One of the biggest mistakes startup DTC companies make is to continually create new products, expanding the number of SKUs they manufacture and sell to retailers or directly to customers, while forgetting about the main character of their company.
You’ve already got a star product, so you need to set it up for success and let it lead the way.
Nate Poulin, COO of Feat Clothing and former Director of Planning at Bonobos and Michael Kors, sat down with Rabah and Ash in a recent episode of Adspend to discuss the importance of centering your hero product as the atomic unit, since it should be the heartbeat of your business.
In this article, we’ll discuss what hero products are, why they’re important, and how to build your marketing plans around them for success from the ground up.
A hero product is the flagship product for your business, the item that introduces your business to the world, and hopefully something unique that sets you apart from the competition.
For Bonobos, it was great fitting pants.
For Activia, it was introducing probiotics in yogurt with a fresh-faced Jamie Lee Curtis.
As brands grow, their hero product remains a best-seller that drives significant value, with high customer appeal and loyalty. This product communicates your brand philosophy and values so well, it stands to represent the whole company.
Creating a quality hero product that stands out from the crowd takes a lot of time to develop, and the marketing around the product itself needs to be developed to compellingly describe the product’s alignment with your brand’s values.
When Feat Clothing first introduced the Buttery Blanketblend fabric, it was a game-changer. They created something brand new, advertised its benefits over other products, and stood by their tagline of having “the most comfortable athleisure clothing in the world”.
By focusing on their value proposition, they were able to expand their product lines while remaining focused on their bestsellers.
Hero products are what differentiate your product from the competition.
When offering a standout product, a company can attract customers that are searching for something exactly like that. By fostering customer loyalty, they build strong brand recognition based on the characteristics of the hero product itself. In many cases, hero products become the primary source of revenue for a business, and hopefully drive sales of related products, too.
As a brand grows, it might lose sight of the hero and try to focus on an up-and-coming product that shows growth potential.
Resist this urge.
Let the hero continue its valiant work.
When talking about atomic mass units in scientific terms, it’s 1/12th the mass of a single atom of Carbon 12. Basically, the smallest possible unit we can define. You might think of your big hero product as larger than life, but understanding its role in a giant ecosystem, right at the core, is the key to understanding how to market said product.
Nate likes to take a bottoms-up approach and views the hero product itself as the atomic unit of the whole system.
Back in the day, merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores used to be a core function of any business, as in-person was the only way people were selling specific products. Retail merchandising was incumbent on physical space available to display products, and you depended on people to sell that product in store. The product itself was what drove demand, and you’d continue to create products on a cyclical timeline to meet those demands.
Compared to today’s DTC environment, selling happens in real-time. In a lot of cases, the ability to grow and scale happens very quickly. Unfortunately, the product engine hasn’t gotten much faster, so there’s been a lean toward marketing-led organizations. Sometimes, on the marketing side, they can double or triple down on promoting a product, and then end up selling off the stock.
When you’re marketing a product that you no longer have on your shelves to sell, that’s a big problem. A great way to stay on top of this is to center your product analytics to make the right marketing decisions.
How has Nate gotten around the out-of-stock problem?
By having the marketing team swim all the way upstream in the product life cycle and actually discuss the product road map.
When the team looks ahead at what they’re going to create 6 months or 12 months from that time, they are able to figure out what stories marketing is going to tell about the product in the future. After the marketing team agrees that they have something to work with, they then align on what’s the most important story to tell.
Besides the marketing story, they also figure out how much they plan to sell. They agree right at the beginning stages how much will be invested, and then send it to the factory once marketing signs off on the plan. Therefore, at no point are they marketing something they have no stock of.
The worst thing you can do is buy something (from your manufacturer) that you don’t want to market. How unfortunate would it be if the product arrives and it’s just boring and you can’t think of a way to even sell it? The key to avoiding this is planning - make sure that your marketing team is on board, and has a fully-fleshed out plan for how to market the product, before you invest in the purchase.
From a “stay in stock” perspective, we never want to be in the position where we have to tell a marketer to stop marketing a product. The job of the marketer is not to downshift on any product, but to figure out how to build a scalable engine to get to the moon!
On an episode of The Checkout by Cogsy, Nate said “the most successful businesses I’ve been a part of directly have had strong overlap between the planning and merchandising side of the business and the operations and the marketing side of the business.”
Where profitability comes in is when these worlds are linked together. Here are a few steps to set you up for success:
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