In the handle of this forest hatchet is engraved, “Crafted for Robert Feisley by John Neeman”

Welcome to Doing it Right #1 — case studies of successful marketing. The goal is to use these as learning opportunities — to hunt for killer ideas to ethically steal for your own business.

If you sell a product you create yourself, or if you are an artist or craftsman, you need to watch this video. I know you’re probably thinking, “It’s about Blacksmithing and Woodworking, so it doesn’t apply to me.” But all I ask is you hold your judgement until you watch the video.

Because, the best ideas often come from outside your industry or category. Think about it — following what the majority do in your industry guarantees average results. If you want ordinary results, do what everyone else does. But for extraordinary results, you must look outside what’s ordinary.

Two popular examples: fast food drive-thrus were inspired by bank ATMs, and Subway Restaurants made simple sandwiches special by borrowing from the “weight loss” industry.

Alright, here’s the video that transformed Neeman Tools, a small workshop of Latvian craftsmen, into the Ferrari of Toolmakers overnight:

The video is called, “Birth of an Axe.”

Notice it’s not called “The Making of the World’s Finest Axe”, or “John Neeman’s Amazing Axe”, or “John Neeman’s Handcrafted Tools Presented By Bikinis and Explosions”. There’s no hype. No superlatives. Just a powerful demonstration.

Also, notice that the video doesn’t scream the name of the company at all. Because if you’re a still an unknown company, no one cares about you or your name (yet).

Benefit, promise and proof are the stars here, and reputation is earned.

Like Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, each axe is forged by the traditional 1-2 punch of blacksmith and carpenter. They call it a “Birth”. It symbolizes the intimacy, care and effort put into making each axe. And in case you don’t believe them, they show you in visceral glory the entire romance, sex, pregnancy, labor and birth of an Axe from steel and wood. It makes you wonder if it’s really about an axe, or secretly a love story.

The response was overwhelming. It crashed their website and buried their little 3-person shop with orders from all over the world:

“After posting info that we are closed for orders for some time, but are open to add new orders to a checklist queue, at next day our web page had 10 000 visits (usual was 200 per day) and we have received over 200 emails per day. And today for some time our webserver was down and our website was inaccessible. It looks like our only ad – our “Birth Of A Tool” series that we have made with no budget and by ourselves, brought us a lot of work. We are a bit worried what will happen when we will post the 3rd part of “The Birth Of A Tool” that we have made about Scandinavian Damascus knife making process… But anyway – Welcome everyone!

And shortly after:

As we are only 3 people making all the tools in our crew and managing all the process from receiving the order till sending the tool to its new home, in last few days, when our order list went over 100 people, we have made a decision to stop accepting orders for a while. We did not expect that in so short period of time the interest in our work will be so high. We are sorry to tell that, but we wish to be honest and responsible in front of others. We will be able to add new orders to a checklist, with a note, when we will be open to accept new orders we will inform each one in queue.

(They’ve since released more craftsmanship videos.)

Why this video works today

Many people have forgotten what it’s like to experience exquisite hand-craftsmanship — things created with pride, where the obsession with perfection erases the line between art and science.

Most people no longer think about the blood and sweat that goes into making something, because most things are no longer made by people— they’re manufactured —and in the rare cases they’re still made by hand, they’re made by a foreign industry that many people don’t want to believe exists.

Technology has shoved people to higher-level, abstract and soulless jobs at desks and computers, and tragically fewer people get to experience the sweaty-brow, greasy-elbow satisfaction of working with their hands. The video offers a seductive escape from their reality…

… It shows them the primal joy of building things, how something beautiful comes to life, and the care being put into making something perfect… and a job well done…

… And that very satisfyingly scratches everyone’s inner caveman.

What makes it good marketing

In today’s world of clutter, hype, flash and empty promises, the most valuable element in any advertising is proof.

It’s meaningless to say that “I Make Great Widgets”, because anyone can make that claim. It’s not enough to say “My Widgets are the Best because of X, Y, Z,…”, because words are not enough these days. Not only that, words will never beat a powerful demonstration.

When you invite people into your kitchen, open your heart, share your secrets and show people how the magic happens, you show exactly why— and prove —this is why our product is the best… without having to brag about it.

But don’t be mistaken. The video is not meant to persuade someone who doesn’t want an axe to buy an axe. It should be to answer questions prospective buyers have.

Questions like:

  • Why is it so expensive?
  • What makes it good?
  • How do I tell if something is high-quality?
  • How do I know if it’s good enough to solve my problems?
  • How long will it last?
  • Why should I trust you?

The video deftly answers all these questions without any words, shows shoppers what makes Neeman axes better than cheaper alternatives, and why they’re a bargain even at their premium prices.

Old-traditions become attractive with new media

There used to be a time when all axes were made this way. And many other craftsmen still make axes this way. The axe is not a new invention. There’s no revolutionary technology or process here.

So what makes them special?

They’re special simply because they told their story. What separates them from their peers is: they were the first to make an erotic video of the axe-making process and share it online. Had they not done that, the world would never know how brilliant their axes are.

And that’s why it’s dangerous to believe that “people will come” just because you have a superior product. No one can come if they don’t know you exist.

But yet many people self-sabotage by thinking: “No one wants to see that”, or “No one cares about that”. It’s unproductive to assume that just because it’s familiar to you, it’s familiar to others as well…

The Power of Telling a Story No One Else Will —
Even If Everyone Has It

The father of modern advertising, Claude Hopkins, told this great story…

“Schlitz Beer was another advertising campaign which I handled for J.L.Stack. Schlitz was then in 5th place. All brewers at that time were crying “Pure”. They put the word “Pure” in larger letters. Their claim made about as much impression on people as water makes on a duck.

I went to brewing school to learn the science of brewing, but that helped not at all. Then I went to the brewery. I saw plate-glass rooms where beer was dripping over pipes, and I asked the reason for them. They told me those rooms were filled with filtered air, so the beer could be cooled in purity.

I saw great filters filled with wood pulp. They explained how that filtered the beer. They showed me how they cleaned every pump and pipe, twice daily, to avoid contamination. How every bottle was cleaned four times by machinery.

They showed me artesian wells, where they went 4,000 feet deep for pure water, though their brewery was on Lake Michigan. They showed me the vats where beer was aged for six months before it went out to the user.

They took me to their laboratory and showed me the original mother yeast cell. It had been developed by 1,200 experiments to bring out the utmost in flavor. All of the yeast used in making Schlitz Beer was developed from that original cell.

I came back to the office amazed. I said: “Why don’t you tell people those things? Why do you merely try to cry louder than others that your beer is pure? Why don’t you tell the reasons?”

“Why,” they said, “the processes we use are just the same as others use. No one can make good beer without them.”

“But,” I replied, “others have never told the story. It amazes everyone who goes through your brewery. It will startle everyone in print.”

So I pictured in print those plate-glass rooms and every other factor in purity. I told a story common to all good brewers, but a story which had never been told. I gave purity a meaning.

Schlitz jumped from fifth place to neck and neck with 1st place in a very few months.”

How to make your video even better

  1. Build in a Call to Action – instead of just leaving it up to the viewer to decide what to do after watching the video, lead them to take a specific action. Then, boost your Call-to-action with an enticing offer: E.g., Like us on Facebook or enter your address for a chance to win one of our gorgeous knives.
  2. Capture leads for follow up – when the video went public, their online store wasn’t 100% ready, so many interested people came and left empty-handed. But even with everything humming smoothly, it’s important to remember that in general, most people don’t buy right away.

    This is especially true for a premium or luxury item — most people dog-ear it for later, start saving up for it or dream about it for weeks, months or even years… like the Ferraris and Lamborghinis that adorn boys’ walls.

    That’s why the sole purpose of the video should be to capture contact information.

    Each viewer should be explicitly guided to leave email, snail mail, or to connect on Social Media, so that each new fan can be nurtured until he is ready to buy — invite each new fan to begin their exciting adventure of owning a John Neeman work of art.

  3. Follow up – the campaign should not stop with the “ad”. Sadly, although the video has created some buzz, the craftsmen quickly disappeared into their workshop to fulfill the orders.

    They missed many opportunities in this connected age because they made no effort to start conversations and connect with fans.

    They could have asked questions and answered questions. They could have extended the campaign to introduce the blacksmith and carpenter behind the video. They could learn more about the people they serve, what their common concerns/problems/wishes are… and get valuable feedback to further improve and refine their tools. They could share stories about the lucky craftsmen who have replaced their old tools with John Neeman tools.

    Since their video was posted on Reddit and became popular — they could have rode the wave and popped on there for a “Q & A with the blacksmith and carpenter of John Neeman Tools” (like President Obama’s team did for his 2012 re-election campaign).

    Continuing the conversation after the video multiplies its reach and return on every dollar and hour invested.

The Magic Formula

  1. Highlight the human elements in your business. Feature the non-mass-producible, non-robotic elements. These are what’s rare, valuable and unique in today’s machine world.
  2. Make your “ad” valuable – present something special but unknown, show craftsmanship, share an experience.
  3. Answer your prospects’ questions – How’s it made? What makes it good? Etc.
  4. Provide irrefutable proof – why talk when you can show? It’s never been easier (or cheaper) to hit record and share your craft online. Demonstrate. Prove it.
  5. Always end with an Offer and Call to Action – lead viewers to the next step; don’t force them to figure out what to do or where to go next.
  6. Follow up – use the “ad” as a conversation starter.

“It is a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God.” — Mahathma Ghandi

In a world where most things are mass produced for cheap, John Neeman dares to sell fine handcrafted axes that start at hundreds of dollars (when you can buy factory-made ones for far cheaper). If they can do this for the simple axe, what can you do for your business?

Go and tell the story that no one else is willing to tell.