This story has all of the right components for an instant hit: The hungry entrepreneur and his vision for the ultimate product, his painstaking attention to design, using only the best materials, and his exploitation of a loophole left open by the excesses of giant brands. And, from design to packaging, the product is manufactured right here in the USA.

An All-American Marketing Story

Great ideas are contagious. And Bayard Winthrop, owner of San Francisco-based apparel start-up American Giant, was going to take it upon himself to spread the virus.

That's when Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist at Slate magazine, received a call from Winthrop in early October  2012. Winthrop claimed to have created "the world's best hooded sweatshirt," and provided other details around the American manufacturing and design that made the story simply irresistible:

  • The hoodie was designed by Philipe Manoux, former industrial designer at Apple.
  • All product design and manufacturing took place in the United States.
  • The hoodie was 100 percent cotton rather than using a standard low-grade blend.
  • The business was all digital and sold exclusively on the Internet.

The real kicker was that all of this extra time and money spent on the product was economically viable due to a "loophole" in apparel manufacturing. American Giant dodged costs related to managing a storefront, paying middle-man distributors and running costly brand advertising.

The Power of Earned Media

What Winthrop wasn't prepared for was the tidal wave of orders that came through in response to Manjoo's Slate article declaring the American Giant product "the greatest sweatshirt known to man." Warehouse stock sold out almost instantly, and production had to be increased to 15 to 20 times its initial output. In the end, Winthrop claimed that the article brought him so much business that he had to make a large investment just to keep up with demand. However, four months have passed since the launch of the Slate article and the hoodie is still on backorder!

According to the Inbound Marketer's Guide to Earned Media, this powerful digital marketing technique drives seven online marketing returns:

  1. Website traffic and conversions
  2. Social media buzz
  3. Search engine optimization
  4. Opt-in e-mail list growth
  5. Retargeted audience acceleration
  6. Online community building
  7. Brand Awareness

Winthrop's Earned Media campaign hit nearly every return in this list. The Slate article clearly drove sales, but also contributed to many article syndications from top media outlets, thousands of social shares, and thousands of new brand community members on Facebook.

The Earned Media Process

This story is a prime example of a technique in marketing known as earned media. Whether it's passion or process, the art and science of earning media placement is about getting your brand into editorial columns and read by your prospects. The final result has tremendous impact on website traffic and conversions, social media buzz, brand awareness and online revenue. Winthrop may not have known it, but his passion led him to become an extremely effective earned media marketer. Due to his inexperience with this marketing tool, however, Winthrop was unprepared for the results.

Earned media campaigns are more than just another marketing initiative, and they shouldn't be treated as such. These campaigns can drive incredible results because your brand is placed in an editorial piece, where readers spend the bulk of their time, rather than in the advertisements, where readers have become willfully blind. For more information about the earned media process and how your business can yield measurable results, download the Inbound Marketer's Guide to Earned Media. Just be sure that your business can maintain a great customer experience prior to running an earned media campaign!