The oil and vinegar of marketing to Burners

As we head into festival season, work at Archimedes Design is beginning to swell. We designed our domes through trial and error, through use and reuse. Michael and I have been participating as theme camp organizers at Burning Man for 7 years. Our domes are at least that many years in the making.

Over those years we developed a shelter system that works exceedingly well for conditions on the playa. It packs down easily for shipping from our home base in Brooklyn, it deals with the sun and the wind radically well, and it's colorful and inviting. In our first year the Archimedes prototype caught enough attention that we actually sold some the following year.

That’s how it all started.

Things That Swing 2014

Things That Swing 2014

I once had a friend tell me that he loved to swim so he joined the swim team, but then realized he really just liked playing in the water. I wouldn’t claim that to be the exact metaphor here, but there are days when being a light manufacturer, that markets specifically to burners, can have its frustration.

The maker spirit and DIY attitude runs deep at Burning Man. Participants love to share, always looking to upgrade their camps for next year’s burn, always in the market for a better solution. 

But retailing to burners is a weird Catch-22.  

It seems some burners (not all) are happy to buy and repurpose for the playa without ever considering the supplying retailer. Yet as soon as they find out you have a product specifically designed for the those environmental conditions, or that you are a long time participant yourself, you're the suspect snake oil salesman in a tight clan of angry puritans.

Working as a social media marketer for around 10 years before embracing this new light manufacturing lifestyle, I’ve come up with countless strategies to show people how to create an audience without ever directly selling to them. Working to tout product benefits while maintaining a dedication to process and culture is time consuming. In the end, most retailers have less time for social sales than the job actually requires. Usually the mandate is to move units. This is why many social media programs fail.

Yes, there are days when I wish I could sell like a car salesman to anyone coming near my lot. But then I remember, if I had not become a part of this particular community, I would not have a product that works nearly as well and one in which I take such great pride.

Now pardon me, I have some laps to swim.

Toby