What the Young Retail Brands Teach Us about Marketing
Retail has had a tortuous journey the past twenty years.
Amazon and the online retail explosion pretty much eviscerated the strip mall. But what’s arisen from the chaos has been a bevy of young retail brands that go direct to the customer. There’s no physical store (for many), just an online experience.
Their path to success has a lot to teach traditional firms about marketing.
In this post, I identify several direct-to-customer retail brands that I have engaged, mostly because of my avocational pursuits in the outdoor world, and point out what marketing behavior they’ve mastered — and you might copy.
1. They tell a compelling story.
A close synonym of the word brand is story. And these young, fresh brands tell a compelling story. It’s not simply about buying a product.
For the last four years, a friend and I have co-hosted a fly fishing podcast called “2 Guys and a River.” We had a podcast sponsor called Dr. Squatch Soap Company, a young consumer brand that sells soap products for men who love the outdoors.
Dr. Squatch narrates the story of “manly soap” without all the chemicals. The story goes something like this: Right around the time of World War I, Big Soap took over the globe by “stripping natural ingredients from soap to make production cheaper and faster.
“Men were forced to settle for boring name brand bars that dried out their skin and made them smell like chemical-based beasts.”
Dr. Squatch returns men to their natural state, freeing them from chemicals and unleashing their manhood.
Their promotional videos are hilarious, especially this one.
With Dr. Squatch, it’s not really about soap. It’s about a much bigger story: the hero is a man who fights against Big Soap and its chemical ingredients.
2. There is always a Great Cause.
I apologize for the fly fishing theme, but it’s what I know.
For the Moonshine Rod Company, the great cause is “to imagine, create, and distribute unique, well-built fly fishing rods at a price point that real people can afford.”
Moonshine Rods builds rods for normal fly fishers, not rich white male dentists who can afford to retire at 52 and live a faux outdoor life while paying full price for every piece of outdoor gear.
No, Moonshine Rods exists to serve normal fly fishers, the average Joe and Jane, who want to spend $225 for a fly rod, not $950. And besides, what normal fly fisher can really tell the difference between the two!
Successful young brands are animated by something more than simply profit. There’s an underlying cause that gives them a reason to exist. Their cause is their story – and it makes the consumer feel like the hero.
3. They seek to enlist you in their Great Cause.
I recently purchased a pair of dress shoes from Beckett Simonon, a young online shoe company. I saw their promotion on Instagram, visited their web site, and purchased a belt and pair of shoes.
I should have looked closer at the process for what I was buying; I quickly discovered that Beckett Simonon produces shoes in batches. I purchased a pair in August, so that meant I wouldn’t receive my shoes until November. Ugh.
Once I purchased my shoes, however, I received a weekly email, telling the story of how Beckett Simonon manufacturers its higher end dress shoes in Colombia for a fraction of the cost of more expensive brands. Each email narrates a piece of their story. Here is a sample from one of the weekly emails:
Once the uppers for your shoes are assembled they pass to a man named Henry.
Henry has worked in all aspects of shoemaking, but loves his current place in the chain. He is in charge of the first step in the lasting of your shoe (lasting is when the shoe is placed on a foot-shaped mold for the leather to take shape).
This is a crucial part in the process, and needs a highly skilled artisan, like Henry.
Then, I am sent to a video interview with Henry, one of the shoemakers in Colombia.
For young brands like Beckett Simonon, the purchase of their product is not a mere transaction. They don’t simply want me to purchase the product, they want to engage and enlist me in their cause. They want me to see myself as part of their story. This is how they build brand loyalty.
4. There is often a surprise or something uniquely amazing about the product.
If I purchase a Moonshine Rod, I receive an extra tip for my fly rod.
Most fly rods today are four-piece fly rods. But fly fishers have been known to snap off the last piece on a branch or to shut the door of the truck on the end of their rod. (I may or may not be speaking from experience!)
Traditional fly rods come with a 25-year guarantee with a $50 fee to replace the section. That’s nice, but you’re out of commission for several weeks while you ship your broken rod to the manufacturer for a replacement.
With a Moonshine rod, however, I receive the extra section as part of the price. So, essentially, I receive a five-piece rod, the four normal pieces, plus an extra tip. The extra tip is the surprise, a great idea!
5. Some include a subscription option.
For Dr. Squatch, there is a “Soapscribe” option. Ergo, I subscribe for monthly bars of soap to be delivered to my home. No shipping plus 15% off regular prices if I Soapscribe.
Every online brand wants to make the purchase decision effortless – and mindless. With a subscription offer, there is no decision to purchase the product; the decision is made silently when the monthly fee hits your credit card and the product ships automatically to your home.
6. They are masters of product photography.
Younger brands live in the world of Instagram.
Another younger outdoor brand is Fishpond. Its web site photography is illustrative of how these direct-to-customer brands seek to create an emotional online experience that aligns with their brand positioning and the packaging of their product.
Yes, the product itself is designed well, but so is the marketing.
Fishpond is a great example of several points of this post, including the one about having a great cause and seeking to enlist people in their cause to preserve the wild places.
I could list other marketing elements that these brands do well, such as marketing automation, but I’ll stop for now. Let me leave you with this:
Is your Cause part of your story? Or are you just selling nothing but soap?