Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Lure of the One-of-a-Kind Item

I plan to write more about developing limited edition items for musicians to sell to their hardcore fans. But before I revisit that, I want to post a few thoughts about another trend I'm currently seeing: the one-of-a-kind item. Of course, many artworks and craft items are marketed this way, but examples are popping up in less traditional places, too.

For example, I saw this on Carly Simon's website.
Each limited-edition, Carly Simon Heirloom Box includes one unique item from Carly's private career archives, personally selected by Carly herself.

No two Heirloom Boxes will receive the same original item. Each Heirloom Box is made by hand and includes a Certificate of Authenticity.
And at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, each medal will be a unique, hand-cropped section of a larger work.
...each medal will include its own signature elements of the orca and raven artwork, such as the suggestion of the orca’s eye, the curve of its dorsal fin, or perhaps the contours of the raven’s wing. A silk scarf printed with the master artwork will be presented to each Olympian or Paralympian with their medal enabling them to see how their medal connects with those awarded to other athletes at the Games to make the whole design. "Vancouver 2010 medals each a one-of-a-kind work of contemporary Aboriginal art," Vancouver2010.com, 10/15/09.
The concept is also being used for running shoes. New Balance has a new handmade shoe, the 574 Clips. Only 480 pairs will be made and each pair has a unique identity.
The campaign will be centered around a website that will feature 480 short videos. 480 video clips were recorded of each of the shoes’ unique experience before reaching the consumer. These videos were shot at locations throughout the US including Los Angeles, New York City and Lawrence, Massachusetts, where the shoes are manufactured.

To compliment the 480 short films, a Polaroid photo has been taken of the shoe’s experience and placed in the corresponding shoe box, conveying a trading card collector feel. The back of each Polaroid will indicate the shoe’s limited edition number (example: 017/480), size and color. A find tab will list the ten retail locations where the collection can be purchased. Consumers can then visit the 574 Clips website and search for the exclusive video created specifically for their shoe. Once the consumer has found their “clip”, they can watch the short video featuring their pair. After the video is finished playing, the Polaroid will flip over and the owner has the option to “claim” their shoe by entering a unique 5 digit code and their name. Once clips are claimed, they can still be viewed, but the owner’s name will be shown at the end of the short. "New Balance 574 Clips Campaign," Hypebeast, 9/15/09.
What's interesting about this campaign is that even though these are limited edition, handmade shoes, they aren't being sold at a premium price.
The individual attention is meant to underscore the unusual, all-American lineage of the shoes: Each are composed of leftover material clippings in New Balance's Lawrence, Mass., factory, (hence "Clips.")

The 574 Clips will sell for $75, so the goal is not so much related to revenues from the line, but to creating a positive buzz among sneaker bloggers or "sneakerheads" as they're known in the industry. "New Balance Woos the Sneakerheads," Brandweek, 9/17/09.
Another example of one-of-a-kind-ness comes from Sufjan Stevens, who gave one fan his own song. Other songwriters have done that too, but the interesting part is what the fan has chosen to do with it.
Mr. Duffy, a 33-year-old theater director, owns the song. He won the exclusive rights to it in a contest that the singer held in 2007.

... after a year of wondering just what to do with the song, Mr. Duffy decided that putting it on the Internet wasn't special enough. He wondered: What if the only way the song could be heard was in person, in intimate gatherings?

"This is the finest way we felt we could curate this song," Mr. Duffy says. "It brings people together," he adds, rather than "being lost among 14,000 iTunes."

The experiment lures strangers to Mr. Duffy's living room about once a week, to "recapture an era when to get one's hands on a particular album or song was a real experience," as he says on an invitation posted on the Web site of his theater company. ... He doesn't charge them to hear it. ...

From a goldenrod wingback chair, Mr. Duffy passed around the package sent with his prize. A personal letter from Mr. Stevens describes "hibernating bears trapped in our imagination" and the "muffled insulation of snow banks on either side of you" as inspiration for the song. There's also a Christmas card from Mr. Stevens -- which arrived in January.

To prevent recordings -- and, ultimately, dissemination -- of the song, listeners don headphones hooked up to Mr. Duffy's iPod or laptop. "Not-So-Easy Listening: It Takes a Trek to Hear This Track," Wall Street Journal, 6/12/09.
An older, but wildly successful example of giving each customer something unique was the Cabbage Patch doll.
With great flair for merchandising, Xavier [Roberts, the creator] announced that every doll was different and dreamt up the cabbage patch story line. Perhaps the biggest selling point was that each baby came with an adoption certificate and its own special name. Millions of people were enthralled by the idea of owning a unique cloth baby, and little girls were enchanted to know that their doll was the only one of its kind in the whole wide world. World Collectors Net
For the most part, artists and marketers will promote one-of-a-kind items as more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts. But there are inexpensive one-of-a-kind items. For example, fortune cookies and Cracker Jacks prizes. Well, these aren't actually one-of-a-kind items, but there's enough variety that among a group of people opening cookies or boxes together, each person is likely to get something different.

Musicians who want to intrigue their fans with one-of-a-kind items can either go the Carly Simon route and make them part of expensive packages. Or they can go the fortune cookie route and create items that are very inexpensive to produce, but fun to provide at shows. Some ideas for low-end giveaways or in exchange for tips or signing an email list:

  • Printed items that fans can draw from a bowl (e.g., fortunes; trivia; ID cards or wearable labels with silly personalities or quotes). I can say from personal experience that it works. I went to a party thrown by an ad agency and all the guests got to pick out name tags that had fake, but very clever descriptions that we could choose from. It made for far more interesting conversations than if we identified ourselves with our real names and companies.

  • One-of-a-kind buttons created from clip art or other sources of images. If you have your own button maker, produce lots of different buttons rather than just one or two designs.

  • One-of-a-kind magnets. (You can buy sheets of magnetic paper and print them yourself. You can either get sheets that snap apart into business card-sized pieces, or you can buy unscored sheets and cut them yourself into whatever sizes and shapes you want.)

  • Grab bags or small boxes with individualized collections of inexpensive favors. (You can find sources under party favors and vending machine supplies.)

  • One-of-a-kind temporary tattoos.

  • This is not to say that every band/artist must or should go the one-of-the-kind route. But it is currently being done to create a stronger connection to fans. I think most of us are at least a little intrigued or amused when we get something unique and can tell our friends about it or compare it to what they received.

    Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter


    1. Great article- you always have such fantastic takes on practical marketing ideas for musicians and those seeking to connect with another in meaningful, real ways. Keep up the great work- we look forward to your posts and tweets


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