Storytelling Weekly – #015 The J. Peterman Company

I’ve been saving this one for a while!

Because this brand is the Hall of Fame when it comes to storytelling.

In my first issue, I wrote about Garagiste, a $30MM online wine business founded by Jon Rimmerman. Rimmerman was proud to be called:

“The J. Peterman in wine.”

But now, I give you – 

The J. Peterman Company itself.

Recap of Storytelling Weekly

Before diving in, here’s a quick recap for newcomers just tuning in to my One Story A Week Series. 

  • Once a week, I’ll find an interesting brand to study.
  • I’ll break down what I like about their storytelling techniques.
  • Then, I’ll show you how to utilize these techniques in email.
Full Disclaimer

I don’t have any insider info or access to their account. So, I’m writing based on studying their website, interviews, and emails. However, I don’t have proof of earning claims or results of specific campaigns.

Now, there won’t be any “hard selling” in this series, but – 

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Brand Introduction

Ecommerce Email Marketing - J Peterman Logo

The J. Peterman Company is the ultimate case study for e-Commerce meeting direct response advertising.

The company was founded in 1987 by John Peterman, a minor league baseball player turned entrepreneur.

Legends said…

In 1986 John Peterman bought a cowboy duster in Wyoming.

Because he received so many compliments for wearing it…

He and his friend Don Staley decided to create a direct mail advertising selling the coat.

The rest is history.

Storytelling Tactics

Storytelling is in everything the company touches.

The copy.

The design.

The image.

And even the business model.

First, let me give you a few examples:

On their Homepage Banner:

The secret thoughts of an entire country were once carried in leather bags exactly like this one. It’s simply perfect as a device for carrying important ideas and feelings back and forth. And the same as with those old and scarce and beautiful mailbags, people will look forward to seeing what you’ve got inside.

The Counterfeit Mailbag
source: The J. Peterman Company Homepage

This copy plays on the emotion we have about direct mail.

Because people look forward to direct mail.

According to studies, 71% of consumers feel that direct mail is more personal than online digital communication. 

Now, in front of you is a story that connects this emotion with a physical product. How can you resist?

On their About Page:

How did we do it? By breaking all the rules. Our “Owner’s Manual” catalogue only featured one item per page, we used paintings of items versus photography, and each item was accompanied by intensive romantic copy. These were all things the “experts” said we couldn’t do.
source: The J. Peterman Company About Page

This tells you a story about their rebellion.

If rebellion is in your identity, then the brand attracts you into their world.

On their Images:

Ecommerce Email Marketing - Jacket Real

VS

Ecommerce Email Marketing - Jacket Art

(source: Lightweight Fireman’s Jacket product page)

Instead of boring images…

They use artistic illustrations for all their products, showcasing the authenticity, uniqueness, and one-of-a-kind shopping experience.

They give you a reason to order their catalog…

…and even share it with your friends.

On their Product Description:

Lightweight Fireman’s Jacket

DETAILS
 
Inspired by coats worn bravely by firemen through the decades.
You owned one like it in the ‘90s but lost it that year you moved to Boulder with Alys. Luckily, it wasn’t as easy to lose track of her. (Twenty years and counting.)
You’ll appreciate the vast exterior pockets and the raglan sleeves that give you room to move, but the real headliner here is a series of heavy duty quick-release metal lobster clips that close the storm flap.
Zero fumbling and fussing.
Good looking, functional, interesting.
You’ll hang this one on the hook by the door.
Alys will borrow it, too.
 
Lightweight Fireman’s Jacket (No. J8155). Lightweight, durable, 100% cotton twill jacket. Metal snaps at center front closure (underneath functional storm flap). Suede reinforcements anchor the noteworthy quick-release lobster clips. Corduroy reinforced collar and cuffs. Two vast exterior pockets and one interior patch pocket. Water resistant finish on the fabric (not waterproof but stands up to a light drizzle). Imported.
source: Lightweight Fireman’s Jacket product page

This is the product description for the images above.

It leads with the identity of brave firemen.

Then, follow up with a story…

This story has nothing to do with the actual product… but everything to do with calling out the right prospect.

Because if you’re too young… or too old… to appreciate this product…

It’s not for you.

Here’s another Product Description:

The B-15B Flight Jacket

DETAILS

In the Spirit of Pushing Limits.
 
A faithful reproduction of an original WWII U.S. Air Force issue B-15B flight jacket.
Designed for utility, for warmth, for altitude. For pushing the limits of courage.
This is the bomber jacket of the day, with the asymmetrical zipper at front and one utensil pocket on the sleeve. Constructed with an extra sense of individualism, an extra sense of interventionist independence at a time when we all needed to believe.
 
The B-15B Flight Jacket (No. J7828). Classic bomber with a exceptionally warm faux fur collar. Traditional nylon sateen shell and lining. Poly-filled interior for extra warmth. Two exterior snaps and two on the inside. Leather patch at wearer’s left chest, made for a pilot to clip things to it—radio cords, oxygen tubes, any other in-flight essentials. Rib cuffs and hem. Shoulder darts. Trapunto-stitched storm guard at neck. Imported.
source: The B-15B Flight Jacket product page

This one goes even deeper into the identity.

Brave. Daring. Adventurous.

This product is not for the wimpy.

To emphasize the identity…

They even kept the original leather patch at the wearer’s left chest – made for pilots to clip things – which is a useless function for modern users…

Yet strengthen the identity to the 11th level.

Email Tip of The Week

I’ve shared this over and over again.

Identity is the Mount Rushmore for storytelling.

It’s the end game.

Look into the details of your products… including the functions, materials, manufacturing, and origin story. Look for things that connect your product to a desired identity.

Talk about it.

Share the stories.

And emphasize how it stands out.

Just like the infamous Rolls-Royce ad by David Ogilvy:

  • “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” – a desire for elegancy.
  • “The Rolls-Royce radiator has never changed, except that when Sir Henry Royce died in 1933 the monogram RR was changed from red to black.” – a desire for authenticity.
  • “The Bently is made by Rolls-Royce. Except for the radiators… The Bently costs $300 less, because its radiator is simpler to make. People who feel diffident about driving a Rolls-Toyce can buy a Bently” – a desire for luxury.

Conclusion

Want to destroy your competitors?

Want to avoid the bloody red ocean?

Want to get out of the price war once and for all?

Find a way to stand out as “THE product for a specific identity.”

This shifts your positioning from a mass commodity to a market of one.

And you’ll never have to worry about competition again.