The 5 Elements Of A High Converting Retail Brand Launch

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“I think it was a dud man, nothing is happening,” said Brett.

Brett is the founder of Territory Run Co., an online retail company in the running/outdoor space.

We had just pressed GO on his latest product launch – an email launch sequence that I wrote – and…

…nothing was happening.

Heart dropping into my stomach, I whipped out my phone to check my email.

“I just got the launch email a minute ago, so maybe it is just a delay in the delivery…” I said.

And…we got busy waiting.

Waiting for a product launch to start rolling is like watching a pot of water boil.

Is it on?  Did you put the burner on high??  Maybe we should have added salt to the water?!
C2C - water boil (intro)
But sure enough, after a few more excruciating minutes, it started happening.

And like the pot of water starting to boil, when it happens, it happens FAST.  Sales poured in all day.

When we finally closed the cart that night we had pulled in $19,000 in 12 hours from a list of 2800 people.  

Not in digital info products making big promises… but, in apparel sales.

Are there bigger launch stories out there?

Totally.

But as we walked to a burrito shop around the corner in North Portland, it felt like the biggest launch in the history of humanity to us.

Brett’s comment between delicious burrito bites:

“Dude.  $19,000 is more than I made my first year out of college.  And that just happened in 12 hours.”

So how did it happen?

Well, I am going to lay it all out for you, and show you the 5 elements of a successful retail launch.

Interestingly enough, these elements apply beyond a launch, and we have continued to use them with success in all of the marketing for Territory.

Here’s the thing: a lot of what we did contradicts the current direction of online retail.

That was our intention, because I have hundreds of marketing emails from online retailers across the country…and many of them look the same.

In fact, if I removed the logos and brand names, it would be tough to tell the difference.

And in a marketplace crowded with new brands popping up everyday, that is a problem.

This is how to skyrocket your business from a commodity product, to a compelling brand your customers can’t stop telling their friends about.

Before we get started, I have a worksheet for you to fill out while you go through this article.  You’ll also get my free ebook with the exact fill-in-the-blank story template I used for that $19,000 launch.  It’s all available (at no charge to you) right here.

C2C I - conversation (1)

  1. CONVERSATION

Imagine walking into a bar, sitting down next to a person you are attracted to, and trying to pick them up.

There’s only one catch – you have to do all of the talking, and they aren’t allowed to say a word.

Sounds crazy right?  

It is.  

And yet, that is how many brands approach their marketing.  It is a one-sided conversation, and if you ask them specific questions about their customers, you get a whole lotta blank stare.

C2C - -uh- (under I-convo)

When you have a conversation with your customers, you start to understand who they are.

You can identify their pain points, desires, and struggles on a day-to-day basis.

And who knows – you might find out why they actually buy your products (not why you think they buy your products – these are often two different things).

Knowing these things allows you to have a targeted conversation.

Instead of guesses thrown at a random stranger (or audience of your customers), you have content designed for them.

Let’s go back to our story of trying to pick someone up at a bar.

Having targeted information is the difference between getting kicked out of the bar for a hot and heavy make-out session with your new and attractive partner…

…or getting thrown out of the bar for “bothering the local crowd.”

For your customers, it’s the difference between putting off everything on their to-do list to purchase the product you just emailed them about…or unsubscribing from your list.

So how do you do this?

It’s pretty simple.  

Have a conversation.  And pay attention to what people say.

Let’s take it one step further, and think about the purpose of a conversation:

  1. Information gathering.  

This is what most people think about when we talk about having a conversation with their customers.  

Find the pain points and struggle, and what people want.

In this launch, we used information from a few past surveys, as well as general knowledge we both have from being a part of the running industry for the past few years.

  1. Relationship building.

Like any conversation, a relationship is being built when you interact with your customers.  

This is important to know because every customer interaction will have an impact on the relationship.

But it also gives you a chance to strengthen those relationships by going a step beyond surveys and market research.

For the Territory launch, Brett did two things that you can easily apply to your own brand.

These are optional steps, but if you take the time to implement, you can elevate your audience from generic customers to collaborators with ownership over the brand

A. Turn your customers into product designers.

This can be as simple as letting people pick colors for one of your products (which is exactly what we did in the Territory launch).

Simple, but powerful.

B. Turn your customers into publishers and content creators for the brand.

This is a big one.  Everyone wants to have a voice – take a look at any form of social media if you need proof of this.

Leading into the Territory launch, Brett invited his list to submit short content pieces called “Why I Run.”

He got a ton of submissions, and every week a few more are added to the community “Why I Run” page on the Territory website.

So – have a conversation.  Build a relationship.  And collaborate with your customers.

Step II is incredibly easy when you are having conversations with your customers.

C2C II - identify the struggle (1)

II. IDENTIFY THE STRUGGLE

I have worked in retail for years – on the floor selling product, and as the manager of a few stores as well.  

I remember a conversation when I first started managing one of the stores.  

I was in the office, brainstorming with a co-worker on why people come into our store.  We had all kinds of ideas, and we were sitting up there in the office just getting creative with it.

“Hey! I got a good one – I think people are coming in because they want to feel a certain way about what they buy,” I said.

“Oh man dude, that is so good.  You hit the nail on the head.”

We were storming the castle, and it felt great.  Except for a couple things…

We didn’t know where the castle was, we hadn’t brought any effective tools or weapons, and we were so jazzed up on all of the ideas maaannn that we couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Instead of a calculated attack planned with precision, we were the bumbling braggarts of nimbly-squat, dashing up every hill in sight with the excitement and vigor of a high school freshman boy talking to all the “ladies” in his online chatrooms.

The point is that we had no idea why customers were really coming in, and we were making up reasons instead of asking them.

When you do step one, and have the conversation, identifying common pain points is easy.  Find the thread, and pull on it a bit.

Leading into the Territory launch, we discovered that the single biggest pain point people have with running, is feeling like they don’t have enough time.

But…we had to pull on that thread a bit to get to the real problem.

The real problem is that they are so overwhelmed by how busy and noisy their lives are, that they have a hard time making time for running.  

Running is an escape, something that makes them feel great when they do it.  But it is far too easy to let it slip.  

One day, two days.  Pretty soon a week has gone by, and they haven’t gotten out for a run.

And that pain point made sense to us, because we deal with it every day as well.

This is important: your customer’s biggest pain point may not be something that your product directly solves.

Good.  That means you are getting beyond the surface level problems, and going deep.

Take a look at the pain point we found for Territory: making time for running in a busy world.

Buying apparel does not solve that problem.

Which is fine.

Because we aren’t selling products.

We are selling a lifestyle.  A story.

And a story allows you to connect deep pain points and lifestyles to products in powerful ways.

So even if it seems like it doesn’t apply to your product, write it down on your worksheet (if you didn’t get the 5 Elements Worksheet yet you can download it here).

Even if you feel like you have the most boring product in the world, write it down.

We are going to tell a story, but first we need someone to tell it.

C2C III - find the character (1)

III. FIND YOUR CHARACTER

Imagine walking into a retail shop for your favorite brand.

You are greeted by someone with a friendly smile, but when you ask them their name, they won’t tell you.

“I am a representative of X brand, and that is all that matters.  Is there anything I can help you find?”

That would be a pretty weird experience.  

Sales 101: Introduce yourself.  Use names.  Because names are powerful, and relationships and trust are built just by using them.

And yet…

When I get to the end of many retail marketing emails and read who it is from…

…I see a brand name.  

Which is weird, because I know someone wrote it.  But instead of a relationship, I get a series of impersonal emails that may as well have been sent from a robot.

This is a real problem in retail.  Everyone is so into their brand, they forget that people talk to people.  Want to get emails from people.  Want to buy from people, and have conversations with people.

Emails sent from a brand name ignore the most basic sales principle of all: introduce yourself.

Even worse: sending emails from an address like noreply@brandname.com.

You are telling your customers that you don’t want to have a conversation with them.  

Stop doing that.

Luckily, all of this is an incredibly easy fix.

Find your character, and set them up as the spokesperson for the brand.

For Territory, Brett was the obvious spokesperson since it is his brand.

This was a new thing, because so far, he had kept himself out of it for the most part (largely from seeing that many other retail brands were doing the same thing).

But he introduced himself in a big way in one of the pre-launch emails.

And that email resonated with his customers.  We saw proof of this in the metrics for that email (a 58% open rate and 38% click through rate), the many responses he got, and most importantly: a hugely successful launch day.

That email was a story.

It was a powerful story, because a real person was telling it.

(Quick side note because a lot of people have questions about this: the brand character does not have to be the same person writing the emails.  For example, I write many of the Territory emails, but they are written in Brett’s voice and are from him.  Likewise, you know that Wednesday email you get from Kevin Rogers?  It is written by Jody Raynsford (A bloody Brit, no less!) (<<Kevin added that).  Again, in Kevin’s voice, because Copy Chief is Kevin’s brand).

C2C IV -develop an authentic story around your pain point (2)

IV. DEVELOP AN AUTHENTIC STORY AROUND YOUR PAIN POINT

Stories are powerful.

This is true of really any story.  Even something random we overhear in a restaurant at another table that catches our attention.  Suddenly we are learning over and ignoring our friends, trying to catch all of the juicy details.  We are hooked.

It almost doesn’t matter what the story is about.  If it is told well, we want to hear it.

But let’s take that random story in the restaurant and make it specific by infusing it with a problem you have.

Now you are getting up from the table you are sitting at and walking over to sit down with this person telling a story about you, and a struggle in your life.

Something you experience everyday.

Something you want to overcome.

There is no marketing more powerful than an authentic story built around our own problems.

By authentic, I mean real – you are showing what goes on behind the curtain.

There is a touch of vulnerability to it.

By opening up to your customers with a story they don’t expect, you grab their attention and build trust at the same time.

This is powerful stuff.

And yet…I see many brands that are concerned with maintaining high-school cool.

That is, the type of cool that the best looking jocks and cheerleaders had back in the day…or at least appeared to have.

Because in truth, the facade of high school cool was exactly that: a facade.

And we aren’t in high school anymore.

By building a facade with your brand of the perfect lifestyle (one that we all know is fake), you are missing out on the opportunity to connect with your customers on a deeper level.

So take a look at the common pain points you came up with, and develop an authentic story that relates.

For the Territory launch, we told a story about Brett struggling to wake up in the morning to go running.

His alarm goes off, but…

He turns it off and goes back to sleep instead.  

This is an on-going struggle in his life.

And it may seem like a tiny, insignificant story, but it is a vulnerable one in the context, because he is the guy that started Territory – a brand designed to inspire people to get out on the trail and run and be wild.

He is the guy.  He is supposed to have it all together.  

When the alarm goes off, you can see him jumping out of bed, already wearing his running clothes, tying up his shoes (no coffee for this guy) and hitting the street at 6 minute pace.

This is starting to sound ridiculous, but I’m not kidding, that is the perception of many of his customers.  

Or, I should say, was.

Because by pulling back the curtain and showing how Brett struggled with the same issues they struggled with, they identified with him as a person who in some ways, is just like them.  There was trust built, and a level of engagement that they don’t experience with many brands.

These are the moments that take your brand from commodity to compelling, and it is the strength of storytelling that makes the difference.

Telling authentic stories your customers connect with will increase your sales.

I dive into exactly how to craft your story in Story Selling (which you can get along with the 5 Elements Worksheet right here).

C2C V - make it feel exclusive

V. MAKE IT FEEL EXCLUSIVE

Imagine this: you have 3 groups of friends going out this weekend, and they all want you to join them.  (You must be pretty popular, because this never happens to me…).

You can only choose one, so read carefully…

The first group is going to the amusement park.  There are a ton of people going, you know it will be fun (aside from that whole line thing), and the ticket is only five bucks.

The second group is playing dodgeball, and then going out for beers.  They would love you to join because you have a wicked throwing arm, and if you know anyone else you are welcome to bring them too.   You love dodgeball, and the game is only 10 bucks.

The third group is going to race a sailboat at the bay.  There are only 4 people allowed on the racing team, and they are asking if you want to come along for the ride.  You don’t really have to do much except lean to one side or the other on a few of the turns in the course.  The whole trip will end up being $30.

So which do you choose?

Well, this is obviously a fabricated story, but let’s look at how the exclusivity progresses with each group.

Group one: not exclusive.  Anyone can join, low cost of entry, and if you don’t go now you can go basically anytime in the future.

Group two: somewhat exclusive.  Anyone who was invited can join, but only so many people will be able to play.  Medium cost of entry, and if you don’t go now you could always join another game next weekend.

Group three: highly exclusive.  Only you can join, and there is an absolute limit on the number of spots available.  The cost of entry is high in comparison, and if you don’t take the opportunity this weekend, you may never get another chance.  

The exclusivity elements at play here are:

  1. Limited number of spots available.
  2. Invitation needed.
  3. Time limit on opportunity (and not sure when the next one will be).
  4. High comparative cost of entry.

C2C - ELEMENTS OF EXCLUSIVITY (under V - exclusive)

See how that works?

Applying exclusivity to your products is as simple as applying any of the exclusivity elements.  The more you apply, the more exclusive your product becomes.

For the Territory launch, we created exclusivity using all of the elements.

  1. When people signed up, they were signing up to join Runners of the Wild, which is a team only open to a certain number of people.
  2. They needed an invitation, which they could get by signing up for the email list.
  3. The opportunity to join was short – there was a 12 hour period in one day where they could sign up.  Next opportunity is an unknown.
  4. Joining Runners of the Wild is more expensive than just buying a random t-shirt.  In addition, there are 3 packages you can buy into.  The level 3 package is twice as expensive as the level one package, has more ‘goodies,’ and there were only 10 spots available.  They all sold out.

Make sense?

Here’s the thing.

You don’t need to overthink this and try and apply all of these to every single product you sell.  

But starts testing it out.  Apply one or two elements, and measure the response.

Turn a normal product release into an event by doing a pre-order for a limited-edition color that might never be sold in that product again (only 75 available!) before releasing the rest of the colors.

(If color is not a factor in your products, change or add some other element that is).

Have fun, be creative, and do something completely different than everyone else in your industry.

Trust me, your customers will notice.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

Well, launch the damn thing already!  I’m not going to get too into launch sequences because there is already plenty of information out there.

But here’s a quick overview:

  1. Build anticipation before the launch.  Let people know something is about to be released, and tease it out a bit.  (2-3 emails)
  2. Launch.  (1 email).
  3. Follow up before the launch ends.  (1-4 emails…or a lot more in some cases).

And like I mentioned at the beginning, use the 5 Elements even when you aren’t launching a product.

But before you do that, let’s apply the 5 Elements to your business, and ensure that your launch will be a success from the beginning.

NOW YOU TRY IT

Download the 5 Elements Worksheet if you haven’t already, and go back through this article to apply it to your own business.

Here is a quick recap:

  1. Have a conversation
  2. Identify common pain points
  3. Find your character
  4. Develop an authentic story around your pain point
  5. Make it feel exclusive

When you download the worksheet, you will also get a copy of Story Selling, which gives you the exact fill-in-the-blank template I use to write powerful stories that sell everyday.

I welcome you to post your results here in the comments if you’d like my personal feedback. Because as we say here in Copy Chief: Nobody Writes Alone!

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Mike Rinard
Mike Rinard
Mike Rinard is a copywriter and marketing consultant who specializes in helping e-commerce brands tell stories that sell. You can learn more about how to harness the power of storytelling to engage your customers, and sell more stuff at www.chimpwolf.com.
Showing 15 comments
  • Brian
    Reply

    Absolutely oustanding post. So many great leassons all interwoven, nice job.

  • Tjark
    Reply

    #3 is so damn important. And not only for launches. If Niantic handled the angry fans of Pokemon Go this way, they wouldn’t have lost millions of users.

    • Mike Rinard
      Reply

      Yeah man, great example. It’s amazing what happens when you think of your customers as real people, and treat all of your communication with the same care as you would if it was a one-on-one conversation. Easy to lose focus on that.

  • Melanie Saladino
    Reply

    “Pick a Color” and “Why I Run”: So smart. I love these ideas.

    Storytelling: I’m taking this idea: Being authentic is important, because it earns rapport, clicks, and sales. That means telling stories that show the real you… especially on a bad hair day.

    • Mike Rinard
      Reply

      Yeah! Involving customers in the creative process – for both products and content – is a big win for building the relationship and having a really engaging conversation.

      As is authenticity, and like you mention, especially on a bad hair day.

      Here is another example of that – we had a situation where a product shipment of hats just disappeared. Poof! Still no idea what happened, and there were a few backorders already. So we put together a campaign and just told everyone what happened. Apologized to people that had already ordered, and turned the whole thing into a “Hat Party,” where we told people we were putting in a new order in 24 hours, and if they wanted to get in on the order ahead of time we could give them X discount as it was basically a pre-order. People LOVED it, and it brought in a ton of sales. Luckily, that second shipment of hats actually showed up.

  • Barry
    Reply

    Awesome, helpful info Mike.

    Big results from a relatively small list – I like it.

    One question: About your list, is there a significant number of newer people on there or were they mainly people you built a relationship with over a long period?

    Cheers

    • Mike Rinard
      Reply

      Great question Barry. It is a mix of both – we used the potential of being able to join the team as a driver for list-growth, but the majority of the list had a relationship built over time. So, for the people who just joined, they had a great experience with a personal brand that “got them.” The people that had been on the list for a while experienced a bit of a “re-brand” by Brett (the founder) introducing himself in a really personal and authentic way, and telling a story that they really identified with.

      What’s great is that it doesn’t just apply to launches – all of his marketing is focused in this way now, and it continues to drive significant growth and engagement his business.

      Hope that answers your question. 🙂

  • Andrew
    Reply

    Loved the article and I have dived straight into “Counter-Punch Story Telling”.

    I got as far as “…how to tweak those lifeless pieces of information
    into powerful stories that will engage your audience and
    increase your sales.”

    A couple of days ago I got script on my desk and it was a bullet point list of lifeless information. They should be an interesting company but based on the script… they are not.

    Assuming I can get them on board and given that I suspect their appetite for research will be small do I go in with a survey or find out who to take to a coffee shop?

    • Mike Rinard
      Reply

      Awesome, glad to hear it Andrew. Would love to hear your thoughts when you finish.

      Great question on the research. The answer really depends on the client and how you set up the project, but here are some thoughts:
      -They may already have research you can use in the form of emails, questions people ask all the time, surveys, or any other customer communications.
      -A survey to the customers is great if they have an existing list. You can also position this as a ‘research package’ that they will get even after this project with you wraps up, and something that could inform their future marketing.
      -Jumping on a quick phone call or sitting down with one (or a few) of their customers would be great research – I definitely recommend recording the conversation if possible, or taking notes.
      -Finally, you can always do online research in the market. I just put up a blog post that goes into more detail on how to do this, you can check it out right here if you want: http://www.chimpwolf.com/blog//how-do-i-come-up-with-content-to-send-my-list

  • John Stiles
    Reply

    Very solid article Mike. Much of marketing has become impersonal and dry too. Putting a real name and personality behind any brand along with stories would make doing business there far more interesting. What a great way to build loyal customers.

    • Mike Rinard
      Reply

      Thanks John! I agree, if you can make your marketing messages feel like a personal conversation and experience, it builds the relationship and makes it a lot more interesting – for both sides.

  • Bruce Wesley Chenoweth
    Reply

    Wow, Mike — completely captivating.

    I usually begin reading posts and articles merely to decide if I see enough value to read the whole thing. When I find myself at the bottom line before I remember that was the objective, as I did here with your post, I know that the writer is a master of the art.

    Not only was it a fun and fascinating read, I got some great ideas while doing it. Can’t wait to put one of them on paper …

    THANKS!

    • Mike Rinard
      Reply

      Thank you Bruce, glad you enjoyed it. I think that is the power of storytelling – they really suck you in and draw you down the page. That effect happens to me all the time when I am reading a good book, or watching a movie. I’m stoked you experienced it in this article. 🙂
      Can’t wait to see what ideas you come up with – would love to hear about them if you are willing to share.

  • Tim Woo
    Reply

    “Even worse: sending emails from an address like noreply@brandname.com.” This was my biggest issue when I worked as customer support 2 years ago. Supposed to prevent customers from replying back to us. Obviously that worked. =)

    Great article — business owners have a big fear of wanting to sound personal and often have no idea how to find their own voice in retail. Love that you’re that light to show them “Hey man, it’s totally cool to be you.”

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