsel manages through select third-party TV and online/social media. Product Counsel has also developed its own proprietary, proven methods of managing direct television, online and social media so they optimise, working together to generate traffic, the best possible direct sales and ultimately POS. From a reporting standpoint, we are able to use our algorithms to attribute media performance, culling out poorer performing media and investing further in stronger performing media to ensure our media is targeted with a sniper’s rifle.
I got engrossed in what you were saying but I meant to ask earlier… What were your favourite toys and games growing up?
When I was a kid, I loved playing with Hot Wheels, Monopoly and Risk.
Okay. Quite traditional lines… Robert, we need to start wrapping things up but I do have a couple more questions. First, in your opinion, what’s the secret to creativity?
I think to be creative is to have a vision of how a story can be told. Forming that story comes from research and from listening to others. It’s being open to other ideas and adapting the story by incorporating those ideas. Creativity also has to make sense with an attention to details to try and achieve perfection.
As the world struggles to get back to its feet in the wake of COVID’s arrival, what do you think toy-and-game retailers need to do to survive?
As a result of COVID, there’s been a cultural change regarding how people shop. COVID accelerated the adoption and popularity of online shopping at the expense of brick and mortar retailers – especially independent retailers. With the world just beginning to open back up, retailers need to create an experience in their stores and concentrate on providing exceptional customer service and added value. That might include delivery, easy returns, personal shopping and more.
Finally, what’s the most interesting thing in your office or on your desk?
For me a couple of things… One is my treetop balcony. This is where I’m able to go out to think and work in the sun, fresh air & singing birds. Another is my trophy room.
Of sorts! It has over 30 years of examples of the many successful products I’ve launched and marketed over the years.
Terrific! Thanks for that, Robert; interesting stuff. If people want to find out more, where do they go?
Thanks Deej! They can check out ProductCounsel.com, and email me at RY@ProductCounsel.com.
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