Category winner: Online Marketing at Big Skinny

Share this page:
This case won the Knowledge, Information and Communication Systems Management category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2015.
 
The case

Who – the protagonist

Kiril Alexandrov, CEO at Big Skinny. A founder of multiple businesses who says his vice is ‘an addiction to researching stuff online ad nauseam’ including computers and sports cars.

What

Big Skinny wallets are designed to overcome five major wallet problems: size, weight, card pocket size, slippery interior, and lack of versatility. Over a two-year period, dozens of designs and over 75 natural and synthetic materials were tested before finding the perfect combination of functionality and looks.

WhyBig Skinny wallet

Big Skinny wallets were originally designed by Kiril because he hated sitting on thick, heavy wallets. 

When

Big Skinny was founded in 2005 with sales initially driven through street fairs, retail distribution and print advertising. Its initial attempts at online selling ran into trouble in 2010 when a glitch meant that 4,000 wallets were being given away free. Kiril needed to decide how to handle the situation. Should he just cancel the ‘free’ orders?

He also knew that he needed to rethink his online marketing plans. There was a huge amount to consider, from social media, email marketing and coupon sites such as Groupon, to navigating Google’s algorithmic and sponsored search engines.

Where

The company is based in Harvard Square, Cambridge, US, and sells its products online and through stores across America, Canada, and a number of other countries.

Key quote

‘Here’s a regular wallet, just out of the box, and here’s a Big Skinny. It’s the same thickness, but it’s already stuffed with 16 pieces of hard plastic – the national average.’ – Kiril’s successful street fair sales pitch.

What next?

How should Big Skinny’s marketing presence be expanded? Should it concentrate on attracting new customers to its website, or focus on engaging existing customers through social and interactive media? And should it make more use of retail sites such as Amazon and Buy.com?

 
The protagonist

Kiril AlexandrovAn insider’s view: Kiril Alexandrov, CEO, Big Skinny

Kiril explains why he found taking part in the case so beneficial and the positive effects it has had on his business.

Too numerous to mention

The benefits are almost too numerous to mention: I learned a lot and got great feedback from students and professors. Every time I was in class as a guest I received numerous good ideas, constructive criticisms, heady discussion, and always generated a personal/professional ‘to do list’.

Also, it’s great publicity for the company as this case has been taught all over the world and I’ve participated and given feedback. Lastly, the exposure generated product sales.

Fresh insights

I gained a number of fresh insights, especially to place more emphasis on social media and the potential of social media advertising. The website re-design was accelerated due to feedback. Other sales channels were discussed, analysed and explored for potential growth.

In class

When watching the case being taught, one major concept that never seemed to refresh itself enough was how differently each class responded to the case and the different ideas they brought to the discussion. It was always exciting to be there.

Don’t listen to the lawyers!

Don’t listen to your lawyer’s advice that taking part in a case only serves to give competitors a peek into your world; it is well worth drawing the curtain a bit for all the other benefits you get in return.

e kiril@bigskinny.net

The authors

Ben Edelman and Scott Kominers

Benjamin Edelman and Scott Duke Kominers

Benjamin and Scott explain why they especially like this case, and discuss the challenges of selling products that customers might not know they need.

Concise introduction

We especially like this case because it combines two different visions of Kiril, the protagonist. On the one hand, he’s an exceptional salesman offering an offbeat product that people are proud to have in their pockets all the time. But at the same time, his core task is selling more stuff with lower online advertising expense, a challenge almost every business can relate to.

The case provides a concise introduction to using and evaluating an array of online marketing tools; anyone selling online needs these skills.

Tougher challenges

Some companies are fortunate to operate in sectors where customers at least know what they need. (For example, hotels can market themselves via organic online searches and platforms such as Expedia.) But most sellers have tougher challenges: they’re selling products that customers might not know they need, or might not be thinking about. Online marketing is a less obvious fit for these sellers – and requires creative and careful implementation.

Cost reduction strategies

A second problem for many marketers is the high cost of online media. Some online ad campaigns are so costly that the ad platform makes more profit than the advertiser. Auction-based pricing exacerbates this problem by making an advertiser bid against competitors (who usually have similar costs). Big Skinny tried several strategies to reduce its dependence on the most costly campaigns, and others would do well to follow.

Advance planning

We knew we wanted to write a case about designing online marketing campaigns, and outlined the case objectives at some length before picking the case subject and beginning interviews. Given our broad topic, this advance planning was essential in helping us figure out what type of case subject we wanted. When we were lucky enough to find Big Skinny, everything else followed naturally.

Great protagonists

Kiril and Catherine Alexandrov have done so much to support the case, including discussions, interviews, and many class visits. We’re incredibly grateful!

 
Interested in finding out more?
Download

Download the case

Educators can login to view a free inspection copy of this case.

Online Marketing at Big Skinny
Ref 9-911-033 
Teaching note
Ref 5-911-034

 

View a full list of featured cases