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How a little movie called Cowboys and Aliens got made

 

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Step 1:  Change the goal post of the definition of “hype”

Step 2:  Create hype

Let’s say you have a product that you want to build hype around.  How do you go about it?  If you’re Scott Rosenberg and Ervin Rustemagic (of Men In Black fame, which started as a comic book) then you go about it an atypical way.  Rosenberg and Rustemagic purchased the rights to a western comic book called Tex.  Tex was a good comic but at the time, Westerns weren’t a popular movie genre.

So they spruced up the comic to a Sci-Fi Western!

Then it languished in development purgatory.  For years.  So Rosenberg came up with the novel of idea of making the script into a “graphic novel”.  If he couldn’t get the script onto the big screen, he’d get in paperback!  This is because lots of popular comics and graphic novels are turned into movies (i.e. Spiderman, Captain America, etc.)

This is where step 1 comes into play.  Rosenberg had to make the script the #1 graphic novel in the country.  Rosenberg intentionally choose graphic novel instead of comic as the format because to be the #1 comic in the country, he’d have to sell almost half a million copies.  For graphic novels, it’s a more manageable low tens of thousands.

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So Rosenberg got a bunch of the 144 page graphic novel printed up.  Normally graphic novels are priced $10-$15, but because he need to move a lot of copies he priced them at $4.99.

In addition to selling through normal comic distribution (which Rosenberg negotiated a few rules to make happen), he contacted a number of prominent comic book stores throughout the US and had them “purchase” the graphic novels for essentially nothing.  The comic book stores had to “purchase” them or else it wouldn’t be counted as a sale.  Rosenberg then gave the stores a check to purchase tens of thousands of dollars of the graphic novel.  Overnight, thousand and thousands of copies of the graphic novel were “sold”.  The comic book stores would sell them for 50 cents or just give them away from free.  Unsold ones were tossed into the dumpster.

This is where step 2 occurs.  Rosenberg wrote a press release claiming the high number of sales and that it outsold Frank Miller (of Sin City fame).  Also, Entertainment Weekly reported the sales chart of one store (which received the deeply discounted copies) which happened to list Cowboys and Aliens as the best selling graphic novel of the month.

A few years later, Cowboys and Aliens hit theaters.

Of course, he didn’t actually sell the copies that were actually given away.  This is arguably fraud.  However, it does show their creativity in convincing the studio heads / decision-makers in getting a stalled project moving.

When faced with a hurdle, a lot of creativity (as long as it is not fraudulent) can take you a long way.  Another great marketing story is in my article about Shep Gordon.

Adjusting to market demand

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This is what allowed Zara founder, Amancio Ortega to become the richest man in the world (for at least a couple days).

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Fast fashion:  Customers wanted the latest fashion, yesterday.  Zara’s competitors were taking too long bringing the latest designs to market.  Other retailers try to decide what to make, then produce it.  A push-model of product development.  For example, GAP and H&M will take 5 months to make, design, and distribute new products.  Zara listens to what their customers are asking and buying.  A pull-model of product development that takes Zara 3 weeks.

Of course it’s not as easy as just asking what each customer wants.  Lots of times, people don’t know what they want until it’s shown them.  Henry Ford once said if he asked what his customers want, they would’ve responded with, “a faster horse.”  Also, changing from a push-model to a pull-model requires overhauling a company’s supply-chain.  Raw materials purchases buy 6 months out or more.  Trying to get a refund on 100 gallons of dye is not as easy as it sounds.

Although Zara is not considered inexpensive, lower-market competitor Forever 21 has taken it to the next level.

Cheap:  In addition to fully embracing fast fashion, Forever 21 offers their products at very low prices.  This has allowed Forever 21 to have revenues of $4.4 billion in 2015.

 

Take away

So how do you incorporate market feedback in your business?  Generally, smaller companies have an easier time making adjustments because it is a more agile company with more one-on-one contact with vendors and customers.  In business school I asked billionaire Leonard Lavin, founder of Alberto-Culver (maker of Alberto VO5 hair products) about his education background.  He said he had an MBWA.  Master By Walking Around.  This meant, he walked around his business and talked to his employees, his customers, his vendors.  He conducted market and industry research everyday.  If you don’t take the time to talk to your customers, it might be detrimental to your company’s success further on down the road.

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I actually spent part of it working on a client’s business plan and pitch deck.  However, I like the work that I do  =)

Good employment report

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Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen.  Source:  Getty Images

The U.S. labor market in July capped off the best two-month stretch of hiring so far this year, a sign of strength for an economy that has been showing mixed growth signals in recent months.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by a seasonally adjusted 255,000 last month, the Labor Department said Friday. Wages for private-sector workers matched their strongest annual pace of growth in seven years, more Americans entered the labor force during the month and the jobless rate held steady 4.9%.

This could mean greater spending on goods and services such as the goods and services that your business sells  =)

Ain’t too proud to beg

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This story is about Bob Hurley and the meteoric rise of one of the biggest surf brands in the world and a testament to the reality of the American dream.

These days, Hurley is known as a mega-brand, an archetype for all other hopeful companies to follow – but it wasn’t always so. Hurley was once the humble brainchild of a forward-thinking, passionate, sometimes eccentric and always intelligent man.

As an avid surfer it’s always interesting to see leisure sports brands turn into major companies.  As with most companies, financing is crucial.  For Hurley to move from startup to growth stages Bob had to find seed capital.  Even with promising companies founders have to ask around a lot to secure financing.

Bob begged.  He’s not ashamed of begging and begged a lot.  To any lender that would take a meeting.  Begging at 10:48.  Warning some nsfw language.

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Another happy client

Last year I had the pleasure of helping DIEM with their pitch deck and key personnel bios.  At the time their product was named something else.  I am happy to see how they pivoted to adjust their name and service.

DIEM is an improvement on existing health and wellness apps by giving actionable, real-time insights of your nutrition, fitness, lifestyle and community. DIEM then provides you answers, tips, motivation and affirmation all along the journey to better health & wellness.

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