How This 143-Year-Old Company Increased Its Online Sales by 80% During COVID
Source. Design by the author.

For a company like Lion Brand Yarn, which is 143 years old, it’s too easy to get complicit and fall for the illusion of consistency. You get so used to your own way of doing things that you lose touch with the changing times.

And then, when the world hits the pause, it all comes crumbling down. Stores close down, people stop spending, and countries go into lockdown.

That’s when it hits you.

You are no Netflix, Facebook, or DoorDash. You are selling yarns, of all things. There’s little to no way to excite your target customers. The sales will go down, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But that’s not what happened. Lion Brand Yarn didn’t crouch down when the time came. Instead, it boosted its online sales by 80%.

Let me put it into context.

Yarn isn’t exactly a hot item that you think of getting online. In fact, it is something most people prefer to get by themselves. There’s something about their color and texture that you want to feel in person.

Then how did this company do it, what’s the secret, and can you do the same? Here’s what you need to learn.

Adapt, or Die

As I mentioned earlier, when a company gets rigid with its operation, it rejects innovation in favor of sticking to its old ways.

So the Lion brand took the other route.

Instead of playing safe and trying to prepare for the stores to reopen, they went all gun blazing with their digital marketing strategy.

What was their thought process behind it?

Pretty simple.

People are going to get bored binge-watching Hunger Games or Breaking Bad. They would want to do more. Such as improving their cooking skills, getting in shape, or learning knitting.

Plus, this overwhelming boredom would make people more open to online shopping.

And now, when you have the benefit of hindsight, we can say they were right. Allow me to use an excerpt from a paper by the Journal of Public Relations and Advertising:

According to the consumers, E-Commerce played a vital role during the lockdown. The survey Results are supportive that more than 50% of customers have changed their traditional shopping habits by ordering products online.

So they didn’t just point at the problem and call it a day. Instead, they found the ripple effects it would cause and got ready to ride the wave.

Focus on People

Now, you must be thinking, “is it not crazy to make wild assumptions like that?” On that, you won’t be incorrect — at least not entirely.

There is always an element of chance when you are trying to determine the consequences of a global phenomenon like a pandemic.

But there’s a way to hedge the risk. And that will be to focus on your target customer and their pain points. As Melina Palmer, the CEO of The Brainy Business, notes about Lion Brand’s success:

For any business, understanding the pain your customer is trying to alleviate and how your products can solve those problems are key. And, it is important to know that as the environment changes, their top pain points might as well.

Now. One of the perks of being a century-old company is that you don’t have to start from scratch. Lions Brand already had a platform with 90,000+ YouTube subscribers and about half a million Facebook followers.

They were all locked in their houses as well. So the company had a unique opportunity. Here’s how they cashed in on it.

The Virtual Experience of Touch & Feel

During the COVID lockdown, Lion Brand Yarn amped up its content frequency from weekly to daily. They also kickstarted Facebook Live series, The Shi Show, hosted by their brand ambassador Shira Blumenthal.

They also made it available in the Apple Podcasts.

The show had several high-profile guests like TV personality Vanna White and comedian Melissa Villaseñor. White even had her own line of products under Lion Brand.

However, it’s not all about marketing. It wasn’t about all the celebrity endorsements. It was much more. Here, I will have to quote Melina Palmer once again:

While our brains love the power of touch, seeing someone else experience the product can trigger mirror neurons in the viewer; it’s essentially like a virtual touch. And other studies show that our eyes can almost feel the texture of a product when we see a high quality image or video.

So when the guests and hosts of the show were interacting with the products, touching and talking about them, it was a solid substitute for actual physical experience.

As Palmer further explains:

For any business, showing potential customers how to interact with you and your business will increase sales because it triggers mirror neurons and perceived ownership.

But here’s the million-dollar question. “Why would anyone care to tune in for their content; in the first place?”

Earn Their Attention

I mentioned this in one of my previous articles. Your target audience isn’t as excited about your business as you. So they aren’t thrilled to spend their precious time consuming your slightly polished infomercial.

Their default position is a NO. If you want to turn it into a YES, first, you have to make it to a MAYBE.

If you want their attention, you better offer them something in advance. That’s exactly what the Shi Show delivered. Instead of making it a sales pitch, they opted for something fun and educational.

Again the pain point for their target customer was boredom.

At the same time, the pain point for the company was its audiences’ overreliance on physical interaction with the product.

So they packaged their content in a way that could solve both.

And it paid off handsomely with their online sales numbers!

But that’s the story of the century-old corporation with no shortage of resources and connections. What if you are to start from scratch? Don’t worry! Here’s something that might solve a lot of your problems:

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