So you want to turn your business into a micro-brand? Or, better yet, a micro-cult? Here’s how to get started…
First, understand that it will take time – five to 10 years. To become a dominating presence in your market, you have to be in the game long enough to earn your customers’ loyalty.
Think LL Bean. Think BMW. Think Apple.
None of them became major brand names overnight, let alone cults. It took years and years of selling smart and over-delivering on their promises.
Apple, for example, has been around since 1976. Since then, the company has become the quintessential “cult brand.” And, aside from a couple of dips, Apple’s revenues have grown right along with its cult following.
So yes, it takes time. But while you are building your micro-brand – even to the status of micro-cult – you can make a ton of money. It requires three things:
1. a commitment to deliver the best products and customer service in your industry
2. the willingness to reinvest a significant share of your profits into continuing to improve the quality of your products and service
3. a unique selling proposition (LL Bean’s USP is about quality outdoor wear. BMW’s is about high-quality, sporty performance. Apple’s is about ease of use and reliability.)
Here’s an example from my personal experience.
About 20 years ago, my partner and I created a financial advisory service called The Oxford Club. I wrote the sales letter – and the response was through the roof. The Oxford Club was an immediate success. It made our business millions and millions of dollars.
In that sales letter, I made many claims about what the club would give its members. I promised a staff of investment advisors that was second to none. I promised seminars, conferences, tours… and a whole lot more.
Few of those things were in place when I wrote the letter. The club, after all, existed only in my mind. My partner and I made some preliminary arrangements to fulfill some of the promises, but we were not at all sure if the idea (since it was so new at the time) would work. So we tested it in the mail before the club was fully formed. (Ready. Fire. Aim.)
When the results came in, we set to work to try to make all those promises real. But because the concept was so new to the industry, our execution was imperfect. It was a good club – maybe even a great club – but it was not everything I had imagined.
Two years later, we sold the club to an industry colleague. (We had shifted our business plan and moved into merchandise sales, so the club was a duck out of water.) The company that bought it, Agora, Inc., had (and still has) a policy of reinvesting 90 percent of a business’s profits into the business, rather than distributing it to shareholders. So they used the club’s profits to continue to make improvements.
Under the leadership of Julia Guth, The Oxford Club developed its USP (“a private, international network of knowledgeable investors”), and made great gains in product quality and customer service. And the marketplace noticed. Today, The Oxford Club is the most successful financial advisory club in the world. It is a brand name in its market, and its members zealously promote the club to their friends, families, and colleagues.
As I said, the club was enormously profitable from the get-go. But it didn’t become a micro-brand – and then a micro-cult – until it had spent five or six years getting better and better. There was never any conflict between building the brand and making profits. But the owners had to be willing to reinvest those profits to make the long-term value of the business greater.
Over the last six years, I’ve seen Matt Furey do the same thing with his business. It began as a two-man shop selling a single fitness product. Today, it is a multimillion-dollar powerhouse selling dozens of great products.
Matt’s business is based on his unique approach to health and fitness – a blend of Chinese martial arts, old-fashioned American wrestling techniques, and Irish-American toughness. His point of view is well communicated in everything he does, and fervently bought into by his customers.
In Matt’s market, his business is a name brand. It didn’t happen overnight. But the business has always been profitable and seems to get better and attract more followers as each year passes.
So those are three things you must have if you want to turn your business into a micro-brand: a commitment to high-quality products and customer service, a willingness to reinvest the lion’s share of your profits into your business year after year, and a unique selling proposition.
And you must sell those three things in every communication you have with the outside world: in your advertising, customer service literature, and relations with the media.
A fourth secret is to create several product lines (three to six is a good number) that – though different – all support the underlying philosophy of your business. The Oxford Club has VIP trading services and financial seminars. Matt has fitness products, spiritual products, and business products.
There are basically two ways to view your business:
• As a way to make yourself rich by identifying opportunities in the marketplace, selling into them, and then pulling out most of your profits.
* As a way to generate a legacy of wealth, one that can last for generations, by identifying core needs in your marketplace and continuing to create products that fill those needs.
Both “ways” can work. But the first one is likely to unravel after a few years, leaving you with just a vague understanding of what happened. Only the second way will allow your business to keep on growing stronger and provide a lifetime of security for you, your children, and the people who work for you.
[Ed. Note: What’s your thought on “branding as religion”? Which brands do you swear by? Let us know right here.