BONOBOS® PANTS, A CASE STUDY IN MARKETING By Brad Hines
As I write this, I am wearing a pair of Bonobos® khaki pants. How that came to be is directly relevant, and will be discussed here as a case study. As a person who doesn’t particularly even care about pants, let alone enjoy shopping for them, it was an interesting two year long “courtship” from Bonobos® as they romanced me. Ultimately, I felt like I had to have a pair of their pants, and pulled the trigger on getting them. Bonobos®, which I first heard about in a business magazine-not from an ad- was written up and praised for 3 things:
Their pants impeccable proper fit, particularly how they are deliberately tailored a little tight in the rear to show off and make men’s butts look good (playing on a customer’s insecurity and stirring a need without insulting them.)
Their irreproachable customer service. Despite having no store front, they take back any pair of pants that don’t fit without question, fully refund for the product, and as well for the shipping to do so.
- How they are becoming big with viral marketing and virtually no advertising. (Meta Marketing) It’s worth noting I have been hearing about these pants since 2010 numerous times, but have only seen one facebook campaign for them, no print ads or anything else.
Examining these three concepts, Bonobos® accomplished an all-encompassing marketing plan (including a meta marketing plan by becoming known for their marketing in and of itself). Here’s what they did, and how they got me:
1.) They differentiated themselves in a boring field with a kind of exciting premise-being the pants that make your butt look good. Even though that’s not their slogan per se-that would be too tacky- they managed somehow to get themselves known for that, and it played on my insecurity and made me want to buy them.
2.) Then they delivered on the promise with a great product: I did indeed get a positive comment from a girl on my butt by the 3rd time I wore them! Sorry for that image, but the point is, that is what you need to do-ask yourself what you are in effect promising these people you target who buy your stuff, your service, and how to deliver on that. Similarly, Bonobos pays attention to details with their product, something that isn't just important to the Apples of the world. On the back of the pants, there is a subtle checkered pattern they have visible within the lining of the back pockets-this too has been commented on to me as “cool”. Ask yourself how you can set your product or service apart from others-a difficult necessity in such an often competitive online market of hundreds of other businesses beating you out to Google's page one.
3.) The indirect courtship: Bonobos never solicited me directly in any way, I simply kept hearing about the things that they had intentionally planted strategically in print and online media through a calculated PR campaign. On average, a customer needs to hear about a business/brand 9 times before they decide to commit to buying. your goal is to attract and make customers the people that don’t even realize they want, correction-need your product yet.
4.) Their impeccable customer service image and reputation: I wasn’t afraid if I was going to be disappointed with their pants because their reputation of no hassle returns preceded them in a very literal way-they were praised for it in two business magazines. Of all the things to get PR for, there's little better than a praise of your business practices in the press.
5.) Self-fulfilling prophecies: Helping the customer believe they are and become happy because that’s what they wanted and expected: If you can indirectly plant the idea in people’s minds that your product will make them happy they will not only become a customer, but they will in fact self-affirm that notion of your product making them happy for you. Because of cognitive dissonance avoidance, people in life seek to confirm that they made the right decision, purchasing decisions are no exception. It was suggested to me-not told directly-that my Bonobos pants would make me happy, and at $120 a pair, I tell people they are worth every penny, and I “believe it” despite logically knowing the cloth cost mere dollars.
A better example is that of fragrances, especially when marketed to men and women as aphrodisiacs (like with those pheromone colognes). Bio-chemically, there is zero evidence they can work in the literal way they are said to. However, effectively they do work, because we let them. As the wearer becomes more confident from their belief, they attract, and also the wearer seeks to confirm how the product was working, creating a successful cycle of sales. So as this applies to you the reader, rather then spend time marketing to men and women directly, you should spend significant effort split between two things: One, pitching your business to media outlets as successful for an interesting reason (the angle), even if it’s only partially true (projecting), because in a similar self-fulfilling prophecy, it will effectively become true. Get press as being successful will help you be successful, a total catch-22 yes, but often you can get away with it-media outlets love good stories. Bonobos had a story about its success-and that drove its success. And two, as far as insinuation of what your product means, what it stands for, and what it supposedly evokes in people- ask yourself, what are people supposed to associate with your business? It can be whatever you want it to be as long as it can reasonably align with the product or service. Say you are a jewelry business: Is it Class? Understatement? Vibrancy? Sensuality? Mystique? I suggest that you literally make a list and actively work to make that what your jewelry is supposed to encompass, and then leverage that notion through getting press about it. If you have a streamlined sales process, great customer service, and a great product, you will help customers feel happy with their purchase and both spread the word-of- mouth about it, getting your new customers, and to become repeat customers themselves.
Some More tips about subtlety in online marketing, an excerpt from a consultation for MarissaB Jewelry:
You might need to engage with your customers more: How are you currently doing this? Chances are it could always be better. Your Facebook contests, email list etc. is a good start. See below as well about making a video for your site. Website design is your primary means of engaging with them secondary to actually meeting you in person.
Have an integral business model, including your own actions: I suspect you already know a lot of what I am about to say, but it is imperative that you keep a dedicated effort to calculating how you conduct yourself in every encounter related to your business, and think about that business behavior and how to be building a coherent image for yourself as a brand in and of yourself, one with integrity. When I say integrity, I mean that your actions, words, and business all line up with a consistent message or ideal, mission etc. Maybe it’s that you are all about quality, maybe it’s that you are all about the passion of creativity, or evoking emotion, or making woman feel sexy, or certainly some combination thereof. I’m talking about what you stand for, which is similar, but slightly different then what your jewelry stands for-but they certainly go together. Whatever that is-that you MUST decide-have that message be consistent throughout your products design, website's design, and your own style and mannerisms. What you discuss with people becomes your personal brand, which is especially important given it’s literally your name on the business. You are the brand, as you know, that is why having a reputation of character, style, talent, and a product above reproach-in that order- is so important to you. Following up with customers is key, as is going the extra mile, whether it be about repairs, refunds, dealing with a pushy customer, inquiries, demands from them, etc. You would know better than me what going the extra mile for them would entail, maybe it’s adding replacement beads with a necklace in a package, warm copy that is included with the product, giving a freebie in some cases-basically under promising and over delivering as they say. Each interaction however seemingly bad is an opportunity to build your brand, and unfortunately, negative encounters with a business are far more potent and exponentially more often spread around as you have probably heard, making it extra important to stay on top of that you have no botched encounters with anyone at any level of your business.
If you are your business, spread yourself as your brand as much, if not even more than that of your jewelry. As a corollary to the last step, and perhaps the biggest, it’s crucial that you literally spread the image of yourself even more then the image of your jewelry. This is because you aren’t a commodity line at Target, you are one woman, notwithstanding your collaborators, making high quality stuff, and “expensive” to boot. To command high prices, it has to be that the product or service lends itself to being that way because it’s associated with your personal taste, skill, and passion which, for whatever reason, people should be aware of, envy and hold sacrosanct. You don’t have to become a tacky celebrity entrepreneur, but think about someone like Gia DeLaurentis, Martha Stewart-or perhaps you can think of a better hero in that regard for yourself than I can-but think about women like that and how their name has an association with quality. The good news is that you are extremely attractive and personable and that should make it all the more easy to get yourself known, however you also couldn’t just rest on that. So if you have the later integrity I spoke of (perfect product, perfect manufacturing & sales channel, perfect customer service, perfect reputation) then your hopes of going viral can come true. Let’s face it, that’s what you would love to see happen right? Well only amazing, exceptionally good web pages go viral. People are super selective about what they share online, it represents who they are, especially if it’s sharing a product. So if they are going to share it, it damn well better have an amazing image if they are going to have it represent them. I can only think of a few brands I love so much I will act as a shill for, maybe Apple, Ikea, VW. You have an advantage over them by being tiny, an individual, and other things like that consumers love and “pull for” in a business. (Maybe you could even pitch a story about how you struggle in business…people love those too.)
As Steve Jobs would say, "Oh and one more thing": Remember the Soft Sell: The best thing to do with your marketing, particularly Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and other social media, is to use the soft sell approach. Obviousness and direct solicitation are not suited well for a product with the mystique such as jewelry.
As an example-but not an encapsulation of my point-rather than tweeting or blogging about a new product for sale by merely posting the link for it, try to talk about the product positively but indirectly for a few tweets/posts over time to generate interest in it. For example, you would let your audience know that you are working on something new you are excited about, and maybe not even say what, but offer some other kind of value about that. As an example, I run a crappy website that I sell absinthe on through an affiliate program. Something I’d do on Twitter is, instead of tweeting “check out my website…” which can quickly annoy people, I might tweet the following over the course of a week or a day or two:
- “I’m really excited about the absinthe I ordered online tonight…”
- (days later) “My absinthe arrived tonight!”
- “Opening my absinthe, getting the sugar cube ready, this should be fun, first time!”
- “My absinthe tastes delicious, and this buzz feels amazing, it’s different!”
The difference is, in the latter example, people will ask me “where did you get that stuff anyway? It sounds cool” and I then could tell them “well as a matter of fact, I ordered it from my own website.”
As you may know, in seduction, which is literally what we as entrepreneurs are attempting to do; it’s best to make people come to you. Do you agree that this is particularly important in your field given the nature of a product like jewelry? This is a good time to bring up your web copy, which I was hesitant to criticize because it is after all part of your creative and sweat equity you have exhausted. In one spot I notice you say “these earrings will make you feel artsy cool”. I understand of course what you are trying to do there. But be careful with that sort of copy, as you might be surprised how quickly it can turn people off, even if it is friendly and on the surface you feel is in their best interest. The savvier/snarkier the customer, the less they want to be told how to feel, and your target audience is going to indeed be very savvy and often snarky. This is precisely why Kotex® launched a TV ad campaign a few years ago satirizing tampon-commercials-that-insult- women; they knew that obvious and insulting marketing was turning off that audience, and that they could capitalize on recognizing that. (Kind of like Sprite was doing in the 90’s with their “Image is nothing” campaign). On the flip side, suggesting how your customers will feel is fair game-like a sexy smiling woman wearing a necklace (as you are currently using on your site) will achieve that affect nicely of course by making the customer feel that they too will look, feel, and attract like her.
A similar concept to soft selling, and making the customer come to you, as you likely have considered before, is how to make your jewelry seem more rare, special, unique, unobtainable-however you call it. Price points are a particular interesting facet of this, a classic case study is the bottle of wine that’s sales increase disproportionately with a 500% price increase and no other justification whatsoever. I don’t have any opinions on the prices of your jewelry at this time as it’s beyond my knowledge, however it’s something to explore as you have an increase in web traffic. Higher prices would of course command higher expectations you must meet that everything be perfect throughout the sales process, quality of merchandise, return policy, and other areas of perceived value. Maybe the women who say your jewelry is expensive now, wouldn’t when you solidify a certain reputation, so don’t jump to lower prices necessarily.
Another tip I can offer, and I am not saying your site isn’t already doing this, but make sure there is a good relative consistency in the pricing of your products, i.e. that what is perceived as more valuable then something else is priced appropriately so.
On the flip side of your jewelry being as expensive as possible and seemingly unobtainable, is creating the image of “commodity cool”- jewelry everyone can afford that is somehow still hip and in demand, like something of quality but that would be sold at Target maybe. You can’t do both however, ask yourself which you would prefer to be, and I assume it is to stay high-end. Both entail different business skills.
Lastly, continue to be as direct as you want in your mailing list, that’s the place for that, as that is exactly why those people signed up for it to begin with. They can be certain to be interested, and they are your best leads as you know, however you should certainly use that list for soft selling as well. Find a balance.
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