I recently started working with a company that built their business from the ground up, bootstrapping almost the entire way. 20 years later they employ 400 people and run a very successful company. The products are amazing and practically sell themselves once their consumer lays hands on them. They are SO incredible that people are blown away by them. The products are actually so spot on that one would think the company’s success was predetermined.
Let me tell you about another business, their perfect product, and a different sort of result. The products are also incredible. When someone sees and touches them for the first time they fall in love. They can’t believe they ever were satisfied with the inferior substitute that they had used prior to this new discovery. They swear they will never use anything but this new, incredible product ever again. But this company isn’t a ‘success’ yet – at least they’re not where they want to be – and I know why, but first let me go back to company #1.
The first company is a manufacturer aimed at a very specific wholesale sales channel. One reason they have had tremendous growth over the long haul is that their founder and creative director has his finger squarely on the pulse of their end user market: college and high school kids. A long way out of college themselves, the sales and creatives are deeply entrenched in the community they sell to. Subtle trend shifts aren’t missed. The product is built to fit and lead the market. It hasn’t tired or grown stale because it is constantly connected to the marketplace.
The company grows because it’s products are incredibly well received by their marketplace, but more importantly, because those products are sold through precisely the right sales channels to place them AT the place the end user will find them.
The second company also manufactures a product for a very specific niche market, and the end result is equally breathtaking. In fact, company #2 makes a product that can honestly be called a market changer. It was created because there was such an obvious gap in the market place that to its founder, it appeared a no brainer. It too was aiming at a non-retail market with a more tricky to reach audience. The difference in the two is that the growth has not been as steady, and frankly easy for company #2.
Why? Well, first I want to share even more of the similarities. Company #2 also has a very strong creative direction; their products are 100% on point. Once in the hands of their hard to reach target end user, that user always falls in love. Always. Despite the fact that the product is more expensive than almost all of its competitors’ offerings, buyers become instant brand loyalists. Yet the growth hasn’t been nearly as steady and robust as it was for company #1.
Here we have 2 companies creating unbelievable products for niche markets, and one had an easier time growing; again, the question is why? Here’s the difference in as succinct a form as I can put it:
Company #1 was immersed in its target market when the company began; the 2 founders were college students at the time of launch, and they never left that community. Because the sales channels were clear – through wholesale distribution – Company #1 worked really hard at building relationships with the vendors and crystallizing that their brand was unique. Vendors bought in. Those relationships have never wavered and have only grown. For each fabulous new product, Company #1 had an attentive audience that bought in immediately.
Company #2 came out of its target market as well, but, because this market is extremely niche and highly professional, staying engaged and inside of it was much more of a challenge. The most obvious difference in Company #2’s market is that there is no clear and singular sales channel. End users buy from a myriad of outlets, including retail and online, trade shows and from sales reps that call on them directly. Growth for Company #2 is much more dependent upon raising brand awareness than building individual relationships, making the task much more frenetic and difficult to get your arms around.
HOW do you raise brand awareness when you’re a bootstrapping start up?
This was the frustrating dilemma for Company#2; how do we grow brand awareness when we lack a large marketing budget? And THAT is the million dollar question, isn’t it?
There were certain things we could not do for Company #2; we couldn’t go back and reformulate sales strategy from the company’s inception, and they didn’t ask us to. But we could work hard to create a strategy for collecting all of the individual brand advocates into a more united and vocal word of mouth marketing source. We could, and did, create a social media presence and begin planting the seeds of a growing online community with like minded values and interests. And we could help them determine the already thriving social communities they need to get involved in. We could and did help them create and launch a campaign that would make their potential buyers sit up and take notice.
Most importantly, we taught Company #2 the value of building social relationships into real life relationships, into willing brand advocates. We taught them how to continue building the community through individual relationships long after we’re gone. Has their job of reaching a hyper niche market become easier? Well, yes and no. Yes, because they now have new tools and tactics to do it, but like ALL word of mouth brand building, turning community outreach into brand awareness takes A LOT of time, and companies still working their way to a solid foundation have less time per employee to spare than anyone.
So, what we did was educate and frankly, create more work for Company #2, but, if they stick with the plan, growth will get easier and happen more quickly.
VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.