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Marketing Lessons from Kaws

Marketing Lessons Kaws is about when excitement took over last Sunday. For years I’ve wanted a Kaws X eye figurine. I’ve tried multiple times without success. Kaws, the artist’s real name is Brian Donnelly, began as a graffiti artist. Today his sculptures and art are coveted around the world. Excitement mounted on Sunday because I had a Kaws Companion Blush (Open Edition) in my cart. I’d never got that far before.

Usually, by the time I notice a new figurine “SOLD OUT” was posted days before my arrival. Last Sunday, as I was buying the doll, stock status moved from “have some” to “have none.” Frustrated once again I thought of the experience regarding digital marketing. What lessons could other online merchants learn from Kaws? Here are the five digital marketing tips every digital retailer should steal.

  • Products beat website
  • Brands beat products
  • Create Limited Editions
  • Develop a community and a tribe
  • SEO doesn’t matter if you do the four tips above insanely well

Kaws Marketing Lessons – Products Beat Websites

Kawsone.com isn’t a good e-commerce website. Being able to put a product in my cart while stock change is moving to “sold out” is frustrating, maddening, and signs Kaws’ backend isn’t great. There is no content. No “About Us” page to help create context. There is a picture or pictures of Kaws figurines and a page of terms and a few “where’s my order” based Frequently Asked Questions.

Kawsone.com is an example of the bare minimum needed for a successful e-commerce website. The site isn’t successful because of its design, content or backend. Kawsone.com works ONLY because Brian Donnelly is a brilliant artist and marketer. Demand for Brain’s art so exceeds supply all he needs is a barely functional website. Spending MORE would only increase his problem – he already sells more Kaws figurines than he can make.

A better website only produces more frustration after what happened on Sunday. By keeping his Kawsone.com site bare bones, Brian earns some license. When my cart doesn’t work after starting to check out, I forgive, chalk up the experience to “I should have been faster,” and try again. If the Kawsone.com site were more sophisticated patience with what happened on Sunday would give way to frustration.

Frustrating buyers can work for an online retailer as Brian proves, but frustration from an overly sophisticated or well-designed site would boil over into a rant instead of a qualified rave. Walking the fine line between failure and increased demand is tricky. Helps to have a much-coveted and seemingly “rare” product before walking on the thin wire between customer frustration and growing demand.

Kaws Marketing Lessons – Brand Beats Products

Products are more important than websites and brands and branding is the most important things on your marketing mountain. Kaws is careful. Kaws is consistent and recognizable. He doesn’t flood the market.

Instead, Kaws picks and chooses his retail and artistic partners. Savvy about public sculpture, Brian looks to place heroic Kaws figures in cities who love art, artists, and are thriving financially. Doubtful you’ll see a Kaws sculpture in Greenville, Kentucky where my mother lived until recently. Coal is dead or dying. There isn’t enough of a “Kaws” community to support placing a sculpture in rural Kentucky.

Berlin, New York, and LA are different and perfect homes for a Kaws sculpture.

Kaws Marketing Lessons – Create Limited Editions

As we shared in our Warby Parker post, limited editions work online. Limited editions carry an implied deadline – they are “limited” and will be gone soon. Unlimited supply makes people wary. They don’t want to buy something today when they think they can get a better deal tomorrow. Limited editions help buyers feel special while providing “buy now” motivations.

The importance Kaws lesson is – even the “usual” stuff can feel unique when limited by supply, time or money. Kaws figurines are reasonably priced. At $200 per doll, they sell out fast. They sell out so quickly Brain could raise his prices. Pricing is tricky.

Raising prices could slow demand and the value “limited edition and going fast” creates. Raising prices would also change Kaws audience.  Broad support means his t-shirts and other products produced with a group of licensees sell well too. Limit support to richy-rich collectors and the Kaws brand has less power, ability to make markets, and stay in touch with buyers Brain’s age (i.e. millennials).

Kaws Marketing Lessons – Develop A Community and Tribe

In our social media always on Internet days branding is the most important marketing you do, and you don’t do most of it. Most branding comes from your tribe of supporters. Kaws figurines sell to advocates. Brian keeps his market SMALL and in so doing assures word-of-mouth and digital support (like this post).

When your products are great, your branding consistent and recognizable your website can suck and your community may develop with little or no support or costs from you. We debate if inspiring others to create a community for you is better than paying thousands in web design and content marketing. Brian spends money on fabricating his figurines, controlling his market, and finding significant licensees.

We don’t know if Brian planned to keep costs to a minimum as he empowers others to build on his art, but planned or not his example is something you should learn from and steal if possible. Many startups discuss “minimal viable products, we” and Brian’s figurines provide perfect MVP examples. Why spend $10,000 or more on a fully functional website when doing so will only increase frustration with your inability to supply?

Brian’s Kaws brand understands what is willing and not willing to do. It lives by a consistent code. Product quality must be extraordinary since I’ve never read anything other than glowing reviews. Keep in; we are talking about an 11 x 5 x 3 plastic doll – an artist G. I. Joe. Those who get it get it. Those who don’t? Brian does not spend a lot of time fretting over what those outside his tribe think, feel or rant. Brian and Kaws are about the care and feeding of their tribe.

Kaws Marketing Lessons – Branding Beasts SEO Too

Here is Kawsone.com’s title, <title>KAWSONE</title>. Nothing about Brian, art or “companions.” Oprah doesn’t worry about search engine optimization (SEO) either and for many of the same reasons. When your brand creates tribes, Google needs you more than you need them. Brain’s bare-bones, hardly functional e-commerce website, his new mailing list, and his non-existent content don’t matter.

Nothing matters more than the creation of a group, however large, who love your brands, products, and website enough to share with others and support with money. If, like Brian, you’re smart enough to create something so loved NOTHING ELSE matters including SEO, content, and web functionality. Create the love, and your audience will find you, bookmark your barely functional website, be disappointed when they couldn’t buy your latest figurine even though it seemed like they could, and continue to love your work, art, and ideas.

Google had done NOTHING to help Brian. Google can’t help Kaws and Brian could care less. Brian doesn’t need Google’s help. Google needs Kaws, and it knows it. Kawsone.com is #1 for the search “Kaws.” Kawsone.com is only #8 on Google for the search “Kaws figurine, ” and we bet Brian doesn’t care about that either. When you sell all you create and what you sell is self-reinforcing, SEO doesn’t matter.

Brain’s art proves an old adage – better to make the rules than to learn them.

Kaws Marketing Lessons Kaws figurine from Kawsone image

 

Resources & Links

Upcoming Kaws Air Jordans
https://hypebeast.com/2017/3/air-jordan-kaws-behind-the-scenes-brian-donnelly-interview

Seated Companion goes for more than $400,000
https://hypebeast.com/2017/5/kaws-seated-companion-sold-400-thousand-usd-auction

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