Using CleanBottle to Illustrate Strategic Communication

A lot of people and organizations have trouble grasping the basic principles of Strategic Communications and Marketing. I recently ran across a real life marketing phenomenon that goes a long way to graphically explaining the concepts.

CleanBottle is a plastic water bottle for bicyclists, runners, hikers and others that solves a gross problem with ordinary water bottles. Unless you are absolutely scrupulous about scrubbing the damn things out, even to the extent of adding bleach to the washing water, you will get mold (mould) growing in them. Drinking from a bottle containing microscopic fungal filaments which may be producing mycotoxins is unappetizing to a huge degree. And if your bottles are dark plastic then the little beasties can breed entire civilizations before you realize it.

What the people at CleanBottle did was to invent a water bottle that unscrews from both ends so it can be cleaned easily and quickly. It’s the kind of idea that makes you want to slap your forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that!”


Image from

But they did think of it and they proceeded to plan how to sell it very well indeed.

I see many examples in business, government, and the non-profit sector, of communication planning and marketing going horribly wrong. In fact what I see most often is communication planning being done backwards, if not upside down.

Not long ago I consulted very briefly with a group that was to represent multi-billion dollar corporations that were suffering from the effects of a very poor public image. The companies had a good case and they weren’t all bad. But the group they set up to get their point of view out was a horror.

The association of companies was a long way into its work before I showed up. And what I found was appalling.

The group had designed and drafted brochures, set up a website, devised a logo, and formed an internal bureaucracy.

What was not there was even the slightest sense of what the group was trying to say, who its target audience was, and no coherent toolbox of communication techniques and especially none that reflected the reality of communication in our social media universe.

The highlights of their technique section called for full page newspaper advertisements and opinion editorials in newspapers. Both are techniques that are so outdated and ineffectual that I thought somebody was playing a joke.

The basics of a Strategic Communications Plan, or a Marketing Plan for that matter, are clear and simple . . .

  1. What are you going to say?
  2. To whom are you going to say it?
  3. How are you going to say it?
  4. How do you know you’ve said it?

Far too many people start with #3; the posters, websites, magazines, advertisements, etc.

That’s a bit like going to a building supplies store and buying a bunch of Italian marble tiles, a table saw, a welding outfit, some oak and and ocean of paint, then deciding that you will be building a picnic table with it all.

This sort of backward thinking makes me a lot of money because I get called in to sort out the resulting mess but it is insanely inefficient and unbelievably expensive.

Now let’s take a look at what the people at have been doing – and rather brilliantly too.

Point #1 was taken care off with the invention and production of the bottle.

Point #2 was interesting. I’ve said that the bottle is for cyclists, hikers, runners, etc but the company makes no such widespread claims. It decided to focus strictly on cyclists. None of its promotional material makes any mention of any other user groups. There is a mention of other types of users in one of the very earliest blog entries but I can’t see any other mentions.

Now this might sound short sighted but by clearly targeting a specific customer base and focusing only on that CleanBottle was able to craft a diamond clear set of techniques to get its product image out without the need for a huge sprawling and expensive media buying campaign. If you don’t have a lot of money, and few new companies do, it is always far better to concentrate on a clearly defined part of your potential market and zap it intensely with laser like selling techniques. If you make a lot of money doing that then of course you start branching out.

If is the same thing if you are trying to get a political message across, a position, raise awareness, or just draw attention.

You must define your target audience, your stakeholders, constituents, or whatever, as closely as possible.

Group them in order of descending importance to you and in descending order of influence. Then pick the top one or two and concentrate all of your efforts on getting through to them. The rest of your stakeholders, or customers, will benefit from the spill over until the time when you can afford to broaden your efforts to include them directly.

Point #3 – Where do you find cyclists, especially ones that spend money and how do you grab their attention? Well, you find them at competitive road races. And that’s where CleanBottle went.clean-bottle-final-front

The first time I heard of the company was during the Amgen Tour of California in June. Dave Mayer, the guy behind CleanBottle, dressed up in a giant CleanBottle costume and ran alongside some of the race leaders as they struggled up the hills.

Inevitably the Versus TV cameras picked him up because he was with the leaders and inevitably the commentators did a “What the hell is that?” and talked about CleanBottle and Dave Mayer.

A simple and extremely powerful technique catapulted the whole bottle concept into the minds of every rider watching.

But things really didn’t hit the big time until late July and the Tour de France. CleanBottle managed to get itself into worldwide coverage of the race several times and the company got talked about a lot more by the commentators. By all accounts sales have exploded and sales figures are what take care of Point #4.

What Dave Mayer and CleanBottle did worked so spectacularly, and for not a huge amount of money, because they followed the basic principles of Strategic Communication and Marketing very closely and did not get bogged down in side issues.

There is a lot more that the company is doing to get its message out through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube but these days those sorts of techniques are expected, if not demanded, by the market.

What is not expected though is the level of sales service and direct personal contact that comes through the company’s Twitter and Facebook comments. I experienced this first hand when I emailed CleanBottle to ask whether there was a Canadian distributor. Not only did I get an immediate response from the company I also got a relayed response from the Canadian distributor together with an offer to include a couple of bottles for me to buy in a sales promotion mailing he was about to make to the major bicycling store in Calgary, Bow Cycle.

It’s been a brilliant ride for CleanBottle and I’m pleased to have been able to use the firm as a concrete example of what I mean about the importance of Strategic Communication Planning.

It’s nice to see someone doing it well.

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