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Disruptive Marketing

Make Enemies, Win Raving Fans.

It’s tempting for newer businesses to aim for broad appeal. After all, isn’t it best to attract as many customers as possible? In reality, however, you’re better off targeting a more selective and specific population. There’s an old saying that when you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one. This definitely applies to business as well as life in general. Don’t worry if everyone isn’t thrilled with your choices. If you want to succeed and be visible in today’s crowded marketplace, you can’t be afraid to make enemies. The result is almost always a loyal fan base that has the same core beliefs.

Companies That Take Risks

Here are a few notable examples of brands who took a definite stand and attracted both support and opposition. 

Gillette

Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be campaign strongly supported the women’s “me too” movement. The video, We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, which is less than two minutes long, urges men to improve and be their best selves. This issue isn’t even connected to the company’s shaving products. If you read the comments under the video, you’ll see lots of anger and vitriol directed against the company. Yet it also received over 30 million views on YouTube and helped to rejuvenate the company. It’s especially appealing to millennials who often make buying decisions based on a company’s values. It also appealed to women, who are a less obvious portion of Gillette’s customer base (e.g. women who buy shaving items for their boyfriends/husbands and sometimes even themselves).

Nike

An even higher-profile example of a brand not afraid to make waves is Nike’s embracing of Colin Kaepernick, the controversial former San Francisco 49ers former quarterback who knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Nike responded by creating a TV commercial featuring Kaepernick. As might be expected, this campaign was extremely polarizing and provoked lots of outrage. Nevertheless, Nike’s stock rose to a record-high following this campaign. While it probably lost some customers as well, Nike wasn’t afraid to take a stand and ultimately gained a great deal of publicity, respect, and sales from is core audience. 

Toms

Toms, a shoe company that has branched off into other areas including coffee and eyewear, has always embraced social causes. It began by promising to match every pair of shoes sold with a pair of shoes for a needy child. More recently, Toms organized a rally in Washington, D.C. to end gun violence. The company also pledged $5M for the cause. While ending violence may not, on the surface, sound like a controversial stand, any issue pertaining to guns can be quite polarizing. Toms, however, is committed to its mission and focuses on the people who approve. The company, which has sold over 86 million pairs of shoes, has succeeded in building a successful brand with fiercely loyal customers. 

Uber

Although Uber has taken a lot of heat in recent years for some questionable decisions, its biggest enemy to date has been the Taxi industry as a whole. Even though Uber created a platform that significantly improved local transporation for all people, it was still met with a major backlash from the companies who had the most to lose from the paradigm shift. Lobbyists, municipalities, and cab giants all continue to fight tooth and nail to stop the ridesharing platform but they can’t stop consumer demand for a better alternative to gold rust buckets and shitty service. Much like Netflix buried Blockbuster, Uber is letting the cab companies dig their own graves. Not even President Trump’s former fixer – I mean attorney, Michael Cohen, seems to have any strings to pull in the matter. Rest in peace, Mike. By taking the broken system head-on, Uber was able to create a new category with raving fans and defeat the powerful and greedy Goliath of transportation.

Attract Loyal Customers

Nike, Gillette, Toms, and Uber are far from the only companies that don’t shy away from controversy. Many smaller brands are doing the same thing, even if it doesn’t attract quite as much attention. The lessons from these brands aren’t to simply embrace controversy for the sake of it. The point is, don’t be afraid to stand for something and go public with your beliefs. This won’t endear you to everyone but it will help you attract a more loyal and enthusiastic following than a more generalized approach. 

Niche Marketing and Finding Your Tribe

Niche marketing is usually associated with products, as in appealing to a certain niche with particular needs. In marketing, identifying your niche often means finding the appropriate keywords to attract an audience. For example, a company that sells nutritional supplements might target the niche of bodybuilders who want to gain strength and muscle. However, in recent years, a more refined approach has emerged.

It was the popular author and podcaster Seth Godin who first identified the importance of tribes in marketing. In this context, a tribe is a loosely affiliated group of people who share certain interests, values, or ideas. More than a niche market, which simply buys certain products, a tribe is actually passionate about something. Consider people who buy Apple products, drive Tesla cars, shop at Trader Joe’s, or who read Harry Potter books. These are just a few examples of customers who tend to be extremely loyal, sometimes even fanatical, about supporting their favorite brands.

When you find your tribe, you don’t necessarily have to court controversy. Apple, for example, doesn’t generally focus on political or social issues. Yet it does have a fanatical tribe of customers (though this has arguably lessened a bit since the Steve Job days). It also has plenty of detractors who see Apple products as overpriced and elitist. In short, Apple is a polarizing brand that many people love and just as many hate. It’s also one of the most successful brands in history. The same principles that apply to Nike, Apple, and other brands are also relevant to smaller companies. Here are a few points to keep in mind if you want to attract your own tribe -even if it means making a few enemies.

  • Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. Immerse yourself in their lifestyle. Not only what they buy but how they think, how they live, and what they believe in. 
  • Take a stand. Express your values and don’t apologize for them. If you are going to be controversial, do it in a careful and deliberate manner. Don’t do something simply to offend people. However, you should never fear standing up for your values and consistently upholding them.
  • Engage and communicate. Whether it’s on social media, your blog, or at in-person events, keep the lines of communication open with your customers. Find out how they feel about everything, not just your products.
  • Study and analyze the latest trends in your industry. This helps you anticipate the needs of your tribe and be among the first to identify emerging tribes. 

By Rani Sweis Sep 16, 2019
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