The Rules & Elements of “The Drop”

If you’ve ever watched the cartoon series Looney Tunes as a kid, you might remember Wile E. Coyote, the dessert scavenger whose purpose in life was to capture and eat The Road Runner (beep! beep!). Every cartoon segment focused on an elaborate scheme created by Wile E. to trap his prey – but always to disastrous effect. No matter how conniving the Coyote tried to be, he was outwitted and out sped by his perpetually perky target. The grand finale usually involved a fall off a cliff or an anvil landing on his head.

This, for me, is the perfect metaphor to describe what is happening in the retail market. Brands try to invent new promotions, formats, and schemes to engage younger consumers, yet never quite manage to capture them as an audience.

We know that Millennial and Generation Z consumers are not as loyal to brands as their older counterparts, but simply accepting this fact and adding a social component to your marketing campaign is not a solution. Brands and retailers might rejig their strategies by teaching the old dog new tricks, but it’s not going to build a brand with an audience who is interested in cats.

One sales method that I have found interesting this year is “The Drop”; a word once used to reference the release of an album, until Beyoncé turned things on its head with her surprise self-titled visual album in 2013. Different forms of “The Drop” have been around since the 90s, but its revival is strongly attributed to the growth in social networking.

A recent article in the New York Times describes “The Drop” as when “a seller controls the release of exclusive new items outside the traditional fashion cycle, cleverly marketing the impending arrival of the product to build demand.” The brand in which the author of that article was referring is the Kylie Lip Kit, launched by the Kardashian sister Kylie Jenner. A mediocre product with a fantastic marketing strategy.

“The Drop” vs. The Traditional Product Launch

The strategy used with “The Drop” is in many ways contradictory to the launch approach we see in marketing and PR.

Traditionally, people come to us with a product and launch intent. Momentum is generated, the product is released, an audience engaged. However, with “The Drop,” the audience precedes product, products are limited and sold at speed, and anticipation is more important than post promotion. The aim is to be in demand, sell out fast, and deal with pushback later – often in the form of a new and improved product. The cycle starts again.

In some sense, this is totally in line with the premise that a product will be successful if it meets a need in the market. This works if you are selling lipsticks or flogging consulting services. There has to be an audience of potential customers. In the traditional launch model, we sell to the audience once the product is available. With “The Drop,” the community has already been engaged and cultivated, even without a product.

Is “The Drop” for Everyone?

Does this marketing strategy work in every business scenario? No. “The Drop” resonates if you are building and maintaining a social following, and your customers are below 30 years of age. But this does not mean that “The Drop” has nothing to teach the rest of us. Its tactics are totally applicable to anyone who cares about generating transactions (note that I did not use the word “creating buzz” or “success”).

The most important lesson is that the traditional model isn’t made for the digital age we now inhabit. It is still hanging in there, but social commerce is becoming more prevalent across age groups, e-commerce is flowing on to brick-and-mortar, and consumers are on to the next new thing like lightning.

I’ve put together some rules that make “The Drop” work (you can download it here) but in brief, three useful lessons from “The Drop” are:

  • Social is your biggest asset: Put the audience before the brand. Brands spend too much money on product and not enough money on community. Start building the community the moment you have an idea. Sell product later.
  • Sell small and sell fast: Vanity Fair reported that Kylie Lip Kits take six weeks to develop. Like Snapchat and Instagram and any other social medium dominating our lives today, it is about streaming. Stream product like you stream content.
  • Think in cycles: You should know your audience so well that they will tell you what they want. After lipsticks come eyeliner or eyeshadow. At that moment, don’t sit back and relax, start the process all over again. Nurture your audience, sell small and fast, and repeat the cycle. Your audience will appreciate that you’re continuously innovating.

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