I was gushing about some yarn in my usual way the other day, and the person I was talking to remarked “Ah, the need of want!”. It’s a great phrase isn’t it? I want, and therefore I need. I had a bit of a giggle as it struck a chord in my marketing brain.
This has been a topic of interest to me lately. What makes a knitter want/need to buy a certain yarn brand over another? What creates the need of want, or desire, for your yarn? What makes a knitter, with an ordinarily sensible brain, forget her reason, and buy yet more yarn when she already has an overflowing cupboard of the stuff at home? (That’s another subject of conversation, but we’ll mention it here because it’s all part of yarn’s appeal).
At the very essence of ‘need’ is the fact that the knitter has seen your yarn. Something about it has captured his/her imagination and driven the desire to acquire. Given I’m so interested in broadening general awareness of New Zealand yarns, it made me consider what it would take for a yarn company here to succeed in a world of so much choice. So I thought I’d do a semi-professional post today.
My career to date has been in marketing, although I specialised in professional services marketing. My recent journeys in the knitting world have definitely helped to expand my scope of understanding when it comes to marketing in a knitting environment. So here are a few general strategic thoughts for a yarn company seeking to raise its profile. They are by no means comprehensive, and I don’t hold myself out to be ‘expert’ in this industry, nor is this post about how to sell, which is a related discipline, but not the same as raising profile and brand awareness.
A marketing plan will aid your success in driving the need to acquire. This is a plan of action that supports your business plan. The marketing plan sets out how you are going to accomplish the goals you’ve set for your business. It gives you a sense of direction and a framework for action. It will usually encompass:
- Your statement of intent (setting out what it is that you want to market, as well as the goals you hope to achieve)
- A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
- An analysis of your consumer – what their drivers are, what will make them come to you
- A reasoning for the strategy you’re about to embark on
- Your strategy – how you’re going to protect your brand, raise the profile of your product, provide access points for the consumer and support for your distributors
For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to skip straight to the fun bit – the strategy.
It’s very important to know what your brand is. It sets the ‘tone’ for your marketing efforts.
Your brand is the image that comes to mind when a consumer thinks of its name. For example, Malabrigo. Malabrigo, arguably the most coveted and popular hand-dyed yarn in the world instantly conveys “out of this world colour”, “merino softness”, “beauty”, “Lust” and even “Cult-status”.
Saying it another way, your brand essentially describes your product, business and philosophy in a way that doesn’t need words. So by knowing what effect you’re having on the knitter when they see or hear about your yarn, you’ll have a better idea of how else to sell it and where you need to have it seen.
Once you’ve worked out what your brand is, test your marketing strategy against it to ensure it’s reinforcing your brand. Looking at Malabrigo again, if you view their website, all you see is the yarns (oh the yarns!), some patterns, where you can buy the yarn, and a blog that also serves as their news vehicle. Going deeper, you can register for newsletters and the ability to engage in a user forum. It’s pure and simple. It’s all about showcasing the gorgeous product and engaging the knitter. They don’t even have a ‘who we are’ section.
Although I’m not going to address this exact point in much more detail, your brand is probably one of the most important points in successfully placing your yarn in a local yarn store (LYS). If people know your brand, and start demanding it at the LYS, the store owner will sooner or later come looking for you to stock it, even if you don’t approach them first.
Connecting with your market – engaging their loyalty
To create loyal devotees of your brand, it’s important to have some form of engagement with the knitter. How do you do this?
The most obvious place to start is to look at your findings on why the knitter comes to you in the first place. It’s usually the fact that you have a yarn that has somehow captivated the knitter’s imagination. In this instance, let’s say it’s the colour:
If it’s the colour, then you must make sure people can see the colours. (Again, Malabrigo is a case in point here).
The obvious way to get attention is advertising. Traditional advertising serves a purpose. It’s expensive. And as you will know, you need to do more than that.
Giving people the ability to interact with you and feel somehow engaged with you, is vitally important. Which methods you choose to do will depend on your budget and who your market is. There are so many more ways than the ones I’ve suggested below, but I risk boring you to tears and this post becoming unbearably long, so I’ve just kept to a few:
- Display your product at the major yarn industry events, such as TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association)
- Support or sponsor a knitting event where your ‘type’ of knitter will be. Obvious example – if you are a sock yarn producer, sponsoring a sock summit.
- Find ways to communicate with your fans, such as having Ravelry group for your product, or write a blog. Today’s knitters really do want to get to know you. Don’t be shy!
- Make the effort to meet knitters, either at a LYS that stocks your yarn, or through craft or knitting events.
- Create a mechanism that keeps knitters coming back for more. One way sock yarn producers have done this to good effect is by creating a sock club – knitters commit to receiving one hank of exclusive colourway yarn at regular intervals during a specified time period. The best producers create yarn that has knitters camping outside the letter box, eagerly awaiting their next instalment of surprise yarn. Why not also go a step further, and provide a gorgeous free pattern and have a KAL (knit-a-long) as well, using your Ravelry group to host the KAL?
- Run a competition. Shepherd Yarns does a clever thing by periodically offering prizes to selected knitters who send in a picture of their projects using their yarn.
- Teach the knitter something. The red-hot Vintage Purls does this to good effect by making the commitment to teach sock knitting. Not only does Morag produce sock yarn that is so needed that it sells out the moment it’s loaded on to her website (every Monday), but she keeps that demand up by teaching the skill of sock knitting at workshops, thereby creating yet more sock knitting addicts. She also has a sock club. Brilliant!
- Support a worthy cause that aligns to your product. For example, Woolyarns, the manufacturer of Zealana, supports Zealandia, a sanctuary set up to provide a pest-free environment that gives native New Zealand wildlife a chance to thrive. This aligns with their use of possum fur to help support the eradication of this pest in New Zealand.
- Tell your story. This will also allow people to see the human element to you and your product. Green Mountain Spinnery uses this to good effect.
- Seek independent media coverage. This is probably one of the most powerful tools you can hope to attract, and is effectively the same as Word of Mouth marketing, which scores very highly in the authenticity stakes. For example: A review of your yarn by a magazine or Clara Parkes’ Knitter’s Review; a prominent blogger talking about your yarn (I’m pretty sure every time The Yarn Harlot talks about using a particular yarn, the sales of that yarn go through the roof).
- Provide pattern support. Sadly, the majority of knitters will not buy a yarn unless they have a pattern that tells them how to use it. Large yarn companies like Lion Brand and Drops use this to very good effect – they make a business of providing free patterns, which then drives sales and profile of their yarn.
I have heard quite a few stories of how a yarn took off after it was used in the design of a very popular pattern. Magazines get inundated with submissions every day, so it is not easy for a designer’s work in your yarn to be selected. But make friends with designers who are keen to be published, encourage them to use your yarn, and you never know what might happen. Many of them also self-publish.
There are many other ways, especially ones that utilise current technology, such as tweeting, having a facebook group, creating clever interactive components on your website that people can play with… In my (probably old-fashioned) opinion, these add-ons are nice to have, but not necessary. In that sense, I love the purity of Malabrigo’s branding around their yarn – there are no gimmicks to get in the way. They have a blog, and they run a forum for registered members on their website. They highlight designers who use their yarn. Everything they do in the way of communication is about the yarn or use of the yarn by knitters. It’s the fans that create the rest of the noise around their brand, which is great!
Here Ravelry serves another important purpose: Members or designers highlighting your yarn in a stunning project he/she loads (which then captures the imagination of thousands).
Ensure people know how to find you and come looking for you
So now you have this fabulous brand of yarn, how do you make sure people know how to find it? Suggestions:
- Your website should list all the places that sell your yarn.
- Advertise in strategic places.
- Search engine optimise your website, tag it correctly, and advertise its presence. Similarly for your blog.
- Choose appropriate craft markets and knitting events that allow you to sell your yarn.
- If you are selling your yarn through a yarn store, consider how you could help that store to sell more of your yarn than that of a competitor. Some people still do not access the Internet, nor do they buy many magazines or books. Their only exposure to knitting yarn is at the LYS. Provide training notes for the staff that describe the benefits and qualities of that yarn. Offer sample sizes of new yarn to staff to “play” with, so that they can talk authoritatively about how it knits up. Give the yarn store a few free patterns that they can use to highlight the yarn in their own marketing initiatives.
A little word of advice
1. Listen carefully to customers and really hear what they have to say. This can make the difference between good sales and fantastic sales. It’s crucial to understand why the knitter comes to you. Each knitter is different in the way he/she approaches a yarn. The reason that makes a person buy a yarn can be different each time. One time, it might be the stunning colours. Another time, the price. Or the fibre that the yarn comes from. Or the texture. Or the yarn weight. Or because it’s a souvenir. The list is long. But the information is extremely important to you and will help shape the strategy mentioned above.
2. There are currently approximately 600,000 knitters on Ravelry. I read recently that it is estimated that one in three Canadian women knits (or knows how to knit). The statistic is probably slightly lower in other countries. But even so, that’s an awful lot of people who are not on Ravelry.
Ravelry is an excellent place to advertise your yarns, and particularly with very keen knitters, but do not view it as your only source of advertising. It reaches a certain kind of very enthusiastic knitter, but not all your market.
Last but not least, quality will outweigh anything you do on a ‘message’ front. If your product is not up to scratch, any amount of clever marketing will not make up for the one point that sits at the heart of your success – a brilliant product.
Hope this has been helpful.
The “legal language”: Please bear in mind that this is a personal blog post. It doesn’t substitute for professional advice. Nor do I ‘advise’ any of the yarn companies I note above.