How Tommey Walker Turned Detroit Into A Movement

I’ve referred to Detroiters as masochists. We’ve seen our industries collapse bankrupting our city in the process, with widespread corruption inside our local government to boot. We’ve been a national punchline for Congressmen and comedians alike. Yet there’s a certain je ne sais quioi in terms of Detroit’s public image and designer turned entrepreneur Tommey Walker perspicaciously capitalized on the very undefinable elements that make his label DETROIT VS EVERYBODY one of the hottest national global clothing brands of the year.

So as marketers, what can we learn from Tommey Walker? Well for one, he created a movement that every company, from clothing goods to electronics and automobiles should be envious of. While putting on my best Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hat, I’ll attempt to explain how celebrities from Ricky Ross to Stephen Colbert to Keith Urban brought national attention to a fledgling clothing company with a small storefront in the heart of Detroit.

The Three Laws For Creating a Tipping Point-Like Movement

Law 1. Invoke Intimacy Through The Law of the Few

When Walker decided to open a storefront in Greektown, a historic commercial and entertainment district in Detroit, he did so in a small space on the third floor of a mixed retail/commercial building. His actual location was nondescript in every sense of the way, where if patrons weren’t huddled in to find a shirt in their size, you’d probably think you were in the wrong location. The message on his apparel was so powerful, and resonated with so many Detroiters, that it created the equivalence of a hipster scavenger hunt. You weren’t going to find DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodies in your suburban Urban Outfitters store.  No, you had to work to be a part of this inclusive movement. His customers didn’t mind however, and considered it a right of passage to joining the cause Tommey Walker had created.

Gladwell refers to this as “The Law of the Few”. About.com’s Ashley Crossman explains that “Gladwell argues that the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. This is the Law of the Few.”

The three types of people who fit this description? They’re referred to as Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.

  • Mavens are individuals who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family. Their adoption of ideas and products are respected by peers as informed decisions and so those peers are highly likely to listen and adopt the same opinions.
  • Connectors know a lot of people. They gain their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected to various social networks. These are popular individuals whom people cluster around and have a viral capacity to showcase and advocate new ideas, products, etc.
  • Salesmen are individuals who naturally possess the power of persuasion. They are naturally charismatic and their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

Mavens include Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson, who joined Colbert on the air to defend Detroit, presenting him with mainstream America’s first look at a DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodie to open their conversation. Walker has been quoted on record saying the hoodie on Colbert was a watershed moment for the brand, increasing sales significantly online thereafter.

Connectors include rappers Eminem and Big Sean who took the clothing label and brought it to the forefront of society’s conscience in their own unique way, including limited edition SHADY VS. EVERYBODY apparel.

Salesmen include the DJ’s, musicians, athletes, and local celebrities who turned a t-shirt slogan into a rallying cry.

Law 2. The Stickiness Factor

Gladwell refers to the stickiness factor as a unique quality that causes the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behavior. Taking the concept of the stickiness factor further, Dan and Chip Heath wrote an entire book on the concept called Made to Stick. In the book, the Heath brothers create an acronym that best defines how one creates a sticky idea:

  • Simple — find the core of any idea
  • Unexpected — grab people’s attention by surprising them
  • Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible — give an idea believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

It goes without saying that Tommey Walker’s clothing label successfully indexes high on the stickiness factor.

Law 3. The Power Of Context

In previous interviews Walker mentioned that in his travels, he personally observed a lack of respect for Detroit. At one point in his life, he helped define Detroit rapper and fellow Cass Tech high school alumni Big Sean’s fashion style, only to see other musicians copy him without paying homage. The perpetual feeling of Detroit constantly having its back against the wall was easy to manifest into a mission statement. If I were to take a stab at it, I’d probably go with something like this:

By creating a brand that reinforces the spirit of Detroit: an attitude that conveys feelings of accomplishment, regardless of the objects that stand in the way of achieving one’s goals.

Gladwell refers to The Power of Context as the environment or historical moment in which the trend is introduced. If the context is not right, it is not likely that the tipping point will take place. When taking the bankruptcy, the political upheaval, the nation’s disparaging comments about the city and its people, there may have been no better time to turn a statement based on defiance into a national rallying cry.

What’s Next?

It’s a million dollar question. Walker’s sales continue to grow stronger, with recent expansions outside of his Greektown store, into the posh suburbs of Detroit. Tommey Walker is the type of entrepreneur Detroit rallies around. He has created a tipping point with DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY, developing a social purpose through The Power of Context, creating a social movement grounded in The Law of the Few, and embraced social outcomes through The Stickiness Factor of his messaging. It’s my opinion Walker is here to stay, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks of next.

In the meantime, you can count me in to represent my city:

Detroit Vs. Everybody

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