Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How Pebble Sold A Million Watches With Word-Of-Mouth

Technology is an industry traditionally dominated by enormous corporations, but things are changing.

Through the combination of an innovative product and a solid marketing strategy, Pebble has sold over a million smartwatches with a minuscule advertising budget and a genius marketing strategy.

The company even had the gumption to go head to head with Apple… and came out winning.

Here are 6 examples of how one of the most innovative tech companies in the world put a Pebble on over a million wrists through word-of-mouth, enjoy!

1. Pebble Uses Social Media To Show You WHY You Need A Pebble In Your Life

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If the purpose of the Pebble isn’t immediately obvious to you, chances are you’ve never thought you’d need one.

Pebble’s social media has got its sight set on the potential smartwatch users sitting on the fence between “That is completely useless to me” and “This will change the way I live!”.

The company frequently posts images of what the Pebble’s uses (rather than its functions) and of the Pebble at work in the daily lives of Pebble users all over the world.

Pebble’s message is simple – the Pebble will improve your life some way, somehow.

Why People Talked About It:

People love offering solutions to problems. That’s one of the pillars of word-of-mouth. What Pebble has done here is offer an endless amount of solutions to a wide range of problems.

Just by sharing or tagging their friends in these posts, followers of Pebble’s accounts have a simple way of solving problems for their pals.

2. Pebble Conquered Kickstarter, raising over $10m+ from over 68,000 backers

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If you’ve heard about the Pebble, it was most likely when it was first being funded on Kickstarter.

Unable the secure funding after a series of investor meetings, the Pebble team turned to crowdfunding.

On its first day in the wild, the campaign burst through its initial $100,000 funding goal. The next morning, the Pebble was on the first page of every reputable tech news site.

The original Pebble raised $10 million from 69,000 backers and earned the crown of highest funded Kickstarter project… which made the news all over again.

Why People Talked About It:

People are very keen to talk about Kickstarter projects they’ve backed.

For practical reasons, if more friends back the project, it’s more likely to succeed or hit its stretch goals.

But here’s a less obvious reason – sharing an exciting Kickstarter project says “I’m in the know”. People love showing off and backing a project is the perfect way to earn a little ownership over something fresh and new.

By using Kickstarter as a funding platform, Pebble, perhaps serendipitously, turned every customer into a word-of-mouth machine.

3. Pebble Conquered Kickstarter… Again

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Having conquered Kickstarter, Pebble returned to the platform with the original Pebble’s shiny new brother – the Pebble Time.

After an intelligent cooler box, The Coolest Cooler, dethroned the original Pebble as the highest funded Kickstarter project ever, Pebble Time reclaimed the crown by raising more than $20 million in backing.

Of course, that made the news.

Why People Talked About It:

Kickstarter has been plagued with projects that’ve been delayed and promises that weren’t met.

Pebble achieved legendary status on its first Kickstarter run. People trusted that the company would deliver and weren’t afraid to back the campaign.

More importantly, they weren’t afraid to tell their friends to back it too.

If a project fails or under delivers, the referee loses trust in the referrer. Kickstarter’s stellar track record meant it could be referred with certainty. As a bonus, the first Pebble’s status as the king of Kickstarter could be easily mentioned for more reassurance.

4. Pebble Focused On Attracting App Developers

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The original Pebble didn’t have any killer app to tout.

The Pebble team solved this problem by drawing inspiration from Steve Job’s legendary Apple II – it crowdsourced its apps like it did its funding.

Pebble released its App Development Kit to the public and pushed for developers to create apps for the Pebble.

Initial efforts evolved into a full fledged developer’s portal which includes everything from tutorials for beginners to detailed documentation for professionals and a thriving community forum actively staffed by the folks at Pebble.

They even host an annual developers retreat!

Why People Talked About It:

Developers have an interest in sharing their creations with others – People love sharing their creative efforts.

Aside from turning app developers (and possibly their friends and families) into sources of word-of-mouth, these community-sourced Pebble apps can cater to very specific niches.

For instance, apps designed specifically for cyclists would create word-of-mouth from within the cycling community as a solution to a problem and watch faces with characters/motifs from popular series would circulate within their respective fandom’s communities.

The developers contributed to a more vocal and far-reaching word-of-mouth than Pebble could have achieved alone on a reasonable budget.

5. Pebble Turned Its Customers Into Sales Reps

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Backers encouraging friends and family to join them in backing the campaign were essentially delivering a difficult sales pitch: Here’s a product that doesn’t exist yet, and will take months to get to you, but I like it and I think you will too.

Yet this all worked out and millions of Pebbles now sit on wrists across the globe.

One vital step in getting your fans to spread the right message about your product is to give them the exact message you want them to talk about. Pebble’s founder has, in an interview with Betakit, attributed the success of the product to this key step.

So, how did Pebble do it?

Why People Talked About It:

Pebble’s campaign material brilliantly included a succinct way for the product to be described – a smartwatch that does more than just tell time, with customizations that are both powerful and easy to use.

By providing the exact script needed to describe the Pebble and make it sound fantastic, the entire word-of-mouth process was supercharged. Because it was easy to talk about, referrers were more willing to mention the product and because it was easy to understand, more referees could grasp if the Pebble could fit into their lives.

6. Pebble Time Soared On The Tailwind Of The Apple Watch


The Pebble Time was announced as the world obsessed over the Apple Watch, entering the smartwatch arena as the proverbial David against Apple’s Goliath.

The media angled the Pebble Time not as a competitor but as an alternative that did a lot of what the Apple Watch couldn’t, focusing particularly on the device’s weeklong battery life as the one day battery life of the Apple Watch drew flak.

Why People Talked About It:

While it might seem like a bad idea to release a product in the same category as an industry behemoth for fear of being eclipsed, Pebble was actually utilising a strategy called “Newsjacking” – riding the coattails of popular news stories to publicise a separate story.

As critics pointed out all the flaws of the Apple Watch, Pebble could flaunt its features with the world listening.

This information becomes valuable in conversations about the Apple watch – it can be offered as a solution to anyone with gripes about the Apple Watch’s features and people love complaining.

This worked wonders for SEO too, one of the top suggested search terms for “Apple Watch” is “Apple Watch VS Pebble Time”, neat!

Here’s a quick recap of the takeaways from Pebble’s success:

  1. Use social media to show how your product can fit in your customers lives.
  2. Gaining social proof can help your referrers fearlessly recommend your product.
  3. Don’t be afraid to build on previous marketing efforts.
  4. Though it takes more effort, building a community will net you more publicity than a fat advertising budget.
  5. Give your customers the exact message you want them to share and they’ll share it.
  6. You don’t need to lock horns with titans in the market, you could use their presence to your advantage.

Finally, here’s some questions to ponder:

  1. How can you empower your customers to talk about your product? What strategies will you use?
  2. Are there existing communities you can engage to turn into fans of your product?
  3. Have there been phenomenal marketing successes for your company? How can you replicate the process while keeping things fresh?

Jon Tan

My coffee expenses and my office rental are one and the same.

Terrified of mathematics and carbohydrates.

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