Great Designs Won’t Save Your T-Shirt Company

I know you. You’re a doodler. A designer. An artist. You’ve got an eye for cool fonts and catchy sayings. You’d rather hit a thrift store than a night club. People are constantly complimenting you on your taste or at the very least telling you, “Hey, cool shirt.” For years you’ve looked at those doodles, designs and that running notes doc of quips and phrases and thought, “Man this would make such a cool t-shirt.”

So you decided to give it a shot and start your own t-shirt company. You made a couple of designs, called around to some printers, and shelled out the money to get a few made. You showed them around. People loved them. You even sold a few and thought, “Jackpot! I nailed this.” So you ordered a bunch more. And you told your parents/spouse/roommates not to sweat it – those boxes upon boxes of t-shirts would be sold and out of the living room in no time.

And then… nothing. You still get compliments, but the orders come in drips and drabs. And the boxes of t-shirts are still sitting in your living room, like so many makeshift coffee tables.

What happened? Why didn’t your business blow up like everyone said it would? 

Where did you go wrong?

The simple, honest truth is that you made one, incredibly common mistake. You were designing a cool t-shirt. And from a certain point of view, at that you succeeded. But you should have been designing a t-shirt company. And that, my friend, is a very different thing.

What Makes a T-Shirt Company?

If I asked you who your shirts are made for, you might tell me something like “anybody who wants one” or “people who like wear t-shirts.” The problem with t-shirts (which also happens to be a tremendous benefit) is that almost everyone can and does wear them. And “target everyone” isn’t really an effective strategy for a business unless your company is called “Wal-Mart” or “Coca-Cola.” (Actually, even they probably don’t target everyone.)

In order to come up with a real strategy, you need to know three things:

· Your audience.

· Your demographics.

· Your brand.

Who Is Your Audience?

Who are the actual people who you envision liking the kind of shirts you are designing? What are those people like? What do they do? What are they into? Why is your shirt going to appeal to them.

Your instinct might be to go broad here and say something like, “women” or “professionals.” Fight this urge. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but the more specific you can get in thinking about your audience, the better off you’ll be. Are they skaters? Music-festival-goers? Tropical vacationers? Religious aid-workers? Really drill down and figure out what makes your buyers unique.

What Are Your Demographics?

Once you’ve figured out who your audience is, you can start to translate those big picture thoughts into data, categories and action items. In other words, you have to figure out your demographics.

In a lot of ways, audience and demographics are two sides of the same coin – related, but distinctly different. Think of audience as your “who” and demographics as your “what.” The simplest demographic information usually covers age and gender. Taking skateboarders as an example. While there is certainly a diverse population of people who are into skateboarding, the largest group is teenage males, ages 13-21.

Can you get even more specific with your demographics? Absolutely. How about a location? Say, Mid-Western US cities. Income level? With this age range, that might mean family income, but let’s say they come from families making >$100k.

So what’s the point of all this? Think about how much information your demographics are telling you about how to make and market your t-shirts! Now you can predict colors that they might like, what materials to use, whether you might think about also selling long-sleeve tees and hoodies for colder seasons, what a reasonable price point might be and so on, and so on…

What’s Your Brand?

Finally, you need to figure out what your brand actually means. It’s not enough to just have cool designs. Your brand should stand for something. There should be a mission statement, a persona, a message. All of that creates a tone which permeates everything from your tee designs themselves, to your labels and packaging, to your advertising and marketing efforts. It’s the look and feel of your website. It’s who your brand might try to interact with on social media. It’s what bloggers might say about your company.

Figuring out your brand is akin to figuring out how you are going to communicate with that audience of yours. What common language are you speaking? What is it about your company that is going to stand out to them?

Put it all together, and knowing your brand, your demographics, and your audience can help you to formulate a great marketing strategy that’s actually worthy of your great t-shirt designs. And doesn’t that sound way better than a debt-filled credit card and a living room full of boxes? 10twelve can help your company go from great t-shirt designs to a great t-shirt-company. Set up a consult today!