7 Marketing Lessons from ‘Drop Culture’ – Hyping Ultra-Limited Products

The fashion business used to run like clockwork, with seasonal product releases scheduled for spring, summer, fall, and winter. But in a digitally disrupted marketplace, that is no longer what fashion consumers want.

Have you noticed? Luxury fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Alexander Wang are taking a page from streetwear and adopting the “drop model” – releasing exclusive products in limited numbers, with little to zero warning, at hand-picked retail locations. Celebrated by an eager fan community, these hyped products are sought-after holy grails, commanding ludicrous price points, with excitement fueled by fashion insiders.

Case in point: fashion brand Burberry recently dropped white unisex T-shirts sold for $372(!) per piece exclusively on its owned social media platforms. Sneakers in the Adidas Yeezy line, endorsed by rapper/provocateur Kanye West, retail at around $200 but easily score four-figure amounts in the resale market – estimated to reach $41 billion per year in the U.S. by 2022. And it’s not just fashion; let’s not forget every single new Apple iPhone causing customer stampedes upon release.

Inside the Art of the Drop

It’s the Age of the Drop and we all live in it. From a marketing perspective, these hyped products are a masterclass in surrounding consumer goods with rich perceived value; and a masterclass in standing out in an endless flow of information with premium offers and generating demand and self-propagating attention via powerful storytelling.

On the shiny surface, hype is elusive and magical; like 2015’s Yeezy ‘Turtledove’ sneaker, a true unicorn in the sneaker game. But some elements behind the scenes can be broken down into a rational formula for marketers to learn from. Here are our “Seven Marketing Lessons from Hyped Products”:

  1. Limited Availability
    Most hype products are limited to low numbers; for example, 100 pairs of sneakers. That limitation is part of the storytelling and allure, most of all by building an aura of scarcity. Further escalating the “gotta-have-it” impulse among fans to score, rare drops are available for limited time spans (see #4) and only in select locations. Some are for VIPs and invited members only (#sorrynotsorry).

    Marketing Lesson: Sometimes less is more. All brands are trying to garner attention in an information overload-world, but less and better-quality communications can stand out. Instead of allocating budgets to a steady drizzle of social media chatter, go for a big splash – perhaps even to a members-only audience (see #3).

  2. Channel Management
    Behind the scenes, hype products require diligent channel management. On one level, Adidas is a global sportswear company that sells tons of products to tons of consumers. But for the ultra-limited Yeezy sneakers line – some reselling for $20,000 per pair – the availability is narrowed by targeting only select retailers and premium sales channels. Crossing the channel line between online hype and in real life (IRL) excitement, product drops also generate massive queues in the streets.

    Marketing Lesson: Some channels in the marketing arsenal are more premium than others. For instance, look no further than SMS: text messages are read 90 seconds after being received. Use this as a premium channel that delivers outstanding engagement. But use it wisely and make sure your stories are quality (see #5) and read our guide on real-time marketing.

  3. Exclusive Access

    The hottest drops are limited to members-only events or digital memberships. These can be privileges that pay dividends, especially in light of the resale value generated by certain drops (think $20,000 sneakers). Staying in the know about new product drops also creates a sense of community among followers. They become initiates, feeling closer connected to ‘their’ brands. Millennial consumers are all over the recently launched NTWRK, an app that combines 15-minute video broadcasts of super-rare products with an online opportunity to score a purchase (for members, of course).

    Marketing Lesson: Everyone wants to be part of an exclusive club. Brands can tie exclusive content or products to club membership. Or they can use their member programs as an opportunity to serve a limited audience – and capture personal data upon sign-up, to boost their opt-ins in a post-GDPR world (also read our guide on how to revive contact lists after GDPR-Armageddon).

  4. Time-Sensitive Opportunities
    Once a limited ‘drop’ becomes available, time is of the essence. Coveted releases sell out within minutes online, and some buyers even employ bots to score a sale for them (the digital equivalent of paying someone to wait in line at a physical store). Burberry sells its $372 tees in 24-hour flash sales on its own shopping holiday, every 17th of the month (joining the likes of Alibaba and Amazon with their Singles Day and Prime Day events). Puffy jacket mavens Moncler have stopped participating in fashion week runway shows to focus on monthly drops with heavyweight designers (see #5). Blink, and you may have missed it.

    Marketing Lesson: Timeliness creates a sense of urgency and relevancy. Marketers can employ real-time elements such as dynamic countdown clocks and other dynamic content in emails and websites to create hype. Everyone can create a discount coupon, but how about an unbeatable coupon only good for one day or half a day?

  5. The Power of Collaborations
    When hyped brands and trending designers join forces, it’s adding strength to strength. IKEA teamed up with design wunderkind Virgil Abloh to create limited home decor and furniture pieces that are bound to sell out within minutes (see #4). And earlier this year, the ‘collab’ luggage collection by SUPREME x Rimowa – starting at $1600 – sold out in 16 seconds! The synergy not only boosts price points, but also online reach: according to Launchmetrics, communications of the SUPREME x Rimowa drop in social media were four-times more effective than regular Rimowa posts.

    Marketing Lesson: Working with brands that suit your DNA can create powerful marketing moments that draw massive attention. But there is a catch: make sure a collab feels natural and not forced. Also, don’t engage in limited/scarcity tactics if it’s not your brand position.

  6. Make Them Earn It
    In an age when luxury is all too easily attainable with the right amount of money, products become more valuable if fans have to earn them. Those consumers who manage to get ahold of rare products can boast their ‘haul’ on social media – which nets them instant status upgrades and ‘props’ from their peers. In 2017, US streetwear brand Anti Social Social Club (ASSC) partnered with product release app Frenzy to send fans on a geolocation-enhanced treasure hunt around Los Angeles. Only the savviest fans were cleared to buy the coveted products – and the sense of accomplishment was tangible.​

    Marketing Lesson: Gamification is a good tool in this context; for instance, by running a quiz to let fans score perks by proving their brand knowledge. Several brands have also gamified their rewards programs: only members with a specific points balance or seniority status get access to certain initiatives – because they have #earnedit.

  7. Rinse and Repeat
    After the drop is before the next drop. Brands are always working on follow-ups, while learning more about what their audiences want. By connecting their social media and owned digital properties, brands can harness valuable data points around how fans engage with drop-related communications. So even when a coveted item has sold out, they know exactly what to feed an eager audience with the next drop.

    Marketing Lesson: Staying on top of the hype game and serving on-demand initiatives requires up-to-date insights. Marketers need to always make sure to gather consumer data at every turn, and manage that data in central repositories that are updated in real time; for instance, the Universal Consumer Profiles that inform every marketing initiative on the Marigold Engage platform. And now that the phenomenon is at an all-time high, marketers also need to watch carefully whether drop culture will endure and how consumer expectations are changing – and adapt accordingly.

Inspired by product marketing that has fans screaming, “Take my money!”? Make sure to also read our blog post: How to Kick It: 5 Digital Marketing Lessons from the Sneakers Industry.