Your brand could use fewer friends.


The art of rejecting the masses in order to attract your most ardent fans.

Posted by Prentice Howe, Owner/Executive Creative Director, Door Number 3

We all have friends that aren’t a good fit in our lives. Maybe we have nothing in common with them. Perhaps they’re emotionally draining. Or flaky. Or they encourage us to make crappy decisions. Yet what do we do? We continue to meet them for happy hour, double tap their Instagram posts and attend their annual holiday party, somehow thinking that our social stock might drop if we were to cut them off. All the while we’re wasting critical time and energy that could be focused on lasting friendships that feed our soul and help us grow. 

Guess what? Your brand faces the same problem. 

Yet, because your brand (let’s call him Larry) can’t talk, you’ll never hear about it. You will continue to spend marketing dollars, helping Larry attract gobs of the wrong kind of friends. And you will continue to excitedly share Larry’s popularity with your C-suite every quarter, illustrating how the potential friendship market for Larry is exponential. With a strong “Larry offers something for everyone” marketing message (think Cheesecake Factory menu), Larry can attract the religious right and libertarians! Friends that love opera and friends that love death metal!

Larry can’t talk so let me be the voice for the voiceless.

It’s time to take inventory of your brand's friends. 

Larry is burning daylight with hanger-ons when he should be bonding with comrades that know and love him most. 

Instead, focus only on pleasing a select few.

Benetton. Mini Cooper. Lululemon. These brands attracted their most ardent fans by intentionally pushing others away. It’s called Fostering Rejection and you need to understand it in order to succeed as a challenger brand. Challengers that foster rejection create a very specific cult-like following around a singular passion point. In doing so, they set the table for their greatest advocates to spread the good word and, over time, grow their tribe through unbridled fanaticism. 

Christian Louboutin prices people out of contention as a way to get rid of many. 

Tough Mudder is happily the wrong fit for those unwilling to push, pull and roll their way through The Block Ness Monster, 60ft of slick, rotating barriers.

Hendrick’s Gin is admittedly exclusionary with “It is not for everyone” inked onto their label. 

So how do you Foster Rejection in a way that will create the most advocacy? Here’s some inspiration. 

1. Be a mango amongst apples.   

Building advocacy begins by establishing a blindingly clear point of differentiation. Dollar Shave Club didn’t enter the marketplace with dreams of appealing to everyone with unwanted body hair. Instead they set themselves apart from the mediocre sea of behemoth razor companies by appealing to dudebros who were tired of paying high dollar for disposable blades. Just five years after launching, the little challenger with the funny viral video sold to Unilever for $1 billion. When you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

2. Unleash your inner-remarkability.

Yuengling fans used to trek across the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line to buy cases of their beloved (and hard to get) brew. Crossfit enthusiasts bend co-workers’ ears talking about box jumps and dead lifts. Similarly, your brand likely has its own inner-remarkability – that core fascination that could create magnetism with your fan base. Do you know what it is? Identify it, then evangelize it. Figure out where your biggest fans live, both online and offline. Then spend all your time and resources spoon-feeding them stories, insider insights, exclusive offers and other content that lights their fire. In doing so, you’ll be arming them with the tools they need to spread the love. 

3. Avoid shiny objects. 

Consistency begins with constancy of purpose. Constancy of purpose begins with restraint. Stay true to your brightest differentiators and steadfast in your mission to make the brand fascinating. Resist the temptation to deviate or pile on additional marketing messages in an effort to widen your friendship base. Stay in your lane and remain consistent with your message. You’ll blossom in no time.

Challengers do not have the marketing resources of their leading competitors. Trying to be meaningful to more people means that your brand’s proposition will be diluted to everybody. Instead, commit to a “friend purge.” Take a step back and truly differentiate your brand, then focus on identifying your greatest advocate – even at the risk of alienating many. Once this brand/advocate relationship is established, a focused and consistent plan centered around fascination will be your calling card to growth. Sure, you might piss off some people along the way. But then were those people ever really friends to begin with? 

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