“I’ve been skating for 38 years, and I still skate every fucking day and it drives me nuts. I’ve had multiple surgeries, I’ve broken both my legs, whatever, it doesn’t matter; what I’m saying is that skating is forever — Jake Phelps, Editor-in-Chief Thrasher Magazine
Imagine creating a brand with your friend out of passion. No, I’m not talking about becoming a competitive food eater on YouTube or Instagram bikini model. Imagine doing something you love, something you grew up with and can’t get enough – basically something you would do any day even if you wouldn’t get a dime from it.
That’s called a lifestyle business. And today let’s see one of my personal favorite brands – Landyachtz.
Landyachtz is a skateboard/longboard company headquartered in Vancouver B.C.
Since 1998, co-founders Tom Edstrand and Mike Perreten built the brand Landyachtz to achieve some impressive results. In 20 years Landyachtz was able to:
Became one of the most recognizable brands in longboarding
Make 2000 longboards per week in their 9,000 square foot warehouse
Employs over 60 people in Vancouver and another 15 in Los Angeles
Lead the product design in deck technology
Dominating the mini-cruiser market with Dinghy series (and crushing Penny out of the market)
Sells their boards in 500+ U.S. Stores
One of the top 3 longboard manufacturers in the world
Present in 30 countries worldwide
All this while still skating all day every day, playing longboard-version hockey with your steezy friends and enjoying a cold one every Friday afternoon for a job well done.
This is the story how Landyachtz leveraged the community, scaled the brand, and carved their way at the forefront of longboarding market space with product innovation.
You will learn the necessary ingredients of Landyachtz which got them to the place they are now — 20 years after. For the sake of similarity, I’ll be using examples from the skateboarding market.
Mike Perreten, a former ski-racer, missed the snowy slopes when he went off to college. When walking across campus at the University of Victoria just wasn’t cutting it; he decided to take matters into his own hands and build himself a longboard. He could ski on the tarmac, making his commutes much more fun.
At the same time, Mike’s childhood friend, Tom Edstrand needed to write a mock business plan for an entrepreneurship class. Why not making a case about longboards? The class project turned from making planks on wheels to a viable enterprise neither of them dreamed of.
Edstrand and Perreten secured six weeks of workshop time in the basement of the Blackcomb Ski Club during ’97. The idea that became known as Landyachtz. Two friends worked 10 hours shifts constructing the new “weird-looking” skateboard.
“There’s a certain commute distance where a longboard works better than a bike or anything else,” says Perreten. “With that in mind, we really sold boards as a way of improving people’s quality of life.”
Once few models were done, they begged ski and bike managers to try them out in the parking lot. The pair was received with quizzical looks. The managers thought the idea was stupid. Even the first tries to put them in the shop were unsuccessful. Their family friend tried to convince them to put the boards in the shop and sell them under consignment.
But as soon as Tom started winning downhill races with their own man-made boards, the couple started getting attention from sport fans and offers from the distributors. Things started to fall into place very quickly.
Here’s where the first major lesson lies.
Chapter 1: Culture and Community
Edstrand and Perreten believed in the idea and continued to work on Landyachtz on the side for three years. This was in the early 2000’s and the internet communities were sparse and far between. However, those who were online were the same freakishly passionate fanatics who would spend their last dime on their hobby.
By skulking for like-minded people on forums, chat-rooms, IRC and all the other weird places (MySpace anyone?). Forum posts opened up U.S. and global markets.
The skateboard community has tons of die-hard fans. Just like you hear about surf and ski-bums who would, and sometimes are, completely content with hitting the slopes or waves every day of their lives, so are skateboarders dedicated to the artform of bombing the hills, grinding the fence or doing some other crazy trick or nonsense with a piece of wood on wheels.
Thrasher magazine – the bible of global skateboarding craft the same zealous crowd of “misfits”. If you look at the Thrasher staff members and their offices you would think someone is going to sell you a used car or show you which loan shark you can hire.
Even Jake Phelps, the editor-in-chief (since 1983) of Thrasher magazine and a living legend, still looks like he would much rather be out there in the halfpipe hitting the ramp than being stuck in the office.
Mike and Tom started finding more and more opportunities to tell people in the business about their brand. They started going to trade shows, attend downhill racing events and even brought in team riders on board who represent the name of the company.
Team riders and skateboard sponsorships are one of the main marketing activities skate companies do to get their name across and in front of the eyes of a young skater. The boys and girls who get into skateboarding worship these crazy riders.
And if Tony Hawk or Rodney Mullen ride on a certain type of boards it means they could do something similar one day with the same equipment.
No matter how old you are, once you taste the freedom, that curve and land your first ollie you will remember it for life. The other boarders are your brothers and sisters of the same tribe. It’s something unique for a small percentage of people.
Employees are Skaters First
The Landyachtz employees are skateboarders and friends first. Each and every one of them loves the lifestyle and have either skated professionally or at least spend a couple of years on the wood above the tarmac.
Every individual has their skills and responsibilities where they are good at. Most of the times they learned those chops over the years. It’s more important to understand what longboard means to the skaters than to bring a suited-up marketing or sales guru to look at the excel spreadsheets and conduct business roundtables.
The working week ends up with a beer session in the workshop and they are no stranger to a pick-up longboard hockey game.
Sometimes they just get together and spend the night cruising the city. The result is another video that ends up on YouTube and social media channels.
That’s Ryan Theobald – Head of Marketing and Sales moments before body slamming the pavement and spilling his drink. | Source: YouTube – Skateboarding the Spiral of Death
“We go to lunch almost daily on our boards. It’s such a great way to get around. That’s how we know there’s still so much more potential.” — Mike Perreten
Make stuff you love to use. It’s much easier to “sell” the lifestyle and passion then the product.
Chapter 2 – The Product Focus and Innovation
Science in the longboard industry? Get outta here!
But in every industry, there are companies that push the envelope and act as icebreakers. They are leaders who explore and create new trends. The others try to get in and serve the marketing gap that the innovators made.
At Landyachtz, constant innovation is one of the priorities.
Landy deck in the making
Early on, Edstrand and Perreten made their own design, often inspired from the physics classes in college. But later, they scaled up and created full-time engineer position to create boards that look amazing while serving a specific purpose.
(Almost) anyone can put some wheels under a slab of wood and call it a skateboard. What differentiates great longboard companies from bad ones is the quality, attention to detail and purposeful performance to the type of ride.
Mike and Tom handled the product design for boards as DIY projects. They tested wild shapes and sizes of decks. If something didn’t work they went back to the drawing board.
All amazing inventions took something that was done before and put their own spin on it. Sometimes that 20% innovation disrupts the market (think of the time somebody figured out to put wheels on a suitcase).
Landyachtz started with an initial segment in downhill racing. Their famous drop-through mounts were amazing pieces of engineering that won races before anyone else started catching on what they were doing. And these boards were race-ready straight from the shop. There was no need for customizing or fetching a Ph.D. in trucks, bearings, board shapes, and gravity control.
If you got one of the downhill boards you had an equipment good enough to rival other downhill bombers.
The biggest lesson looking at the Landyachtz product-market fit is serving two concepts which are separate from each other.
First, performance boards such as Osteon and Evo are meant to win races. The launch of the whole company started when the founders started getting attention after stacking racing awards. The race events brought them global distribution contracts.
Within a tight-knit community in action sports it will soon show if something doesn’t work, everyone will know about it.
Landyachtz manages to secure a decade-long track record of high-speed and robustness with quality components that don’t require updates to start bombing big hills.
Sponsored events where Landyachtz dominated
Second, serving the community and tribe with the longboard lifestyle. The campaign Skate and Explore shows the company values and the personality of the brand carried on the team-riders. Not everyone is brave enough nor they wish to go 60 miles down the hill, but they like the freedom of hitting the streets and relax.
But even the longboard market is getting saturated, so there has to be room for innovation. Some of the big wins happened through innovation while others were a perfect answer and filling the market gap. The best example is the Dinghy.
The Dinghy Series
A city cruiser that is sturdier and a more exciting version of Penny boards. While still being small and mobile, Dinghies look great and feel like a proper board. With this series, Landyachtz took a massive bite from the Penny marketplace of city cruisers. While Penny boards rely on the history and nostalgia factor from the plastic boards, the majority of clients rather look for performance, fun factor, and usability.
The Dinghy is a perfect example to show off the versatility of Landyachtz’s product variety. It comes in different lengths (28.5″, 26″, 24″), tail variations (with or without kicktail), a bigger model (Tugboat with 30” length and a wider wheel spacing) and even a premium version (Dinghy Turbo). Of course, it comes in variety of pretty graphics made by the artists.
But Landyacthz also took the role as technology and designer leaders. The company employs full-time engineers who work closely with sponsored team-riders.
The design innovation paid off in a significant way. Landyachtz is known by unique solutions such as:
HollowTech – Hollow construction of longboards that keeps the weight down, while preserving the build strength. Because of lightness the board can also pop higher making it suitable for freeride, not only downhill.
ATV series – ATVs or All-Terrain-Vehicles are an attempt to marry the freeriding, cruising benefit of a longboard and the trick versatility of the skateboard. With the popsicle deck shape, it resembles an average skateboard however it comes with larger wheels which grants the rider bigger speed. Even ATVs come in three varieties, each suited for slightly different purposes.
Landyachtz ATV – Skateboard with larger wheels for speed
Misc, Hybrid – team riders at Landyachtz play an active role in the product development and engineering. The Hollowtech Sidewalker was designed by Steven Vera, Osteon by Billy Bones and RallyCat by the co-founder Thomas Erstrand.
RallyCat – the unique product for all-around purposes
Aside from clones of Penny boards, the Australian company didn’t have a decent rival. Landyachtz stroke gold with the Dinghy – it brought all the good benefits of being small and responsive but it was also a real board.
The communities on forums and Reddit recognized this and helped Landyachtz carry the message via the most useful and efficient marketing channel – word of mouth.
Take the approach to marry the innovation of the product with the performance. Create products you would want to use. There’s a chance to serve top product and build the tribe at the same time.
Chapter 3 – The Unique Longboard-Specific Business Model
While Landyachtz is one of the top 3 longboard manufacturers, they are not crazy millionaires. First thing, that’s not their goal and even if they would be making millions every month, their day would still look the same.
Skateboard business works because the flimsy boards were damaged and broken beyond repair. If you landed weirdly you could break a brand new board in a day. For that reason, you could spend somewhere around $80 – $100 clams and get a new one.
Longboards, on the other hand, are made from sturdier materials (7 to 9-ply maple wood or bamboo) which makes them sturdier. A board like that can really take the beating. From a business standpoint it’s not good for revenue.
Remember how those older Toyotas and Hondas never broke. You could literally do anything with them and they would still go anywhere at any time. While that’s an amazing engineering achievement the manufacturers are losing money.
If you’d compare the business model with Silicon Valley industry, you could think of regular skateboard business as SaaS while longboards are more like Apple’s e-commerce with less frequent repeat buys.
“Skateboarders will buy six or seven boards a year because they break. “But our boards didn’t break. How do you sell them six or seven boards?” — Tom Edstrand
If Landyachtz sells you a good quality complete deck for let’s say $220 and you ride it for 4 – 6 years. That’s abysmal LTV (lifetime value).
There must be a good solution to overcome this challenge. And Landyachtz had one.
If Landyachtz makes innovative fun boards with a different variation of the core model their buyer will buy more boards from them. With a combination of amazing paint jobs (from local artists) and a social incentive (Landyachtz plants a tree for each deck sold – the One Board One Tree project), Landyachtz expands the catalog offer without adding new models while adding an NGO aspect on it.
Even from the early days, you could see a variety in niche longboards. For instance:
Downhill – for bombing down hills and go down the hill really really fast -> Switchblade, Hatchet, …
Cruisers – Commuting the streets and having some fun with a trick or two -> the Dinghy line
Long-Distance Pumping (LDP) – for riders who hate to put the for down
Freeride – a more relaxed downhill with slides
Dance – looooooong as Monday boards for dancing -> Saturn
Something completely unique
Upgraded skateboard – ATV series (skateboard-like construction with larger wheels for doing regular tricks while also going faster)
Snow-Skates – just put a giant ski sled under and you can longboard on snow
Old-school/Retro – fun, unique boards with some old school nostalgia – Wrecktangle, Dodger, Cobra
Misc. – something completely different – Rally Cat
With this strategy, Landyachtz is appealing to their loyal customer to buy more types of longboards.
In lifestyle business, brand and relationships are much more important than anywhere else. If your product isn’t suited for repeat purchases then offer a variety and nurture upsells through innovation.
Chapter 4: Figuring out Sales
Landyachtz makes the majority of sales in North America. The other major countries of distribution are Australia, Brazil, Nordic countries and Germany.
According to Growler, Landyachtz is making about $3.7M of revenue annually however, I strongly doubt that’s a legitimate number.
The board completes cost between $130 and $300 (and more for Hollowtech models) which puts them into the range of higher-priced products. However, since the brand is established the sales are growing year-over-year. In 2015, Landyachtz recorded a 30% bump over the year before.
It has contracts with more than 500 U.S. distributors which have their own methods of marketing, local events, and presentation of new products.
Some of the sales are done through the Landyachtz online shop (Canadian and US variation).
There’s no option for opting in for an email newsletter. It could be a conscious decision that the company will not waste time sending emails.
While keeping the brand face congruent, it could be an opportunity to present new products through the email form across the globe. Relying on distributors and their effectiveness is one thing, however, even a lifestyle business like this can quickly find the big spenders and have a VIP sequence sending them a sticker, a hat or something to keep the relationship hot.
Some industries have unique selling channels. Find out which those are and create those relationships with distributors in hot geographic areas.
Chapter 5: Marketing with Social and Video Rules
Skateboarding, Longboarding and Action Sports in general (Motocross, BMX, skate, etc) targets a very unique target audience. In that case, they have to rely on specific marketing channels which have been proven to work.
Back in the day of skateboarding the only thing that worked consistently was traveling across the country with a team of riders, setting up pop-up shops and sell products and merch. The goal was to record a highlights video along the adventure hoping it will get attention. The passionate community would grab it if it reached their eyes.
Nowadays, marketing is a lot easier – with the emergence of social media anyone can broadcast their content and engage with the online community, especially on devices that are soldered in the pockets/hands of the target market – mobile phones.
When Tony Hawk was asked, on how he looks on his sons’ career compared to his own, he stated:
“For him, he doesn’t even have to compete because we’re in the age of social media, videos, and photos. People just want to see what you’re producing if they’re interested in your skill.
If we would break down the target profile of an average longboard consumer it would be a 13 – 30-year old, predominately male living in urban areas where there are spaces and infrastructure suited for grinding, bombing, and doing all kinds of fun tricks. Keep in consideration that the buyers are sometimes young parents (mid-30’s) who are looking for a better substitution for their kids (at least the ones who believe an outdoor exercise) than a 5-hour Fortnite session).
Instead of watching skateboarding heroes and uplifting (insane) longboarding stunts on MTV, fans of the sport just type in a few keywords and watch the shenanigans for days. If you’re a smart skate company you can’t afford not to have your video content on YouTube.
Landyachtz are aware of it and they doubled down on producing high-quality, yet story-driven videos. Landyachtz videos have a consistent style, feel and communicates the company culture perfectly – they are all bunch of friends who live for longboarding.
More than 50% of social media channel referrals are coming from YouTube | Source: SimilarWeb
Even their campaigns are tagged with hashtag #SkateAndExplore — which comes with a repertoire of road videos from all corners of the World. Team riders visit these places (China, Japan, East Europe) connect with the local people and record some amazing footage which is later displayed on YouTube and redistributed to other (social) media channels.
LY has a dedicated videographer Dave “Guff” Leslie who comes shoots, edits the footage and turns it into a finished video worthy of attention. With a film background and his own passion and dedication to the sport, he has one of the most important roles in Landyachtz’s marketing strategy.
Instagram is HUUUGE for Landyachtz. Since 2015, they managed to build a base of 110k followers, of which 2,200 are actively looking at every post they upload.
Billy “Bones” Meiners, who is the media strategist puts a lot of time and thought about engaging material on Instagram. The strategy is paying off, since as Tony Hawk stated, most of the target audience is already on these channels.
If someone is interested in starting to longboard, they would inevitably stumble upon the Landyachtz brand.
Landyachtz is identifying products on YouTube videos with a link back to the product info, but not on Instagram.
Music and Skateboarding go hand-in-hand. Lululemon has its own playlist, and so could Landyachtz. Their videographer Guff is playing in 3 bands. It’s not going to contribute to the revenue however it could help to build a brand.
Twitter & Facebook – Support and Redistribution Channel
It’s obvious Twitter and Facebook are marketing channels that their target audience isn’t using as much. Even though they’ve been holding on to their Twitter account since March 2009, they have about 23k followers.
Their Facebook has good numbers but the engagement isn’t running that hot. Young adults switched from Facebook to Instagram (another argument that Facebook made a brilliant move buying Instagram back in 2012).
Landyachtz doesn’t run paid promotions on either of those two channels.
Events & Conferences
For outdoor action sports, events are sorely needed. It’s the perfect chance for the company to show who they are and display their products in action on the spot. On racing events, the visitors can see with their own eyes the quality of the boards.
Landyachtz sponsored events and races since the start. Only good things happened during these events and important documents were signed.
The most known event in Canada is held every year in Kimberly. The small quiet town in British Columbia doubles in population when Landyachtz roles into town. The Kimberley July Festival is a giant picnic with soccer events, bocce tournament and the famous Sullivan challenge – a free-to-enter, free-for-all longboard race.
Since Landyachtz sponsors team-riders that are coming from different areas, they can cover events in multiple places around the globe. In the meantime, the distributors cover the smaller gaps.
Conferences also come into play. Besides the ones where you have to present as an outdoor sports provider, Landyachtz also experiments by going to places where they can increase awareness of the crowds that haven’t been exposed to the longboarding/skateboarding lifestyles.
For example, Billy Bones set up the pop-shop on Twitch-con which is a huge community of gamers. The demographics fit, so why not try out something like that?
Landyachtz pop-up shop at Twitch-con
Website – Keeping the Presence
The website pulls approximately 115,000 visits, from which there are 41k unique every month. The visitors stay on the website for 4 minutes on average and checks 4 to 5 pages.
More than half of the visitors are checking the store on mobile devices which shows the habits of the Landyachtz target audience. Looking deeper into the referral channels, most of the people who land on the site find it through search (61,15%) while 22.9% come directly and 11,27% come from social media channels (mostly YouTube).
The high direct visit percentage shows the quality of the brand. For instance, Slack who focused entirely on brand marketing has more than 95% of web visitors typing the webpage directly into the browser’s address bar.
Because of the unique keywords of the product models and the company name itself, the brand can be found easily. Most of the referrals are coming from the distributor’s sites.
The company also owns companies that make parts for their longboards:
The Hawghs Wheels – the Wheel manufacturing company owned by Landyachtz
Lifestyle businesses have to be in constant contact with their fans. In action sports, those are videos on YouTube and Instagram. Keep it stocked with high-quality content to keep your brand on their minds.
Chapter 6 – The Future – More Products and Bikes
In 2017, Mike Perreten began working on Landyachtz’s bicycle project. One the of company employees, Yuan Diaz commuted 20 kilometers (approx. 12 miles) to work every day. When he expressed he wanted to come in on a bicycle the two stuck their heads together and started working on a new type of bike.
Since they already know what they wanted, they just started working on the bike they would want to use. It’s as simple as that.
“We like to go fast and we want to have fun.”
Is there something that’s out there that we want to use? Or is there something we could create?
Damn right. Last year (2017) Landyachtz introduced two models of their premium bicycle line. Today, they offer 4 models and customization.
If Landyachtz scratches their own itch, you bet their fans are going to salivate from the desire to try the new asphalt wheel toy.
With a focus on engineering and R&D, there’s no doubt these bicycles will find homes in some of the previous Landyachtz product buyers and fans. They have been consistent so far and there’s no sign they are going to rest or take the road to a business-oriented skateboard business.
Landyachtz’s All-Road Bike with Logo | Source: CycleExif
Landyachtz made a good decision about building a new entity that focuses on bicycles. There would be too much interference between longboarding brand and target profiles. Landyachtz bicycles business carries its own logo and website.
Be loyal to your mission and brand. The community and fans you have built around you trust you/your company for a reason. Stay in their service.
Landyachtz team photo from “Get in the Van!” Series | Source: Wheelbasemag
As long as they keep making products they love themselves, their fan base is going to follow.
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Founder Chip Wilson has had 18 years of retail experience behind him when the idea of Lululemon came into existence. He has already built a surfing and snowboarding apparel company Westbeach in 1979 already.
Chip Wilson — Founder of Lululemon Athletica | Source: cnbc.com
The company was relatively successful in the early days; mostly because of the market in Japan. The sub-brand Homeless did particularly well (Chip believed it was because of the letter L in the brand’s name, which is a clear sign of American brand authenticity to the Japanese.)
But it was struggling nonetheless (in 1987 they barely made payroll). Chip decided to sell the company for $15 million from which he was able to keep $1M. That was the basis of Lululemon.
Since the founder has had the experience in snowboarding, skateboarding, and niche fitness apparel, he did not only learn from previous mistakes in the field but also gained access to journalists in the same field. Being one of the first in the fiel, gave him the permission to become a sort of a de-facto person in all things related to surf, ski, skateboard, and yoga business.
According to Wilson, the biggest lesson he learned was a steady cashflow (if you’ve read Shoe Dog, you could imagine how important it is). Steady cashflow allowed Wilson to pay the suppliers who delivered the best quality product on time, making sure the stores are stocked.
During the year, Chip also learned the key lessons of educating their staff. More on that in a later chapter.
Key Takeaway #1 – Healthy cashflow will give you the freedom to source the best materials and develop a relationship with distributors who will respect deadlines.
Chapter 2: Emerging Trend
Business meetings with cigars and steak dinners have been replaced by 45-minute cycling classes at spin class, as Jason Kelly describes in his book Sweat Equity.
To think about it, how much are you spending each month to break a sweat? It used to be a $20 gym membership or putting on high school shorts and going out for a run or a pickup basketball session.
The SoulCycle‘s $34 per session in downtown New York
The professional segment started to embrace the premium fitness classes as the place of business development. And if you pay $34 per spinning class or yoga sesh with the potential strategic partner you better change your business suit to professional athletic apparel.
Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, a book about networking, suggests taking business partners with you to create a stronger bond and close more deals.
Yoga joined the trend of high-priced fitness memberships with upper-class clientele. Harem pants were out of the question for the setting. The market responded with a constant feeding of magazine covers with slim/thin white women. In 2012 Yoga Journal study, 4 out of 5 yoga practitioners were high-income white women.
Members preferred smaller fitness classes with dynamic instructors because they felt more significant – as a part of the tribe. Once you start being a SoulCycle member, a Yoga practitioner or CrossFit firebreather, you also need to dress the part.
The Yoga industry has been growing steadily and is expected to hit 11,6Bn in the US in 2020.
Yoga is good business
Key Takeaway #2: Are you in the emerging market? Take some time to check Google Trends, check the number of keywords appearing in search fields and think what does that market need?
Chapter 3: Building the Perfect Product
It’s almost redundant to talk about the quality of the product since this is always the prerequisite for any company to move forward. At Lululemon, they went all in on the design and the quality that resonates with their target persona (chapter 5).
Design – Shannon Wilson (Chip’s wife) and Chip were both coming from the apparel design background. Chip was adamant on having stitches on all the right areas. He doesn’t hide the fact that yoga pants are intentionally designed to be as comfortable and as flattering to the female body curves. And let’s be honest, women love it too.
One broad search for Lululemon review has YouTube creators posing their glutes off
The Tech – Primary function of performance and fit has been achieved by the construction of the garment which hugs and promotes performance. Lululemon’s’ apparel includes reversible, brushed and textured fabric with water repellent finish and Silverescent tech (prevents funky BO).
Materials – to add a special flair and solidify the brand, big brands “invent” their own technology. Lululemon calls itself a technical apparel company. That’s why Lulu yoga pants are made from engineered fabric (Luon™, Luxtreme™, Nulu™, Nulox™) depending on the compression level and the intention of the garment (run, train or yoga practice).
These names aren’t just an easy way to differentiate from the competition but they also carry unique features.
Luon is 86 percent nylon and 14 percent lycra. VitaSea fabric is made from SeaCell. SeaCell is a yarn made from seaweed and blended with spandex and cotton. VitaSea allows for an ultra-soft fabric that holds its shape and stays soft after many washes. This can be found in the company’s t-shirts and light layers. Silverescent is a stink-stopping fabric technology. The X-Static technology is woven into Silverescent fabric bonds 99.9% pure silver into the surface of each fiber.
R&D – besides having the internal designers and innovators working on the designs and fabric options, Lululemon innovates through customer feedback and their retail staff. Some Lululemon stores have a blackboard where customers can leave suggestions or they share it with the staff. The store managers translate the gathered qualitative info back to Lululemon’s HQ in Vancouver. There are no focus groups or website data collecting. This (conscious) lack of data collection works great for Lululemon in product innovation: however, it hurts them a little on the e-commerce shop (more on that in part 2).
Price – the quality justifies a high price tag, the target profile and creates a healthy margin for expansion. Just like Apple, Tesla and other premium golden-goose products on the price matrix (high quality, high pricing), Lululemon products don’t have discounts. That would be detrimental to the brand.
The practicality of it – As much as it is frowned upon (especially for men) to wear sweatpants as a streetwear, Lululemon yoga pants doubled the activewear as streetwear, thanks to the design aspects of the product. The new trend was born – athleisure – more on that in the Law of Category chapter)
In the book, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, the law of category states: “If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category where you can be first.
Example: What’s the name of the third person to fly over the Atlantic Ocean solo? You probably don’t know. Yet you do. It’s Amelia Earhart. But she isn’t known for that. She is known as the first woman to do so.
Lululemon completely embodied the law of category. They stepped into the emerging trend of premium athletic apparel and targeted it directly at the yoga industry.
They picked a narrow field and focused on the target persona of a middle to upper-class women who appreciate the comfort and designer clothing.
If they’d just become another athletic apparel they would have to compete against Under Armour, Nike, and Adidas, which it would be waging a losing battle. The Law of Duality from the same source says that in the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race (e.g. Pepsi and Coke or Samsung and Apple).
Lululemon yoga pants became an iconic piece of clothing of the fitness economy. In its utility and ubiquity, sleek and expensive epitomizes how fitness has shifted from Old Navy practical running shorts to a piece of apparel that tells the person and the observer who we are.
Chapter 5: The Cultural Shift and Nailing the Target Profile
While it seems like the founder, Chip Wilson was just at the right place at the right time, he actually used demographic data to predict the ripe environment for his idea to grow.
According to TedX talk, Chip expected a gap in the market that would serve his company in talent section as well as in customer audience.
In the late 80s women in a managerial position weren’t so common. He has noticed that 60% of University graduates were women (and the trend of university graduates have skewed even further in the women’s way). This makes some sense but there are also some off-the-wall statements, such as connecting the success of Lululemon and the increase of breast cancer and high divorce rates to,“Power Women” who were on the pill taking on work-related stresses, only previously assumed by men. These all lead to the future market of Lululemon’s clients.
Ocean and Duke – Lululemon’s Customer Personas
Many companies identify and create a profile of a perfect client. To embed it into the marketing heads, this illusionary person has a name. In Lululemon’s, these muses are Ocean and Duke.
Hi, I’m Duke
32-year old woman
Owns a condo
Spends an hour and a half to workout
“Ocean is a woman, who all women want to be”
35-year old man
“Athletic opportunist – surfs in the summer, snowboards in the winter”
Willing to pay for quality
Ocean is a smart 32-year-old woman, who is well travelled, athletically fit with her own condo and just about to be married. In NY article, Wilson explains the observations in yoga classes. As he looked around the mostly female yoga class, he noticed that women wanted well-fitting athletic clothing that also easy on the eyes. In his opinion, there will be a market segment of women that fit a specific target persona.
Going narrow also means eliminating a broader segment of the market. Founder Chip Wilson was notorious with his statement that some women “aren’t a good fit for Lululemon’s product”. This is true. His delivery has ruffled some feathers but the company’s plan to circumvent the plus size yoga athletes was on point.
Are they hitting their customer persona audiences?
Absolutely — one quick insight from the demographics section of their websites tells us the majority of visitors are coming from 25 – 34 years old women.
The Lululemon main website demographic snapshot | Source: SimilarWeb
By the way, if you want to see the sizes from 10 to 12, you would have to go towards the back of the store or simply ask the staff members to bring it to you.
This is definitely a ballsy decision, since opening the plus sizes would bring Lululemon Athletica to tens, if not hundreds of millions of fresh new revenue — according to NPD’s 2012 report, women are craving for bigger sizes of premium apparel. But that would move them away from their core branding decisions and those are sacred.
Lululemon’s launched another brand name Ivivva which tailored to young girls. You could see this target profile wouldn’t fit into the main brand of Lululemon. That’s the reason to develop a sub-brand.
Happy employees definitely help with the growth of your business and the representation of your brand. Lululemon takes special care of their talent. In retail section, they pay over 30% over the local rate. The higher wages also mean less turnover and progression up the chain of command.
These are mostly younger, educated women straight out of college.
Every “educator” is asked to write multiple year goals and share them publicly. Chip Wilson is also known to be a big proponent of the Landmark Forum program — a self-help personal development program that is supposed to help with the growth of your integrity and leadership capabilities.
On the HR end, Chip created an environment for women who can grow the company with their skillset, resourcefulness and grit while still having a family life and a time-off for maternity leave. Since retail workers are usually underpaid (especially women) he decided to pay them much better so the workers would have a financial incentive to come back and continue working for Lululemon.
For all those reasons, Lululemon is on top 10 Best Places to Work according to Glassdoor.
In retail, a brand is of the utmost importance. We’ve already mentioned that people buy the identity more than just a product.
There’s a problem with branding since there are so many intangibles connected with the term. Can you measure ROI of the brand with an exact dollar amount?
However, we can see the consequences of building a good brand:
Higher ROAS, gross margins, and LTV
Our CAC is going to be lower
We will attract more and stronger talent
PR pull is greater and we can reach more
But the best reason is — speed.
Once the company knows what it stands for – its values, what their audience cares for and who they are, the decisions will come naturally. It sets the tone of how the company behaves, what is its voice.
According to Scott Kraft (CMO of Menlo), the brands start with brand pillars, which serve as a foundation of the company — the core values. We all know what MVP stands for — a product that with just enough features to satisfy initial pain points for core clients. But there’s an idea about MVB — minimum viable branding.
The key components of MVB are:
Audience needs and functional needs are the products’ domain. Real branding starts with the emotional benefits – the fuzzy area where we are touching our audience. Then you have the personality which determines how the customers are going to perceive you.
The difficult part is that the emotion, personality, promise, and vision are intangible. Lots of companies just pulled the nice adjective from thin air and put them on the about page. As you are going to find out, Lululemon took branding extremely seriously.
And it paid off better than anyone could have imagined.
What are the Brand Pillars
What are the 3 attributes that the company couldn’t exist without? If you’d have to choose what three adjectives describes your company the most – what would they be?
For example, if we put together: American, Free and Badass a brand like Harley-Davidson comes to mind.
Harley Davidson knows exactly who their audience is. Can you recognize the brand pillars in their ads? | Source: Biggsh-d.com
Lululemon Branding Breakdown and Personality
Lululemon as a brand that triggers an emotional impact. The point of branding is to bring people to the point of making somebody feel [insert the emotional benefit here].
When you’re wearing Lululemon you will feel more beautiful, protective, cared for.
Branding Pillars: Quality, Fun, Empowerment
Top Audience: Women who do Yoga. Narrower Audience: Successful Women in Early 30’s Doing Yoga who need gear designed for modern practice
Emotional benefits – Feeling Vibrant, Sexy, and Balanced
All those components combined lead to Lululemon’s personality: A Cheerleader of the New “modern” Yogi
The New Yogina
Lululemon built an amazing brand. Their customers are proud to show-off their product (exposure through UGC content) on social media. They strut on the walkways with the company’s branded shopping bag with the manifesto printed on it.
If there’s something we have learned from the companies that made their name for customer service is that it solves two major problems
First, It creates a foundation for the company culture. If ridiculously good customer service becomes a keystone habit in the company, it starts pulling all other positive elements in the big picture.
And second, it starts the word-of-mouth effect among customers. Zappos customer service is so good it made a book about it. Every time I have a chance to go to Trader Joe’s I feel like a fat kid in a candy store; the TJ crew is always positive, helpful and chatty.
Best customer-faced salespeople establish the personal relation first. Finally, they lighten the mood and really take the time to get to know the potential client. Once the solid foundation is established, only then they move into the sales section.
Lululemon, as is expected for their incredible focus on company culture, translated that into the customer service. Shopping at Lulu’s is an experience. The customers are asked by their first name before they go into the changing cabins. The retail salesperson (referred to as ‘educator’ in Lulu’s naming convention) scribbles the name on a tiny whiteboard and proceeds to address the customer by their first name.
Each fitting room is equipped with a whiteboard table. Source: Yelp.com
For the whole procedure of the sale (customer success journey), the customers are called by their first name by the entire retail staff.
Consider the product they are selling. There are cheaper alternatives with arguably better value. But one of the core values at Lululemon is to feel significant. Hence the first-name basis, hence asking about the needs.
If the price is the objection (which usually isn’t), then they come up with the technology (which is often just a way to justify the high-price product purchase. “I bought the Mercedes-Benz because it’s safe”, right?).
Sometimes they turn the entire store into the free yoga studio. These social pop-up events start building even more positive connections to the brand. What was that one class-based fitness craze that has been growing like crazy in the last 10 years? Oh yes, CrossFit.
The Lululemon’s In-Store Yoga Class led by one of the brand ambassadors. | source: DrapersOnline
Combined with the quality of a product and having a sense of being in the premium circle the experience becomes addicting.
Lululemon’s raving review from a Reddit user.
Since every store has only a limited stock of products (thus creating a sense of limitation).
Chapter 9: The Ambassador Program – Lululemon’s “Secret Sauce” Influencer Marketing
Adidas is paying millions of dollars to dress the biggest icons in sport. Crossfit athletes and UFC fighters are wrapped in Reebok from head to toe and Nike put on neon banana track spikes on every track athlete in summer Olympics.
There’s a clear necessity of putting an influencer, an icon or archetype of an avatar in front of people. These are usually charismatic celebrities in sports, entertainment and even business (I’d be curious to know who buys a golden apple watch for the features only).
When you target a narrow niche, especially in a hyper-local environment you have to take the local stars and put them on the pedestal. This strategy worked out great because it works in symbiosis. The local yoga and fitness coaches got exposed in the store, got free high-quality products to wear and started growing their business. In return, they have to put in a number of hours inside the Lululemon retail stores and run free yoga classes and represent the brand.
Gina’s from DanceFit banners in Lululemon’s retails store | Source: DanceFit Studios
Since Lululemon’s has such a large reputation, the ambassadors are getting a significant surge in business. Some of the trainers and coaches are trying hard to become ambassadors.
If you would have to pick a social media channel and your audience are women interested in fitness and design aged between 25 and 35, what would you pick?
That’s right, Pinterest is known to have a massive female audience and Lulu is making a killing on it.
While it’s arguably a tough channel for selling, it does well for branding and inevitably serves as one of the touchpoints that leads to a sale.
2+ million followers on Pinterest – a social media with strong women audience base. | Source: Pinterest
However, even though those numbers look fabulous, it works mostly in branding perspective. Hence the photos are high quality, professional and highlighting the design features — perfect for saving them in a lookbook for the next Lululemon haul.
Unfortunately, they are not utilizing it as much as they could (more on that in the second part). This might be the result of Wilson’s persistence in ethereal, transcendental conviction on branding alone and abstinence for numbers and data. His replacement Laurent Potdevin (ex-top of Burton Snowboards) incorporated more data-driven approach which resulted in increased sales and better social media presence. But there are still opportunities.
“Despite the sudden exit of its CEO last month, Lululemon Athletica is seeing sales success thanks to a focus on digital improvements and brand marketing. The Canadian yogawear marketer reported an 18 percent increase in fourth-quarter net revenue to $928.8 million, along with a 12 percent increase in comparable sales.” — AdAge
The Facebook and Tumblr are also doing ok, however, nothing too earth-shaking. The one thing that works really well though, is the symbiosis with the ambassador program. Each ambassador has its own social circle of influence which extends to the online reach.
The Instagram Control Center
Instagram proves as one of the biggest opportunities. The social media channel has just reached 1 billion monthly users and is great for branding and impulsive decisions. It would be interesting to use it locally to invite yoga practitioners to the free classes.
Their account is filled with live events, motivational sayings and no sales posts whatsoever. Those product-pushing posts are now a part of the stories section where people are more inclined to impulsive purchases.
With a 2.5 Instagram follower base, Lululemon developed multiple destinations where the brand followers can turn to.
Over 2 million Followers on Lululemon’s Instagram account. | Source: Instagram
The Spotify soundtrack. Goal: Brand affiliation
The keyword ‘lululemon’ in Spotify and Apple Music leads to Lululemon created playlist for various workouts.
The Desktop Instagram Dashboard
With a click on the explorelululemon, the Instagram desktop app will curate and duplicate the content of the original post wall into CTA funnels for each image. This is the service Lululemon is using for each post — Curalate.This is a regular Instagram post on desktop and mobile:
Regular Instagram post | Source: Instagram
And this is the post with Curalate add-on with CTAs that lead to the online shop:
Upgraded Instagram with software that leads to online purchases
Goal: Multiple — Brand Experience and sales through events and residual word-of-mouth points from attendees
The Instagram stories.There’s more to the brand than just clothes. Lululemon developed a wholesome lifestyle catered towards the modern yogina:Fuel – Light nutritional recipesDiscover – Upcoming trends
What We Love– In-house weekly news of new product arrivals
Visio+Goals– Motivational, goal-setting stories
Travel– Travel tips and styles mixed with travel destination’s inspirational imagery
Workouts – Yoga sessions, HIIT classes, movement
What’s New– New productsIGTV – On the Instagram mobile app you will also find the newly launched IGTV section where Lululemon’s shows off longer 20 minutes Yoga flows
Lululemon has made an incredible job in becoming a household worldwide brand. The focus on branding, retail experience, and constant innovation is keeping them in the forefront of the premium tech apparel.
Their website has become a high traffic destination for clients worldwide. They are doing a good job segmenting the users based on geographical locations (they cover free shipping worldwide) and the bounce numbers are way below 50% which tells me that people are looking at products (8 page views on average).
3.5 million visits per month is not too shabby. | Source; SimilarWeb
But the intangibles around the culture could also cause the company to spin their wheels. The unnecessary PR stunts didn’t help either.
The online shopping has some glaring holes and opportunities that could be fixed and built upon. The digital shopping experience is as important as the ‘in-store’ one. While they can surf the benefits of their renommée, a lot can be done to skyrocket their reach and sales numbers on the Internet.
It’s a bit surprising the company hasn’t put a bit more experimentation and data science on it. I’m sure they must be doing it now. They are getting tons of traffic on their website already. Retail giants like Nordstrom are hiring dozens of data scientists to maintain growth through the years.
This section will review a couple of strategies with which Lululemon could improve their revenue goals.
1. YouTube and InstagramInfluencer Marketing
Lululemon prides itself with ambassadors in every brick and mortar shop and retail space. However, they seem to be missing the train on online influencers. Channels like Instagram and YouTube are the perfect fit.
First, people believe word of mouth much more than one-way communication from company-to-client.
Andrew Rea (a.k.a) Binging with Babish also generates millions of views for his high-production cooking videos. Squarespace has already approached him and I’d be curious to see how many conversions happened towards Squarespace. Plus, creative artists on the rise have a chance to become viral (Here’s a reminder how virality works) which gives you the opportunity to get massive exposure when a content snowballs to daily trending page.
How I would do it: Identify the rising movers and shakers on YouTube and strike up a deal. One of my personal favorite channels is Yoga with Adriene. The charismatic and warm Adriene gets millions! Of views for her 30 day Yoga Challenge. She’s personal, warm and friendly. Her good humor and occasional pop culture jokes keep you returning to her videos. The Day 1 of 30 Days of Yoga Challenge clocks in at 15 million views.
The following days are naturally having a lower view count but they are averaging around a million
Yoga with Adriene’s Day 1 of 30 Day Yoga Challenge has 15 million views!
Lululemon already has some ambassador practitioners who would film a high production flow class; however, these are one-offs mostly aimed towards the local audience. A 30-day free yoga challenge offers continuation, relationship building and a deeper connection at the end. It serves as a perfect TOFU content.
Is it worth it?
Take a quick look at the chart:
Quick Analysis – Yoga is averaging 2.2 million views per video
I’d dedicate a budget to find micro-influencers on Instagram (there are fitness models with millions of followers) and run a two-three month experiment. During the creation of this growth study Lululemon has done an amazing job of optimizing the Instagram channel, but there’s still room to grow. Just like their local ambassadors, the online world has their own community ambassadors that have an enormous reach. Just one quick research about Twitch streamers and YouTube creators confirm the theory.
Every industry has their own pockets of communities. With millions of data points, Lululemon Athletica should crunch the numbers and find the thought leaders among the VIP / highest LTV clients.
As a reminder, Lululemon has a very healthy margin profit on clothes. Imagine the ARPU or LTV per customer.
The second part of the budget would go to YouTube creators with 100k or more followers that fill in Lululemon’s target profile. Setting up an alert and watching daily trends would quickly identify a couple of those users.
Low hanging fruits:
Define relevant and measurable CTAs for YouTube and Instagram influencers
Identify potential influencers
Run a 90 days test pilot program and measure the results
2.Personalized Quiz and Better Email Onboarding
“There are emails you sort of gloss over, delete or actually look forward to getting them. To be a successful e-commerce you will have to earn your customers’ inbox real estate. And if you solve email, you have a permanent communication with your customer
Looking at Lululemon, their emails are nothing special. To see the masters of the email game, check Chubbies (I’m not a customer because of geographic distance, but I enjoy getting their emails just because they are fun).
Of course, Lululemon can’t switch to Chubbies language which has their own set of rules for communicating with their target profile, but that’s no excuse for drastically refreshing their email game. Their audience has their unique set of values and messages to respond to.
Warby Parker’s Home Try-On is an excellent use case example. The service sends a potential customer up to five different frames.
Warby Parker’s Online Quiz and Email Journey. | Source: Rejoiner
On their website, you can take a short quiz where you decide which 5 frames look the best. In the end, you provide them with an email and address. The 5 frames you’ve chosen are going to be sent to your address.
Amazing idea, but the execution is even better. The email sequence that accompanies the process has clearly gotten a lot of attention and thought.
Here are the emails and their subject lines and screenshot (The full case study was captured by Joe Putnam at Rejoiner):
Email 1: We received your Home Try-On order no. 101767816 – Confirmation for the Try-On order
Email 2: Right on Track – order has shipped
Email 3: 954 questions later – an email that shows a client the most popular frame based on customer’s inquiries
Email 4: Touchdown – package arrives on destination & advice on how to find the perfect pair of glasses
Email 5: Signed, sealed, delivered – CTA on choosing the right frames from the ordered package
Email 6: First impressions and second opinions – WP is asking the client to send pics on Warby Parker’s Social Media (FB, TW, IG and email). This is ingenious since the WP is getting UGC first, plus creates a valuable relationship with the client
Email 7: That was Fast – instructions on how to send back the try-on frames
Email 8: Nice job – WP thanks the client for sending back the frames with a soft sell ask
Email 9: Help is on the way – In case the decision hasn’t been made, you are welcome to call a personal consultant
The experiment doesn’t require a lot of engineering and judging by the Lululemon’s high-price items, this would be a very interesting test to pull out. Warby Parker has a dedicated department, which core purpose is to make the process of buying glasses as easy and fun as possible.
I signed in on the newsletter to see what kind of messages I’d receive. It was a generic weekly retail email without any kind of personalization. They didn’t ask me what kind of fitness regimen I’m running. Not only that, I’ve received 90% women-related product announcements.
Email is one GIANT opportunity where the company needs to gather data, come up with a fun customer journey and develop the brand. Again, I’d point out to Chubbies who are masters of using the language that their target audience understands.
Segment initial customer base by gender and activity
Create personalized sequenced journey for each segment
A/B test them
3. Keep The Dirty Clothes Outside the Public
Founder Chip Wilson has done a lot of good for Lululemon Athletica. His expertise in retail apparel and specialization in technical wear and branding was the reason Lululemon took off the way it did.
But some of his public appearances and statements hurt the company. There were the “Lululemon products aren’t a good fit for some women’s bodies“ one and the “worst apology one“. His reasoning about women and future buying power is controversial. Even though Chip Wilson meant good, the news media is praying for exclusivity and dramatical conclusions.
It cost the company’s reputation they spend years to build. Similar to Uber‘s Travis Kalanick, the stock dropped by almost a third overnight after the incidents. We have all learned from Uber to keep our dirty secrets away from the public eye.
Low Hanging Fruit:
Have a common-sense and experienced PR people for consultation before winging it out on camera or in press
4. Narrow targeting can be expanded to the new niche
Potential mistake – targeting men in Lululemon would be difficult since it’s so much further away from the core company’s brand personality.
On the other hand, women are already using Lululemon’s product in CrossFit gyms. The target profile fits perfectly, the product has been tested through millions of WoDs and the audience has money to spend on premium apparel (gym memberships for Crossfit classes even exceeds yoga studio membership).
Crossfit is (still) a growing trend which attracts worldwide attention. The biggest opportunity would be after 2020 when the Reebok’s monopoly runs out.
Brooke Ence’s has become a Crossfit influencer with 1M followers on Instagram and 150k subscriber on YouTube | Source: #ItMakesEnce
Brooke Ence – a Crossfit Athlete influencer has over 1M Instagram followers and appears to be rocking Lululemon pants. Unfortunately for Lulu, Brooke launched her own apparel company — EnceWear. Before that she was promoting No Bull crossfit trainers.
I see two potential problems:
It might be too late – in early 2010s Crossfit was mainly supplied with Reebok’s merchandise; however, Nike has made its move with Metcon trainers, while other niche companies started popping out to fill the gap (i.e. NoBull, Hylete (mostly men), 2pood, 21-15-nine). For now, these are more aggressive brands, which are more suitable for men, so… there’s a chance.
It could dilute the brand. If Lululemon would take up on the opportunity it would have to be in a similar fashion as Ivivva – special line for a special segment of customers. One good thing is that they could use the same hyper-local ambassador strategy but also extend it to online communities and specific social media channel influencers (Instagram, youtube).
5. Outdoor Out of Home Branding Exposure by using Data
Out-of-Home advertising or Digital OOH is usually the domain of big brands since it’s so tough to measure ROI and one of the last things on our minds. But looking on Spotify, which is an entirely digital product, they have enjoyed a lot of success by having fun with their collected user data.
Their OOH campaign even received the Obie award, and AdAge recognized the Spotify’s in-house marketing team as the Agency of the Year 2018. It also received tons of user shares and earned PR points.
Spotify’s OOH campaign was very personal and particular. They injected humor and lighten up the advertising environment. Instead of screeching down with salesy banners the OOH campaign made the passersby stop and smirk.
Spotify’s first forays into OOH happened in 2016 with the “It’s been a weird Year” campaign. The public response was so positive, they scheduled the outdoor advertising for the next year.
Here’s the banner of 2018 Goals OOH campaign.
These ads work because they are personalized, funny and localized.
One of the pillars of Lululemon’s success is the hyperlocal influence marketing. Expanding a message that either combines or takes the elements of local heroes, branding power or their manifesto on the streets would be an interesting experiment to try.
The problem that comes from this is, the ROI is tough to measure since it’s mostly brand awareness. There is a way to include specific OOH, dedicated CTAs and hashtags to track the public response. Until more sophisticated DOOH technology become more standardized with clearer outcomes, this is still a great way to increase hyper-local awareness which Lululemon has already done amazingly well with the Ambassador program.
Feel free to steal these ones for yourself 🙂
Excerpt from NPR’s Interview:
RAZ: How much of your success is because of your intelligence and work, and how much of it is because you were really lucky?
WILSON: I think I was pure passion for athletic technical product, and I would’ve worked 18 hours a day for the rest of my life for no money. Now, I think what happened is I got lucky because my drive and passion met a world that wanted what I wanted, and that was the lucky part.
Over the last two years, clinical psychologist, University of Toronto professor and lecturer Dr. Jordan B (B for Bernt) Peterson gathered a rapid recognition by the media and amassed tens of thousands of supporters worldwide. Well not a thousand, a million of them.
In mere 18 months, he was able to:
put his book on the Amazon bestselling list overnight (and sold 1.1M copies in 5 months)
generate $100,000+ recurring revenue per month
sell out speaking shows at almost every venue he appeared in
In this article, I will be focusing on the levers of his rapid success. Dr. Jordan Peterson was a relatively insignificant public figure until the mid-2016. But in the last couple of years he made smart moves and struck gold on certain events which propelled him into a cultural superstar.
Let’s check his metrics:
Jordan B Peterson had less than 10k subscribers at the start of October. At the time of writing (April 2018) he is having well over 1 million.
How did he manage to get in this position so fast?
Those numbers have grown from almost barren social media accounts. In October 2016 Jordan Peterson’s YouTube account only had a couple of thousands of subscribers and his twitter follower count was at 24,000 (now 690,000+).
Jordan Peterson Facts and Background
Peterson studied clinical psychology at the University of Alberta and McGill University where he completed his Ph. D in clinical psychology. He remained at McGill as a post-doctoral fellow from 1991 to 1993 before moving to Harvard University, where he took the role of assistant and then associate professor in the psychology department.
According to his students and colleagues at Harvard, his lectures were already admired. During the studies, he wrote his first book, Maps of Meaning – a book about the structure of beliefs and systems. By his account, the writing took 15 years.
In 1998, he moved back to Canada and started work at University of Toronto as a full-time professor. During those years Peterson authored or co-authored more than a hundred academic papers, all while running a clinical practice, seeing 20 people a week. In 2004, a 13-part TV series based on Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief aired on TV Ontario, which was his first publicly held lecture.
During his lectures at Harvard and later on at the University of Toronto, Peterson made a conscious decision to film his lectures with an intention to give them out to the public for free. His first YouTube video was published on March 30, 2013.
In 2004, a 13-part TV series based on Peterson’s book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief aired on TV Ontario, which was his first publicly held lecture. Four years later, he has also appeared on the network show Big Ideas, and as a frequent guest and essayist on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
Jordan Peterson dished out commentary on the various subjects including depression, personality traits and values, intelligence, religion, and other relevant topics.
KEY STRATEGY 1: Build the Treasure Vault
From Harvard years, professor Peterson recorded his lectures with a video camera. The same recording was happening later at the University of Toronto. His classes were popular since as a lecturer, Dr Peterson was very enigmatic and he had a lot of interesting things to say. His students and everyone else were able to access the material on his public YouTube channel. It all went relatively well until the Canadian government under prime minister Justin Trudeau introduced a new law – the bill C-16. This was the ignition spark needed to start the JBP hydrogen bomb. Jordan Peterson rebelled with a series of videos on YouTube titled “Professor against political correctness.”
Bill C-16 enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. The bill was instituted under Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau government on June 15th, 2017. One of the bill’s rules is mandatory use of transgender pronouns (zie, zher, hir, ay, per and others). Cases of repercussions breaking the law were already recorded.
“He resisted on the grounds that the bill risked curtailing free speech by compelling people to use alternative gender pronouns. He made YouTube videos about it. He went on news shows to protest it. He confronted protesters calling him a bigot. When the university asked him to stop talking about it, including sending two warning letters, he refused.” – Bari Weiss, Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web
By Dr. Peterson believes the Bill C-16 infringes the freedom of speech and replaces it with compelled speech. That’s a red flag since free speech represents a cornerstone of western civilization and is something he holds dear. In his video on YouTube, he expressed his stance against political correctness which Bill C-16 also implies.
By publicly stating and warning about the dangers of the bill’s legislation, he created a resistance among the students (and educational colleagues) of UofT who organized a rally titled: “U of T Rally for Free Speech”.
Dr. Peterson outside Univerity of Toronto addressing the crowd about the dangers of political correctness.
Some of the students responded with outcries, loud protests and disrupting chants. Sometimes these protests resulted in vandalism and often at least verbal insults.
This was the tipping point. In Dr. Peterson’s opinion, universities were already systematically changed into so-called postmodern institutions where professors are poisoning the minds of students with post -modernistic doctrines under the guise of ethnic studies and various social sciences.
To say that the event raised a lot of dust would be an understatement.
CBC News covered the incident in the night time news. This was just the beginning. The Rebel Media, a far-right online political and social commentary with Gavin McKinnes (at the time) and Lauren Southern grabbed the story and ran with it. Other bigger Canadian online and traditional media followed.
The news about this mad professor spread fast. Most of the viewers have heard negative statements about the professor who was using “hate speech” against transgender people. Sheer curiosity compelled viewers to check what was going on.
In a matter of few clicks on YouTube, the viewers of recorded protest found themselves on Peterson’s youtube channel with over 150 videos which offered more than 500 hours of content. These videos contain lectures about religion, mythology, personality, political ideas explained in easy to understand mythological stories, historical examples and even popular Disney cartoons.
One of the most occurring themes is “rescuing the father from the belly of the whale” which is taken from Disney’s representation of Carlo Collodi’s The Adventure of Pinocchio. To rescue Geppetto (Pinocchio’s father) and become a real boy, the wooden puppet must sacrifice himself, face the truth and grow up. He has to leave the pleasure island, face the reality and take action towards the highest purpose.
Jordan Peterson draws similar meaningful theories from Lion King, Ariel the Little Mermaid, the Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan. Apart from pop culture cartoons, Jordan tackled religious material from the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.
By explaining the ideas and psychological significance of mythological and religious stories applied to today’s meaning, he found a way to translate the importance of traditional virtues to the millennial audience. He expressed in the number of occasions that men are looking for a reason and responsibility. Deconstructing the most traditional reading material of values in a secular way would be a tough sell for a lot of authors, but he did it.
Key Takeaway #1: Front-load enough quality content to capture and captivate your audience.
The people who’ve first heard about Peterson either by word-of-mouth checked up what the hell was going on with this “activist of hate speech”. What they found instead was hours of valuable and actionable lectures which communicated a lot of sense. Once they saw the big picture and a stockpile of intellectual content on a level they could understand, they stayed to learn more.
KEY STRATEGY #2: Use the Influencers to Accelerate Your Message
The Audience Overlap Effect
Pareto’s law tells us that 20% of all sources is doing to bring 80% of results. In Dr. Peterson case that was YouTube channel with big influencers. And that makes a lot of sense. Peterson’s rhetoric, command of the English language, passionate performance, and bold appearance was perfect for video format. In the tech-savvy, entrepreneurial world, there’s an occurrence called Tim’s Ferriss’ effect. Tim Ferriss has been most known by the best-selling books 4-hour trilogy and his own podcast The Tim Ferriss Show.
Evergreen content that he produced to his target audience – mostly young men aged between 25 – 45 (which is the majority of Jordan’s audience) has attracted millions of followers and episode downloads. At one stage, Tim Ferris started to introduce sponsored messages at the start (and lately at the end) of every new podcast episode. The recommendations and messages were so successful that advertisers ran out of the stock day after, the promotional message went on air. One appearance on a podcast like that would go a long way for Dr. Peterson’s message.
In the podcast world, there’s a man even more successful and has been doing it for 9 years already – Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan has had one of the most successful podcasts years – the Joe Rogan Experiment. Started in 2009 by just having a conversion with his fellow colleagues in the stand-up comedy community, UFC and plethora of other subjects. His audience continues to grow. By some estimation, he gets over 30 millions of downloads per episode per month ( Rogan releases between 3 – 6 episodes per week!).
The first appearance on the show in November 2016 shot Dr. Peterson in the North American stratosphere. It stoked the fire the University of Toronto protest started. Joe Rogan’s audience was also perfect for Jordan Peterson – mostly young men interested in personal development, discipline, and critical thinking. The subscribers started mounting in. Jordan Peterson appeared three times more as a Joe Rogan’s guest each time getting a surge of new subscribers on his own channel. He also appeared on other podcasts with a huge audience with similar demographics but different interest.
Big podcast appearances:
The Joe Rogan Experience:(All four appearances are among the top 10 most viewed videos on JRE ) One of the world’s most popular podcasts, spawning a community of listeners around the globe.
Themes: Martial Arts, Comedy, Music, Health and Fitness, Misc
The H3 podcast: An Israeli-American comedy YouTube channel produced by husband and wife team Ethan and Hila Klein. The H3 Podcast channel features live-streams that were originally live on their Twitch.tv channel.
Themes: Author interviews, pop politics, broad ideas
This is a great example of audience overlap effect – marketing to an audience with the same general interests or sources but also stepping into other similar audiences. Andrew Rea from Binging with Babish is a master of this.
It’s important to state all those YouTube appearances have an audio proponent in a podcast form, where there’s at least as much downloads (how many times a podcast has been streamed fully) as there are YouTube views.
Each appearance provokes a spike in subscribers on Jordan Petersons YouTube account. The highest spike appeared in late January after The Channel 4 interview.
Key Takeaway #2: Use Influencer marketing to start the flywheel and use the overlapping method for maximum exposure.
KEY STRATEGY #3: Ride The Viral Wave
The Gotcha Moment
When fans of Rogan, Jocko and other spread the word about JBP the professor enjoyed more and more support. By being active on Twitter those numbers skyrocketed as well. JBP’s audience, as well as the show-hosts Jordan appeared on, use the Twitter channel as well.
These podcast/YouTube appearances were quite rapid, especially by the end of 2017 when he announced the upcoming book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. No doubt, the publishers pushed him to have university tours and podcast/youtube appearances to get as much media coverage as possible. They got more than they could wish for – another viral moment. And this one was even more powerful than Bill C-16 and Joe Rogan combined. In January 2018, Jordan Peterson gets invited to the interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4.
The interview covered topics such as gender equality, including the gender pay gap, freedom of speech, and transgender rights. However, Cathy Newman tried to strongarm and confuse Dr. Peterson by jumping to conclusions. Jordan stayed calm and collected and defended his stance with poise. At one point of the interview, Jordan retaliates and presses the host about the way the interview is progressing. Cathy Newman tries to respond but at one point reels in thought and fails to come back with another attack. At that moment Jordan says “Gotcha!” which came out as a minor victory and proof of the interviewers malicious intent.
Similar to Bill C-16 and transgender protesters, Cathy Newman couldn’t prepare an objective and clear argument to overthrow professors value. By attacking and putting Dr. Peterson to defend the pay gap problem, gender inequality, she tried to corner him to make a mistake. Unfortunately to her, Dr. Peterson was prepared and the strategy backfired tremendously.
Notice the giant spike of interest in January 2018.
Post-Cathy Newman Effect
There was a clear moral winner. Channel 4 News had the audacity to publish and leave the YouTube video on their channel. It went viral in hours (it was #7 trending video on YouTube the next day). In two days the clip received over 3 million views. At the moment it stands close to 10-million mark.
The incident has been covered in big media outlets. In a couple of days, Jordan was the main topic in The Guardian, NYTimes, Chronicle and many others. In most cases, those articles were reprehensible against Jordan Peterson. But the community of supporters gathered around Dr. Peterson and defended his stance in comments in articles, YouTube comments, and video testimonials. As you can read from the graph, Cathy Newman event drove the biggest spike in subscribers and caused all sorts of avalanches in media.
Post Cathy Newman interview response on YouTube. Source: Rebel Wisdom
We need to talk about Virality
A common misconception is that virality start by systematical sharing of lower-influencers (a bottom-up approach). Some of the people on their social circle share it forward to their own social circles. And those people share it forward again, thus causing a snowball effect (just like MLM schemes). That’s how the article gets spread forward creating a viral effect. Right? Think again sunshine! Research by Pulsarplatform proved there is no such thing as the snowball effect.
The virality isn’t caused accruing more and more shares but the opposite – Viral content spreads in a decay.
“Content only goes viral if exposed to a super huge audience” – Tim Soulo, Ahrefs
Someone who already has the huge followers has to start the process so the thousands of his followers continue the “sharestorm”.
And this is exactly what happened with first appearances of Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan Experience but even more so after Cathy Newman incident. Dozens of YouTube influencers with significant subscribers base responded with the commentary of the interview and their followers shared it further.
“My book went yo to number 2 on Amazon.com in the US the next day. It’s number 1 in Canada and number 3 in the UK, I couldn’t have ask for more publicity” – Jordan Peterson on Geenstijl Interview
Taking into the consideration of comments and likes, the support ratio between comments for Dr. Peterson and the ones against was approximately 80 to 1 – Overwhelmingly positive towards Dr. Peterson. With that much support, Jordan became one of those huge influencers in a few days. This introduced him to an even wider audience, who upon checking who Dr. Jordan Peterson is, found the same storage of saved lectures and live speaking engagements recorded on Dr. Peterson personal YouTube account. He couldn’t ask for more publicity.
Key Takeaway #3:
Ride the viral wave by understanding how it works. During the ascent on the media ladder, new opportunities are going to appear. Pick and choose the ones that will have the biggest effect. A big influencer is required to share your content first.
YouTube is one of the best channels to channels to go viral. It is replacing television (or has already done it) and the majority of audience fits right into the target persona who is susceptible to the message Jordan provides (18 – 35 years and male).
Social Media channels of jordanbpeterson.com website. Source: SimilarWeb
That wasn’t even the biggest driver. The internet culture awakens and posted or reposted the clips of the interviews in various forms – from educational short bits to internet memes, mockups. It spurred other YouTube creators who wanted a piece of the viewership on their own channels.
One video from Derrick Blackman got 750k views overnight.
His book, which just came out, jumped on the Amazon Book bestseller list overnight:
With increasing drama in the media world, Peterson supporters started forming communities. Subreddit (r/JordanPeterson) started growing rapidly with the community sharing the latest news in the media. Joakim Andrew, a YouTube artist who records his own transformation following the advice of Jordan Peterson at Sorting Myself Out, opened a Facebook group for finding accountability to well, sort themselves out:
The wave overflowed into completely other areas as well – for example, lo-fi mixtapes with Jordan Peterson soundbites.
KEY STRATEGY #4: Take On the Responsibility for Bigger Roles
Reinvigorating the political scene and starring in founder communities
Conservatism among the millennials (along with religion) is as close to their hearts as arranged marriages, 9-5 jobs, and diner-quality coffee. Selling conservatism to young people would be a tough bargain.
Jordan’s theory on millennials is that they became weak due to victimization and self-entitlement. He repeatedly said that young people want to change the world, but instead they are trying to change the people.
In one of his most powerful speeches, he addresses arguments on how to bring the traditional values.
Red-pilling the young population who are well-versed in sharing and repurposing new ideas has made another wildfire effect.
The Red Pill – a metaphor representing the choice between knowledge, freedom, and the brutal truths of reality (red pill) or security, happiness and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue pill). Originates from the movie Matrix
In the Founders’ Circle of the Dark Web Intellectuals
At the same time when Jordan Peterson was getting traction, other prominent individuals who engaged in controversial topics make the views. Ben Shapiro, a religious conservative commentator has been getting millions of views and downloads using the same strategy of the overlapping audience. Sam Harris, ironically a critic of religion and concerns himself on spirituality, morality, and neuroscience. Eric Weinstein, an economist and managing director of Thiel Capital, who coined the term Intellectual Dark Web by defending his brother Bret’s’ resignation at Evergreen State College.
Bret Weinstein, a professor of evolutionary biology objected to the Day of Absence — when white students and faculty were asked to voluntarily leave the campus. Bret branded the situation as a form of racial segregation. A group of student protestors called him a racist. Almost everyone ended up on Dave Rubin’s and Joe Rogan’s podcast, where the exposure reached new heights. The internet community started connecting the free thinkers. The I.D.W. became some sort of a club of, as Bari Weiss mentions:
a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.
During the ascent on the media ladder, new opportunities are going to appear. Pick and choose the ones that will have the biggest effect.
KEY STRATEGY #5: Meet the Demands and Monetize
With that amount of traffic and followers also comes a hefty sum of money. With the power of the Internet, those channels are recurring. Dr. Peterson did his homework with years of recorded lectures and still creates new content. While he is not necessarily doing his job because of the money, the opportunities are nevertheless connected with higher revenue. The bigger the platform the more “moolah” is there in the play. And money gives you more options later on.
The protests against Dr. Peterson reflected into even more supporters:
“I’ve figured out how to monetize social justice warriors. I’m driving the social justice activists in Canada mad because, if they let me speak, then I get to speak. And then more people support me on Patreon. It’s like, “god damn capitalist, he’s making more money off of this ideological warfare. Let’s go protest him.” So they protest me. And that goes up on YouTube. And my Patreon account goes WAY up.“ — Jordan B Peterson
With the release of his book, he is focused on speaking tours promoting it. The YouTube had to take a side role while he is still active on Twitter.
Donation-Based Subscription Platform
Patreon — a membership platform for creators to run a subscription content service. Jordan Peterson account has been on the Top 10 list for the last 8 months. With 9400 members Jordan is coming closer to the barrier of 10k subscribers. The Patreon supporters are paying between $5 to $200 per month. In the pessimistic evaluation, he is earning around $70k/m but it as probably over $100k.
Book 1 — Maps Of Meaning (1999) – Currently best-seller in Behavioural Psychology, priced between $35 – $135 per copy. Amazon US estimates 500 copies being sold in April (a 235% increase from March).
Book 2 — 12 Rules for Life (2018) – Just broke the 1 million sold copies at the end of April 2018.
These online courses have been promoted on podcasts with Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink, Dave Rubin and H3 reaching millions of listeners. It was also raved about on CBC Radio, in O: The Oprah Magazine (and online) and on NPR’s national website.
Self-Authoring Program – the online digital product where users take self-paced writing assignments to analyze their life and set goals for the future.
These programs are still on and accessible. (If you’re interested the coupon code “willink” still works.)
4. Speaking Fees
All those traveling and speaking has to be compensated as well. At the start, Dr. Peterson accepted relatively small donations – around $3000. He mentioned it in a podcast. One Reddit source claims the current speaking fees are between $35k – $50k excluding the travel and accommodation costs.
Speaking fees: $10,000 – $50,000
A source for speaking fee pricing on /r/JordanPeterson subreddit
His racking up the events (which are normally sold out fast) as we speak. Take a look at his schedule on his events page.
The recently redesigned website estimates more than 1.5M visits in the last month. Mostly these are coming from YouTube and Twitter sources – the marketing channels Jordan has been using most efficiently.
The structure of the website is simple – navigation bar with links to products, events, contacts. Above the first fold you can quickly link to his programs and channels JP is most active on. Aside from signing up to his newsletter, there’s not much going on.
Key Takeaway #5:
Once you have a mass of audience, find the marketing channels you can monetize from. Build multiple sources from books, digital products, and even donation-powered revenue stream.
Key Strategy #6: Consistency and Personal Branding
1. Superb work capacity: JP did the front work – years lecturers and content recorded and offered for free convinced a majority of first-time viewers into people who were willing to give him a chance.
2. The timing: In a time where’s a lot of tension, the topics on equality, social justice and political, cultural commentary have a high chance to struck big. JBP launched into the ether with Bill C-16 commentary, but he also managed to stay relevant with appearing on large podcasts, commenting on Lindsay Shepherds, James Damore incident or latest mass shootings
3. Broad subjects and connection with the audiences From biblical old testament stories to gender pronouns, depression and general advice for living with meaning, the message struck a chord with most audiences. Evey podcast he appeared on pulled more diverse audiences. The milestones brought him TV appearance on Fox News and Real Time with Bill Maher.
4. Building the personal brand Just like a master marketer, Jordan Peterson researched who his audience is. When he appeared on the h3h3 podcast, the host Ethan Klein offered him a vape, which he took it. His lectures are dynamic with a lot of hand movements and sometimes passionate stresses on the certain subject. The examples he uses already made it into the internet community as memes: the lobster, cleaning up the room, slaying the dragon etc…
Promoting the Self-Authoring program before the bill C-16 event.
He’s also doesn’t take himself too seriously and finds a way to connect with even more obscure internet communities. In return communities spread even more word of mouth and internet equivalent (memes, posts, and links to professor’s material) which reaches even more members of those communities.
5. Consistency with the message and unique delivery The realization he is being viewed by millions, adapting to the communities while having a consistent message isn’t easy. Jordan handled the pressure and attention remarkably well. The supporters noticed physical transformation (like a proper lobster standing up straight with his shoulders back) From early perplexed beginnings with a physical transformation to an upstanding proud lobster. Whether the strategy was intentional or not, Jordan has emerged through the front ranks and probably the most known psychologist in his field.
The message and timing have hit the perfect storm and the message and readiness for the confused young men took it as passionately as a downpour rain on the desert floor.
Over the last couple of years, Dr. Peterson maintained composure and fend off attacks and accusations. While it must be incredibly difficult to handle that much stress it seems like he improves the more you throw at him.
Just as Nicholas Taleb in the book Antifragile, Jordan only gains from disorder.
“Cut off one head, and two will take place.”
Key Takeaway #6:
Be loyal to your mission and brand. The community and fans you have built around you trust you/your company for a reason. Stay in their service.