Dear Consumer: Don’t Buy This Product

How unique branding and unconventional marketing approaches can set your company apart

I spoke at a brand conference about a year ago about uniqueness. Afterward, a young woman from a big consumer tech brand came up to me and said, “OMG — I wish we knew what made us different. Instead, we keep trying to invent new products to stay ahead of the competition. But anything we create Google can have rolled out in a week. We can’t go head to head with them; if we’re going to survive, we HAVE to find our own niche.”

In today’s world of Amazon and Costco and Google, might wins. But we can’t all be Goliath. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your brand is signal to people that ‘this brand is not for you.’

An increasing number of smart brands are raising their voice, blowing up trends, and narrowing their audience to connect truly, madly, deeply with a select few consumers — and building unrivaled loyalty in the process.

No, you’re weird

Canadian shoemaker John Fluevog is one of my favorite challenger brands. Fluevog began designing shoes in 1970. His shoes have always been classically handcrafted with meticulous detailing, emphasizing quality and longevity.

And they are LOUD. They’re trend-resistant, expressive, and make a statement with every step. John said in an interview just a few years ago, “I don’t follow exact trends. I can’t compete on that level. And I don’t want to. It doesn’t feel good to me. It’s not who we are.”

“It’s not easy when everyone else is wearing high spiky pointy things to come out with a squat round thing in bright colours. But at the same time there are people out there who appreciate it, and I have loyal customers.”

Fluevogs are not for everybody — intentionally. “Half the people taking pictures think our shoes are too weird for them, and that’s okay. We are engaging in a dialog. Go big or go home.”

But isn’t there risk in being so specialized?

“What has helped us survive in an Amazonian world is being different,” said Stephen Bailey, Fluevog’s CMO, in a recent interview. Being different has helped Fluevog find a consumer who has few, if any, easy substitutes.

“Sometimes our shoes are too weird, and they don’t sell,” said Bailey. But, a few years ago, “we came dangerously close to going too normal. We had five styles that were very comparable, very palatable. We gained some new customers, which was great — but when our true customers find something they like, there aren’t a lot of substitutes.”

Fluevog has learned to connect with the right consumers — rather than the most consumers — with their audacious designs, loveably bold brand voice, and community-building events like International Fluevog Day, when John calls stores around the world to give away free shoes and Fluevogers gather in their favorite stores for “class” pictures.

This unconventional approach has led to a fanatically loyal following, with fans owning upwards of 100 pairs or more of the $250-and-up kicks. New store openings regularly find 200 to 300 people in line before most of us have had our morning coffee. And when John makes an appearance at one of his eponymous retail boutiques, you’d think that Elvis and John Lennon had risen from the dead for a joint in-store.

Most importantly, Fluevog has experienced enviable growth in recent years, with 27 owned boutiques, distribution through carefully curated retail partnerships, and a worldwide community of Fluevog fanatics that include Lady Gaga, Paul Rudd, and Beyonce.

So, if you find yourself chasing your competition, maybe it’s time to switch up your brand strategy. Maybe it’s time to find your weird.

(This sponsored content was provided by SIGNAL.csk.)

Cheryl Farr founded SIGNAL.csk Brand Partners in 2009 to help organizations of all kinds realize their real brand power. She empowers leaders who value fresh creative thinking, purpose alignment and the strategic pursuit of excellence to be strong stewards of their brands – and their people to be passionate brand evangelists. Contact Cheyl: cheryl.farr@signalcsk.com

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