I’m honestly not quite sure how it started, but among all the raised eyebrows amongst my family and friends – it certainly surprised me the most. About three years ago, and for no substantial reason save for a desire to be a better person, I did something completely uncharacteristic … I went for a run. I didn’t know how to run or where I was going and I wasn’t wearing anything that could possibly be considered proper footwear, but I left my house and I started running. I didn’t run fast and still had to stop every half a mile to catch my breath, but I kept going anyway. The next day, something crazy happened – I did it again. This continued every day for a week before I started to question what I was doing and more importantly … why the hell was I enjoying it?!
What I’m sure my parents thought was “just a phase” became a part of me. I was an endorphin junkie and constantly jumping at the opportunity to sweat. I loved quantifying every little improvement and smiled for days when I finished a six mile run without needed to take a break. At this point I had purchased actual running shoes, but I was still wearing decade old gym clothes – so when my birthday rolled around I asked for a gift certificate to Lululemon Athletica. I had heard amazing things about their apparel, but being a morning runner, it was the endless parade of gorgeous women I saw donning their logo that made me realize it was time I experienced it myself.
MARKETING LESSON: Focus all of your energies on dominating a small demographic, and awareness of your brand will spread from there. Spread too widely and you’ll get lost in the wind.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: Don’t get lost trying to appeal to the masses, successful marketing starts with highly targeted messages. In the case of Lululemon, they started in 1998 with a belief that yoga was the optimal way to maintain athletic excellence and a focus on supporting women in that pursuit. While in today’s market “women who like yoga” would be an extremely general audience – in 1998 it was highly specific. Their focus helped them to dominate their space and led to my interest (a male with little interest in yoga) more than a decade later. Similar to Facebook’s “frequency” metric (which measures how many times on average people in the audience need to see an advertisement before they actually click), I needed to see the Lululemon logo several times before I took action to check out the brand. Furthermore, hearing about the brand from friends was the equivalent to a Facebook advertisement targeting friends-of-friends (where the language “your friends __ and __ liked this” appears above the post) and slowly pushed me to purchase.
For those unfamiliar with the Canadian based clothing company, their products are amazing. The fabrics are lightweight, breathable, moisture wicking, and extremely stretchy – all of which combine to make them immensely comfortable to wear. Many of their clothes are also anti-microbial which means they don’t smell and can be worn a few times before needing to be washed. Plain and simple, they’re rather wonderful … but they’re NOT cheap and (even by shopping the sale rack) I was only able to find a single shirt and a single pair of running shorts that I would be able to afford with my gift certificate. Having heard how expensive their clothes were I was still somehow surprised when I went into the store, but all of that was flushed away when I tried them on. Not only did their clothes look snazzy and fit wonderfully, but they were the most comfortable apparel I had ever worn in my life – I immediately understood their pricing.
MARKETING LESSON: If you have a premium (high quality) product or service you can charge a premium price and people will be more than happy to pay it.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: While the perception of Lululemon’s brand is that they’re extremely expensive, those who own their apparel know that it’s worth every penny – not only because of how it looks, but because of how it feels and functions. While there will always be those who complain about the prices without ever going to a store to try the clothing – those aren’t the people that Lululemon (or any company) would or should waste time trying to please. Remember, focus all your energy on your ideal customer and don’t waste time marketing to broad audiences. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll reach no one.
My collection of Lululemon clothing continued to grow (adding a pair of their pants, gloves, a hat to my closet for winter running), and along with the feel and the function – I noticed some other added benefits. The fabrics dried extremely fast so I could pull it directly out of the washer, throw it in the sun or on a hanger for fifteen minutes and it was ready to wear. If I was really in a hurry and needed to wear it right out of the washer (or the sink) I could roll it up in a towel, stomp on it, and again – it was good to go. This, combined with the fact that it took almost zero room in a suitcase and never wrinkled, meant that these fabrics were the perfect clothing for my impending extended travel.
It wasn’t long before I started to look for the same kind of clothing that I could wear on a day to day basis. One day I was wandering through Eastern Mountain Sports looking for some climbing pants when I saw a rack of Icebreaker shirts. Almost as soon as I started to read the tag an associate came over to tell me how and why they were his favorite shirts. They were made from Merino wool, but came in varying weights (made for warm weather, cold weather, and everything in between). He explained that their clothing had all of the same properties, but unlike Lululemon’s clothing the wool was naturally anti-microbial so it was a feature of all their clothing – not just some … and it was a significantly cheaper. I bought one of their t-shirts, but it wasn’t long before I came back for another. The second time around I also snagged a pair of ExOfficio boxers which again were designed in the same way and seemed to be perfectly designed for my vagabonding trip.
MARKETING LESSON: It’s great to know your audience, but it’s exponentially more powerful when you take residence inside their heads.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: Somehow ExOfficio got a 0:59 second video to pop up in my newsfeed. It seemed insignificant at the time, but it planted the seed of possibility that their product were exactly what I needed and for someone who was selling all of their “stuff” and opting to travel the world with nothing but a (very large) backpack … they knew how to appeal to their audience.
When I arrived in the store to check out these fantastical boxers I was greeted by the following, utterly brilliant, packaging design that drove their point home.
They didn’t just know their audience – they had rented an apartment inside of my head. I bought a pair in the store and bought two more when I found them on Amazon through a reseller a week later at a 30% discount. That was a year ago and I haven’t worn anything else since.
A few months later I was shopping around for some outerwear and again was looking for clothes that had an equivalent amount of thought put into their design. I found out that Icebreaker made sweatshirts and was instantly sold. I snagged a lightweight hoodie that had thumbholes (a great alternative to carrying gloves), a different threading in the armpits for ventilation, and was again made of the same Merino wool.
MARKETING LESSON: When you focus on creating a quality product or service, your customers come back for more all on their own.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: So many companies put too much of their energies into user or customer acquisition and fail to serve the customers that they already have. When you spend time making a better product or service and engaging with those who already love what you have, you effectively cultivate a community of raving fans – the kind of people like the associate at Eastern Mountain Sports that spent fifteen minutes raving about every reason he liked the brand … and the kind of person I’ve now become. In that sense, raving fans are a bit like really excited zombies who bite their friends and family to then create more of them.
The four keys to creating your own zombie virus:
1) Focus your energies on creating a high quality product or service.
2) Set a premium (yet appropriate) price point to attract the right customers.
3) Identify a small, highly relevant audience and spend your time winning it over.
4) Invest into your audience and your customers by engaging with them on a human level.
About a week later I headed to New York City for a conference and took my new favorite jacket with me. I had planned to stay a few days after the conference to see some friends and found myself wandering around the high line in the lower west side of the city. I had heard that there was a Warby Parker store there and wanted to check it out as, even though I had never owned their glasses, I had always been a fan of their brand, their marketing, and the way they did business (my favorite being their April Fool’s prank when they launched ‘Warby Barker’ – an entire line of glasses for dogs, you’ve gotta love value driven marketing). At the time, I was living in Vermont where you’ll never find these types of brand specific stores, so I felt compelled to seize the opportunity and see it in person. As I left their store (which also had some of the most amazingly helpful and friendly staff), I spotted an Icebreaker store a few doors down and practically sprinted to see what they had in stock.
Much to my surprise I discovered that in addition to t-shirts and workout clothes they also had some rather snazzy polo shirts. I immediately started to try them on and was giddy about the idea of owning a nice polo short that (like all their clothing) looked snazzy, felt magnificent, never wrinkled, and took practically zero real estate in my backpack. I ended up purchasing two polo shirts and another two patterned t-shirts that I could wear around town without them looking like typical “workout” clothes (I like to look like I put just a little effort into getting dressed when I leave the house). And so I unexpectedly left their store with four new shirts…
MARKETING LESSON:If you’re calculating the value of a customer after they make their first purchase – they’re probably not going to make others.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: At this point I had spent somewhere in the range of $100 with ExOfficio, $280 with Lululemon, and $640 with Icebreaker … all from a series of very small events that are entirely untraceable by these company’s marketing departments (at least until they see this article). Data regarding word of mouth, as well as digital advertising that leads to a physical purchase, is the holy grail for marketers and until recently it’s been entirely inaccessible (Facebook’s new advertising platform dubbed ‘Atlas’ will give a bit more illumination in this area). Moreover, I have raved (and will continue to rave) about the quality of the products that these companies make.
Let’s look at the investments (at least the tangible ones) that they made to acquire me as a customer. The Lululemon store that was below the condo my sister lived in at the time knew she loved the brand and sponsored her in an amateur run by giving her a pair of pants (priced at about $100 retail and likely costing them less than $40 in materials). My friends had made a few casual mentions about Lululemon, but a short conversation with my sister during a run was the catalyst that got me into the store to try on their clothes. ExOfficio had created a very simple, but well executed, video only to post it to YouTube and (presumably) target me with advertising thus piquing my curiosity to check it out in the store – again very low cost. Icebreaker made great clothing, but their company also has a great brand because from the conversation with the associate it sounded like they had invested a lot of time into having human conversations with their sales reps so that they understood, and were personally interested in, their clothing. I would assume the also gave them a discount on the products to further incentivize them to try it for themselves – again a small investment with a big impact.
Given how much I have spent on clothing from these companies and how much I have (and will continue to) inspire others to do the same – their return on investment would appear nothing if not exponential. You can see that while these small, concentrated efforts may not yield explosive returns in the first month – they create raving fans and spread a positive image of their brand like a virus in the long run.
And now we arrive at the pièce de résistance…
During the two years that my wardrobe transformation had taken place I had been looking for a very specific type of clothing – dress clothes designed in the same way as active wear. I loved my activewear clothing so much, but wondered why someone had applied the same intelligent design to dress pants and oxford shirts. Attempting to solve a different problem I posted in /r/solotravel on reddit with the title ‘Backpack v. Suitcase: What should I be using for 2-5 years of vagabonding?’ and was flooded with comments.
While everyone within the thread was banding together to save me from the horrors of vagabonding with a suitcase, I was wondering how to keep dressy clothes (somewhat) wrinkle free in transit. The most wonderful person on the internet (as far as I’m concerned), a guy going by the handle ‘organicandurban’, made this innocent recommendation to check out a new brand…
Not knowing what to expect, I clicked the link and all but lost my mind in excitement.
I had discovered Ministry of Supply – a “performance fashion” brand. Their clothing was designed with ‘phase change materials’ (originally developed by NASA) that kept me warm when I was cold and cold when I was warm. While they were extremely dressy on the outside, they had a ‘brushed finish’ on the inside and were said to feel like sweatpants. They used stretch fabric for extended range of motion, they had recycled coffee grounds incorporated into the fabric to absorb odors, and they were moisture wicking – they even have laser cut ventilation holes in the armpits. Their technology was out of this world and seemed to be EXACTLY what I was looking for … so I bought all of them.
I purchased two core baselayers, three Archive dress shirts, two pairs of Chinos, and one pair of Aero dress slacks for a combined total of $792. If that sounds absurd, consider for a moment that (while I wear them regularly) I had not purchased any new dress clothes in years and spent a fair amount of time at the dry cleaners. This purchase instantly reduced the volume of my dress clothes I owned by 500% and made it feasible to travel with nice clothes (as they were all machine washable).
MARKETING LESSON: Be human. Treat every customer like they’re your only customer.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: A singular recommendation on Reddit by an, at the time, complete stranger had facilitated a massive sale and lifelong customer. Not only that, but I have since ranted to friends about how amazing these clothes are, and am blogging about them now. None of this would have happened if the company had not, in some way, enchanted organicandurban (with the product, the service, or both) when he made his initial order. When you treat each customer like they’re your only customer you will do nothing but build massive love for your brand. Don’t make excuses saying “I don’t have the time” because this focus should be your top priority. The results may not be tangible right away, but they will always and forever be the most powerful force for growth in your business.
Now I would like to think that I’m a special kind of nerd, something I hope you would understand by now, and often develop a major crush on companies that I think are “doing it right” – Ministry of Supply, as I would soon realize, was certainly one of those. Keeping in mind that I, at this point had not contacted them directly, and was just a normal customer that had placed an order – allow me to walk you through what I experienced in purchasing their products.
Less than a week after I had placed my order two boxes arrived for me at the post office…
I opened them to reveal my items individually packaged in beautiful purple satin zip bags…
Underneath it all was a starch white envelope recessed into a special cutout of the box…
On it was their logo screen printed in white glossy ink that stood out subtly from the matte white of the envelope…
In this mysterious folder I discovered a letter with a handwritten note and a return label – just in case my order wasn’t flawless…
And then I put them on…
MARKETING LESSON: Everything has the opportunity to become an experience.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: Whether it’s opening the packaging to a physical product, joining a web-based community, or discovering a new blog – everything has the ability to become an experience. The key is enchantment. The easiest way to determine how to do this with your product or service is to break every aspect down and ask how it can be done artfully, with more emphasis, and in a way that would surprise the people you expect to experience it. When you foster a memorable experience, people talk about it … a lot. What’s more important to note is that in most occasions the product or service matters less than the way that you made someone feel.
I didn’t even understand how to comprehend the quality of this clothing. Every aspect of every article was just as painstakingly designed as their packaging and they felt amazing as a result. I love it when people hit the nail on the head and the Ministry of Supply had smashed it clear through the roof. The three days I was without them while they were getting the legs hemmed was painful – I wanted to wear my new clothes!
Still, as excited as I was, some part of me needed to test their clothing to see if it lived up to its promises. I started by biking, at a near sprint, to a meeting with a colleague at a nice restaurant wearing one of the dress shirts. It was so breathable it felt like I was biking shirtless (not suggesting that’s something I do on a regular basis). I was impressed, but that wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy my compulsion to test their claims.
I got my pants back from the tailor just in time for my trip to Austin, Texas and immediately packed them in my (already completely stuffed) backpack. My Austin trip was a bit of a test for my long term travel so I was curious to see how the two years of lifestyle optimization I had done to presumably allow me to live out of a single bag (without impacting my life) would actually function. The first day in the city I was invited to a yoga class at the last minute while wearing one of the core base-layers, which was sub sequentially drenched in sweat. The second day I took that same shirt, rinsed it in the sink, rung it out, and hung it on the porch for thirty minutes only to wear it to a business casual event. As you’ll notice from the photo below it was wrinkle free, odor free, and made me look snazzy enough to acquire two beautiful friends.
We were out till 3AM dancing, but the following morning I needed to get up early for an appointment at the airport to get my Global Entry pass. I wanted to look nice so I could further prove that I wasn’t a terrorist so I dressed up … with clothes that had been crammed in my backpack for several days. I was utterly astonished when I put them on and saw that when they said “wrinkle free” they weren’t lying. Further more, I was still wearing the same white core base layer that had now survived yoga, salsa lessons, a networking event, and a dance club with a mere rinse in the sink needed to keep it fresh.
(for the record, that’s the face I make when someone says “strike a pose”).
I finished my meeting (was declared “not a terrorist” yay!) and headed downtown where I found a lovely coffee shop with 10MB upload speeds. I started working and the next thing I knew it was time to head to a date I had scheduled for 4PM. Not having time to change, I walked about a mile to the bar where we were meeting and sat outside (in the Austin heat) where we chatted for an hour. We ended up going back to her place (no… I’m not that forward, it was just for drinks) where she told me about a concert. As it turned out, Citizen Cope (a favorite of mine) was playing live at Stubb’s BBQ (the infamous concert venue) and I absolutely had to take advantage of the opportunity to see him.
MARKETING LESSON: Never underestimate the power of your fans or those of your partners.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: While it was a casual mention, the Stubb’s BBQ marketing team had done a stellar enough job promoting Citizen Cope’s performance at their venue that it was through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend that I heard about the concert. When marketing any brand, it’s important to consider the assets at your disposal and when you partner with someone you should take their assets into consideration as well. When it comes to effective marketing, the rule of thumb is that everything has the capacity to be useful – an asset may educate, inspire, inform, or assist … but it will always amplify. The key is to recognizing every asset and look at them objectively – fresh eyes help.
By the time I walked two miles to my friend’s place to drop my bag I called the venue only to discover that doors opened fifteen minutes prior and only 10% of the tickets were left. They weren’t able to sell them over the phone so I needed to get there FAST! I love running, but I was wearing dress clothes and dress shoes – I smiled. This would be the ultimate test… so I started running. I covered just over a mile in under nine minutes (my normal pace is 7:25, but the dress shoes slowed me down) and was sweating less than when I run in my Lululemon clothes. People I passed saw a “business man” sprinting down the street, but the clothes were so comfortable that I felt like I was out for a normal jog. Success! I had gotten to the venue just in time and was able to snag a ticket.
After about twenty minutes the clothes had absorbed my sweat and dried completely – I felt so fresh that I literally questioned whether I had just run to the venue of if that had all been in my head. I grabbed a beer and headed into the mosh pit (being alone at a concert has its benefits as you can pretend you’re headed to meet up with a friend). A few minutes later I was fifteen feet from the stage and had made a handful of new friends (who complimented my attire).
As anyone who has ever fought to the front of a concert venue will tell you, it can get crowded. Deep down I’m sure I knew that it was inevitable – so I wasn’t too surprised when someone spilled beer on my brand new pants. They looked horrified as I was most certainly the only person in the crowd wearing dress clothes. I used the outside of my hand and made two swipes to get the liquid off my pants… immediately they were dry as if nothing had ever happened. At this point I might have been more impressed with my pants than I was with the music – and I loved the music.
I woke up the next morning and smelled my clothes purely out of curiosity… no odor whatsoever. Still, I threw the shirt in the wash as I wanted to see what happened when I machine washed an Oxford shirt (especially having spent a significant amount of money on dry cleaning over the years). I threw in in the dryer on low heat for a half cycle and eagerly pulled it – still expecting I would be able to find SOME way in which it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Instead, I got this…
It looked as if it had just come from the dry cleaners. As far as I’m concerned… these clothes are fucking magic. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to discover that their fabrics are treated with the tears of a unicorn and enchanted by the souls of a thousand innocents – I’d still be impressed.
MARKETING LESSON: When you cultivate an experience and deliver on your promises, people (like me) will spend several thousand words writing about (and sharing) how you shattered their expectations of reality and gave you an all-access pass to their bank account.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: The experience doesn’t need to be a physical one – you can apply these same principals in any business and on any level. It doesn’t even need to be a serious gesture, it just needs to be genuine. Making someone feel like the world revolves around them will never cease to cultivate the raving fans that carry your brand forward. Feeling overwhelmed? Remember that each part of the greater whole is small and easily conquered. It is through determination and focus that you will be able to invest in each piece and fertilize the ground that cultivates a bountiful harvest.
About a week after I placed my order, as I wrote this article, and with no provocation – I received this email…
To which I responded…
To which Amanda swiftly replied..
MARKETING LESSON: Automation can still be personal when you are.
MARKETING TAKEAWAY: I assume, and would hope, that the original email from Kit was automatically generated (no one should be wasting time sending emails like this to every customer), but when I hit reply someone got back to me 82 minutes later. While it wasn’t the same person that had sent the original email – Amanda delivered a genuine, complimentary, and entirely human reply. It’s acceptable (and encouraged) that as a marketer you automate the first contact (new prospect, new customer, etc.) in any funnel so long as you follow up swiftly, personally, and with sincere enthusiasm.
And with that, my story has arrived in the present where I sit at a patio bar on Austin’s infamous Rainey street wearing their Charcoal Chino pants and a blue pin striped Apollo dress shirt to finish this article. Does it support my case that just now (as I was writing) an adorable, button nosed, Spanish girl named Marabela just gave me her phone number? I have no clue, but perhaps I’ll reveal that in later post. I am overwhelmingly endeared with Ministry of Supply’s clothing, their brand, and the way in which they operate their business. This is the story of how the Ministry of Supply earned an all-access pass to my heart and my bank account.
I love it when companies do it right and if they’re listening right now I have only one thing to say…
DISCLAIMER: At the writing of this article, I have not contacted any of these companies directly (save for the email exchange above), I do not work for them, and I was never given any free product. I bought everything at retail prices (with the only exception being an end-of-season sale at the Icebreaker store in NYC) and love it even more as a result. While I was planning to do it originally, none of these links are affiliate links so if you purchase I won’t make a commission as it wasn’t the purpose with which the article was written … I just love the brand, their mission, and their clothing that freaking much.
UPDATE #1: Amanda, at Ministry of Supply, discovered my post and replied with the following awesome message as well as an entirely unsolicited $100 gift card (which I immediately used to buy three new shirts that I had already been contemplating). Born from a Kickstarter campaign, they’ve matured into a kickass brand and I look forward to what they do next. Well played Ministry of Supply team, well freaking played.
UPDATE #2: I’ve been in, around, and a student of marketing for a long time… these people just blew my puny little mind. Just over a month ago I recieved a promotional email from them about a new sweater they designed. With Europe on the horizon I headed to their site to check it out and went so far as to put an item in my cart, but I didn’t follow through with the purchase. At the time, I was headed to the warm beaches of Mexico and figured it was silly to order a sweater so I exited the site. When I got back to Vermont a week later, I checked my post office box and was perplexed to discover another one of those familiar purple box. When I opened it I found the sweater I never ordered and this handwritten note:
I was absolutely blown away and almost reflexively posted the story on Facebook. Apparently my friends were just as astonished because the post got about half as many likes as that one time I almost got married (another story for another day).
So how the hell did they do this? Well I learned marketing by being curious and absolutely had to email their team to confirm my theory. Sure enough, since I was logged in to my account they were able to see (with the magic well executed data tracking) were able to see that I had abandoned my shopping cart… so they sent me what I wanted as a gift. Some of you might object that they’re only treating me this way because of this article, but they’re not and I can prove it. I’ve sent (through this article or otherwise) at least five people who have happily spent hundreds on their products (for the same reasons I did) and they’ve all reported back that they’ve received the same personalized and loving experience on every level. This is how you run a soon-to-be multi-million dollar company.