June 25, 2012

Lessons from those T-shirt guys

by Joy Parr Drach, Entira

Air travel isn't a lot of fun these days. I'm sure you know all too well about the delays and full flights. Just when you let out a sigh of relief and settle into your seat on board, the pilot announces there'll be a "short wait" until your plane can get to the front of the line for takeoff. And if your frequent flier status fails, you're sandwiched in a middle seat, with the guys on either side of you deciding they each need one of your arm rests.

So, what do you do to take your mind off all these inconveniences? Personally, I like to use travel time to catch up on my reading.

During one jaunt into the "friendly" skies, I read this article in an in-flight magazine about two guys having fun — and making a mint selling T-shirts. I realized the article contains three great lessons for all of us.

Their sales aren't slacking

If you've spent any time wandering the airport shops while waiting on a delayed plane, you've probably seen Bert and John Jacob's product. They're the guys who came up with the "Life is good" T-shirts and other wearables.

Their first lesson for us: Research saves you money and makes you money. OK, so in this instance, their research was a keg party, but guess what? It worked. And that underscores the point: research doesn't have to be elaborate to pay off big.

The keg party was critical to helping the Jacob brothers refine their product and peddle what would sell without wasting time on what wouldn't. One of the partygoers actually came up with the slogan Bert and John married with their character. A party is their version of a stage-gate product development process — anything their friends like passes on to the next stage of actual sales.

Lesson two: Segment your market on more than just demographics. The Jacobs defined their target audience — fun-loving optimists — and they've done a masterful job of staying true to it, making a real connection with their customers. They've sold the same T-shirt to a tattooed Harley guy, a 40-year-old schoolteacher and a kid with a skateboard. These customers have nothing in common demographically speaking, but they all buy the same product.

In ag markets, many companies rely too heavily on demographics for slicing and dicing customers. How many of you define your target segments based on acres, herd size, income, age or some similar statistic? It's easy. But it's rarely effective.

For instance, I just talked with two cattlemen. They run the same size operations but have very different motivations. Consequently, if you use the same sales and marketing approach with both of them, it's likely to work with one but not the other. In a study just completed for a client, we used a combination of behavioral and attitudinal factors to group customers into segments so our client can focus limited resources on those most likely to buy. We didn't get to throw a party. But it was a simple process that yielded actionable information more effective than demographics alone.

Lesson three: Attitude's important. Bert and John are two upbeat guys with an optimistic attitude that helps drive their business.

Food, ag and biofuel companies have lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future, too. Innovation creates optimism, and we see lots of both. For instance, we helped one client launch a new feed additive that lowers costs for our nation's meat producers. And we're working with others in traditional ag and biofuels that are reinventing their go-to-market strategy to capitalize on the changing world around them. If you'd like to explore new go-to market strategies for your business, contact Entira at info@entira.net.

So, here's to optimism, knowing your customers, parties and a summer of flying somewhere in anything but in the middle seat!

This article appeared in the July 2007 issue of Strategic Agribusiness Review.