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Interviews

How to Rediscover Product-Market Fit Again (and Again) (and Again)

June 18, 2021
Mae Rice

Pre-pandemic, Ministry of Supply was building a modern workwear brand full of crisp-yet-travel-ready clothing — a brand that COVID could’ve crushed. How did they live to tell the tale? It all starts with spotting the four horsemen of a market shift.

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Founded in 2012, Ministry of Supply initially achieved product-market fit selling crisp, comfortable workwear that traveled well. Then the pandemic made nearly all that irrelevant. Actually going places was out; Zoom was in. 

Crisis loomed — but the company avoided it. 

Here’s one way to rediscover product-market fit, according to Ministry of Supply’s VP of operations, Brian Kennedy.

Spot the four horsemen of a market shift

Sales crater. In March 2020, “it was just like the bottom fell out,” Kennedy told MarketerHire.

Your value prop (mostly) stops making sense. “Comfort became more important” during the pandemic — a win! — but the rest of the Ministry of Supply’s value prop “completely eroded.”

You’re not using your product like you used to. Once the pandemic started, “we were all sitting in meetings not wearing dress shirts,” Kennedy said. And they sold dress shirts.

The change has no end date. A few weeks into the pandemic, Ministry of Supply realized that forecasting its end was “absolutely impossible.” 

Look for adjacent opportunities

Test, test, test. In the early days of the pandemic, Kennedy said, the team used return on ad spend (ROAS) as a proxy for product-market fit. They leaned heavily into casually styled images, which earned better ROAS than formal styling. 

Try something new. Fast. In May of 2020, Ministry of Supply leaned on its on-demand knitting technology to launch a new pandemic product: face masks, priced at $25 each.They were “a huge win,” Kennedy said, thanks to product-market fit and product-channel fit; paid social media ads for lower-priced apparel tend to convert better.

Update your message. The marketing team cut references to flights and commuting from copy sitewide — no easy feat. “Those irrelevant phrases… really were everywhere,” Kennedy said.

Reposition old product. Instead of ditching their more formal pieces, Ministry of Supply showed off their informal side — and it worked. In its pandemic-era product shots, the team styled slacks with sneakers; highlighted slouchier models; and used warmer, less “scientific” lighting. 

Don’t get too comfortable

Skew classic, not current. Even though it sells masks right now, Ministry of Supply doesn’t highlight masked models in its product photos. “At some point [masks] will be a jarring reminder of a year that we all want to forget,” Kennedy said.

Prepare for multiple scenarios. As vaccines roll out, Ministry of Supply is preparing product and marketing stories for multiple potential market shifts — including a forever “casualized” office and a formalwear resurgence.

Mae Rice
about the author

Mae Rice is senior editor at MarketerHire. A long-time content marketer, she enjoys interviewing marketing experts and learning about the weird and wonderful feedback loops that connect marketing and culture. She also loves any ad that makes her say "Huh?!" — especially Tim and Eric's ad for Totino's pizza rolls, which she watches way more often than you would think.

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