Show Your Work: Letting a Great Product Sell Itself
Why do we care about how a CEO structures his or her day, how a famous writer writes, or how a product is made? It’s because process provides narrative, and narrative predominates our lives.
It feeds our innate curiosity; we believe that by watching another person’s process, we may learn from it and become inspired in our own endeavors.
Craftsmanship reflects a creator’s precision, understanding, and vigilance to detail. Watching someone carve a piece of wood into a chair or a stone into a statue elicits awe and wonder.
When Apple began to reveal the insides of their products and how clean they looked, all of a sudden customers started caring about it, or at least were fascinated by it. It didn’t completely dictate their decision to buy, but it did add to the narrative. “Not only is the outside beautiful, the whole thing is beautiful!”
When you show how a product is made, you’re inviting your customers behind-the-scenes and enchanting the narrative they hold of you. There is a fundamental difference between simply using a product versus using a product where you also know its history and how it was conceived—the latter elicits an emotional connection.
However, there is no right tactic or strategy. Not showing the process can create a veil of mystery, making customers curious. Showing the process is being open with your customers, introducing them to the materials and tools used, the thought and care behind your work, and how the product comes to life.
I lean towards the latter. Almost every good business can benefit from showing its work. From a customer standpoint, it’s about appreciation, respect for craftsmanship, and the knowledge that what you purchased or readily use was made with artistry. This sort of narrative makes you forget about the price tag or even competitors.
Here are eight examples of different products that benefit from showing the process, either through video or beautiful photography. The variety should stimulate your creativity and inspire you to connect to your customers in this way.
1. Saddleback Leather
Saddleback Leather knows craftsmanship—with rigorous attention to detail, a step-by-step history of the product, a 100-year warranty, and this video of the CEO giving advice to bootleggers on how to respectfully replicate their timeless product, it’s obvious why this product succeeds.
2. Grovemade iPhone Case
Here’s an example of how beautiful, detailed photography can sometimes be just as appealing, and maybe more appropriate, than a video.
I recently ordered a new iPhone 6, and of course, searched online for the best cases. I landed on a site called Grovemade, where they create iPhone cases that are handmade out of wood—let me correct myself, Ultra-thin Oregon Claro Walnut.
At first glance, the price tag was too steep for me, but once I delved into the company and analyzed the product, I appreciated the craftsmanship and elegance of it. I’ve never seen or used a wooden iPhone case, so I was willing to take a dive.
What delighted me was how they connect with their customers. Because it was a pre-order, I thought I was going to simply wait for a confirmation email or a surprise delivery. Instead, Grovemade sent out an email revealing their thinking behind the product process. Here are a few screenshots:
This is an excellent way to connect with your customers and ensure the product is in production and on its way to ship. From a customer perspective, this is simply reassuring. I’ve never purchased a $100 iPhone case, much less one made out of wood, so seeing the process helps me know that what I just purchased was worth it.
3. Holstee’s “This Is Your Life” Poster
I remember coming across this poster on Pinterest and thinking what a great work of art this was. When I went on the site to find out more about Holstee’s story and how they created this poster, I came across their video on the process. I’m definitely a sucker for craftsmanship. When I finished watching the video, I immediately purchased a poster for myself.
This style of presentation champions humility and humble beginnings. The founder walks us through the shop and reveals the old-school methodology, their history, and why they were inspired to create the way they do.
4. Louis Vuitton Shoes
This video highlights mastery and attention to detail—all of a sudden shoemaking is deeply fascinating and the appreciation of the product is more pronounced.
Whatever you’re selling—t-shirts, shoes, bags, pants—you can show the process. Where do your materials come from? Do you fly across the world to handpick them? Do you make the product by hand or by using an old-fashioned machine? How do you take an idea and bring it to life? Show us.
5. How to Make a Snowboard
I picked up snowboarding in the winter of 2014, and while writing this article I let my curiosity get the best of me. I was delighted to find that the company I recently purchased from had a video showing the creation of their snowboards.
Our friends over at Timbuk2 know craftsmanship and excellent customer support, and they adhere to principles that champion great work. In this video, they show the creation of one of their popular items, the messenger bag:
7. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
8. Naked & Famous DenimThis is another example of the idea that sometimes having an archive of high-res, beautiful images can function as a perfect way to highlight your process. For a company like Jeni’s, photos are (mouthwateringly) ideal.
This is a great example of a company breaking the status quo and creating denim unique to their vision. Their behind-the-scenes look is a powerful marketing tool that allows customers to understand what Naked & Famous’s aspirations are.
Think of the flip side: why wouldn’t you want to share your process and vision? Companies that love connecting with their customers show their commitment by creating products that make a difference.
The Product Should Be Its Own Best Salesperson
Why should you use an artisan video or beautiful, detailed photographs?
Knowing why and how something was made provides a compelling narrative. It’s as if the product was spellbound. In short, you learn to appreciate the hell out of it.
This kind of marketing is effective because it speaks directly to the kind of customers the company attracts. Sure, your website and copywriting may be engaging and descriptive, but video and photography are concise and artful ways to tell the whole story to the right customers.
Timbuk2 and Saddleback Leather are similar products, but their customers’ desires and needs differ. You may be an owner of both products, but when or why you use them varies. Hence, each company created an artisan video to show what they’re making and who they’re making it for.
Saddleback specifically showcases their durability and materials used; Timbuk2 is proud of their city and how the messenger bag fits into that culture. Someone who wants durable, waterproof jeans will not be moved by Naked & Famous Denim’s video—it doesn’t pertain to them. Why create a gas station in a town that rides horses?
And that’s the marketing challenge businesses face: not just telling the right story but telling it to the right people.
As Seth Godin said in The Icarus Deception:
“The extraordinary thing about our revolution is that it is turning most business into show business. Even nonbusiness projects, from school to fundraising, feels more like show business than we've seen before. The sale of a box of cookies, for example, is no longer a simple transaction about money in exchange for sweet crunch. The story of the Girl Scout cookie or the fancy packaging of Tate's cookie or the gluten-free wonder of the local bakery's homemade cookie — this is show business, not a cookie.”
When you invite your customers behind the scenes to understand your thinking and methodology and inspiration, a better story is told and a stronger connection ensues. That’s a story worth telling.