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.
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.
This is what allowed Zara founder, Amancio Ortega to become the richest man in the world (for at least a couple days).
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.
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.
I actually spent part of it working on a client’s business plan and pitch deck. However, I like the work that I do =)