So who wins in the world of micro brands? This was a question posed by Scott Belsky in his recent article on digitally vertical native brands – Attack of the Micro Brands.
I think this mass of micro brands with massively efficient marketing are, in aggregate, having a much bigger impact than anyone thinks. Using hyper-targeted marketing, just-in-time manufacturing, and social media, these brands find and engage their audience wherever they may be. Of course, small brands are nothing new, but they typically remained small companies. Now I’m hearing about more and more of these brands with tiny teams generating over $10M in sales, with higher-than-normal-retail profit margins.
Featured atop of Monday’s letter and read by 20+% of openers, the article generated quite a few submitted questions. The most important of which I felt I’d answer here:
How does a micro-brand become a household name?
Fast forward to a Tuesday morning and the question became abundantly clear. Younger brands in the digitally vertical space are typically seen on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like. They tend to be reduced to this type of media presence. The millennial generation will know of them but your boomers will not.
If brands are lucky, they are adored by the product journalism class of digital media: Gear Patrol, Cool Material, Huckberry, Hi Consumption, or the out right buying guides like Uncrate. Free media in exchange for affiliate revenue is a far trade. But even so, that’s not enough for brands to reach the volume of consumers needed to become a household name.
A step function is a function that increases or decreases abruptly from one constant value to another. A micro-brand becomes a household name achieving multiple step functions over its lifetime. It takes a willingness to gamble on brand statements but it also takes quite a bit of luck. As a brand operative or a c-suite level marketer, you yearn for these moments because they can’t be manufactured.
So when I received a surprised text message from Mizzen+Main CEO Kevin Lavelle on early Tuesday morning, I saw a jackpot in-waiting. The brand made him a standard fit dress shirt (with sponsors stitched on the chest and sleeve) with little to know likelihood that he’d actually wear it. But there Lefty was wearing Mizzen+Main in his pre-round warm up. The dress shirt was a stark contrast to Tiger’s new age Nike polo.
We got connected to his team and are thrilled to have seen the shirt on the course on one of the game’s greatest!
Kevin Lavelle, Mizzen + Main CEO
The photo told a 1,000 word story. And shortly after, the shirt photo took on a life of its own. It was a Twitter account launched by a third party: Phil’s Dress Shirt. Then came the Darren Rovell tweets. And before you know it, Tiger was being questioned about his friend’s choices in competition apparel. And then came the general media stories, the types of stories that aren’t driven by affiliate revenue.
Here were the elements in play:
- Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were once bitter rivals.
- “We have gone through it a long time, and the better part of 20 years our friendship has certainly gotten a lot better, and I think it’s just age as well. We’re at the tail end of our careers, we both know that. He’s 47 and I’m 42, and we have had a great 20‑year battle.” Tiger Woods
- All eyes are on Tiger Woods.
- Tiger Woods’ effects on media and commerce are astonishing to consider. When it comes to professional golf, he doesn’t just move the needle – he is the needle. In 2018, if you happen to watch Woods in contention on a Sunday afternoon, it’s a major event in media, branding, and eCommerce. Here is a focused look at what that means. (Issue No. 260: The Tiger Effect)
- In the golf industry, you will notice sponsor space on polo shirts, pull overs, vests, hats, and rain coats. But rarely do you see golfers wear a dress shirt to play a competitive round. Even if it is a technical dress shirt, capable of stretch or moisture wicking.
- It’s The Masters and there is no greater stage. Golf moves the consumer needle like no other.
With one relatively minor investment, a DNVB captured the attention of the media in an authentic way. Not just for the product but for the impact that a product had on an event.
Think Gatorade baths after a come behind victory, or Jordan’s championship performance being attributed to his Nike’s (it must be the shoes!). Think about that time that Lebron wore an Homage tee shirt to antagonize a competitor, or the NBA team that was photographed with a $40,000 bottle of d’Armand de Brignac champagne. Or the granddaddy of them all: Phil Simms shouting “I’m going to Disney World” after the 1987 Super Bowl.
Sports can provides these moments for brands like few other mediums, it’s why marketing executives spend countless hours appealing to athletes and league commissioners.
There’s some serious competition in the comfortable dress shirt space. Huge opportunity for @MizzenAndMain if they can somehow convince Mickelson one day to play in it.
These are the moments that brands hope for. And these are the types of step functions that brands need when competing against great counterparts like Ministry of Supply. Ministry, by contrast, operates by focusing solely on the types of targeting efficiencies that built vertical brands like Warby Parker. High on web traffic, low on foot traffic.
Mizzen+Main‘s approach diverged, early on. Medium on web traffic, high on foot traffic. Lavelle emphasized a strong wholesale business to supplement eCommerce efforts – reducing the costs associated with online targeting and providing a baseline in monthly revenue that eCommerce-only companies can not rely upon.
For brands like Mizzen, this type of earned media is especially important. Wholesalers are always looking for social proof. This week, they won’t be looking for long.
I was giving [Phil] a little bit of grief for that. All he was missing was a tie.
Tiger Woods, Augusta National Golf Club
Read more below:
CLOSE AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy ran into Tiger Woods on the practice range a little past noon on Tuesday. “I never thought I’d see the day, Tiger and Phil playing a practice round at Augusta,” McIlroy said. Woods laughed. Yes, it was true.
We’re all about golfers pushing style boundaries to look less like, well, golfers. But the Mizzen+Main button-down dress shirt Phil Mickelson is wearing during Tuesday’s practice round with Tiger Woods (and Fred Couples and Thomas Pieters) pushes boundaries in a questionable direction. An ill-fitting gingham shirt screams, “I trade stocks on Wall Street from 9 a.m.
Apr 3, 2018 Bob HarigESPN Senior Writer Close Senior golf writer for ESPN.com Covered golf for more than 20 years Earned Evans Scholarship to attend Indiana University AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson showed up to Augusta National for a practice round Tuesday wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt that garnered a good bit of attention.
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Phil Mickelson wore a button-up dress shirt during his Masters practice round with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods was asked after the round if he had plans to buy one of the shirts. Woods said he gave Mickelson some grief for the shirt and noted that the only thing that was missing was a tie.
Read the rest of the letter here.
Disclaimer: Web Smith, LLC is a shareholder in Mizzen+Main.