How to be Inclusive with Your Exclusive Brand

Strike the right balance with your brand.

Wendy Ruyle 3.02.2016

What are the benefits to being inclusive and exclusive when it comes to branding? And how do you welcome new members to your exclusive club?

Most marketers will say you need to find your niche in the marketplace and promote what you do differently in order to stand out. I would. But what happens when that means excluding some portions of the population? Will you get portrayed as the bad guy? It all depends on how you approach it.

What’s the risk of being too inclusive?

First of all, let’s define inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive brands strive to be everything to everyone. Think Microsoft or some presidential candidates. The goal of the brand is to relate to anyone and everyone. The problem comes when the features of the product or the opinions of the candidate become so watered down that no one has any passion for them. It’s hard to cultivate brand advocates when what they think of your product is: “Sure, this adequately meets my needs.”

What’s the risk of being too exclusive?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, exclusive brands cater to one section of the population, and do all they can for that group. Think sports teams or luxury brands like Tiffany. You have to commit to a team or achieve a certain level of wealth in order to be in the club. These brands gain loyal followers who are passionate about their products and services. So, what can go wrong? You can run the risk of being seen as snooty or out-of-touch. Fashion can change and you’ll no longer be the “it” brand. Or, you can price yourself out of the available market.

How do you achieve the right balance?

Here are some techniques to make sure you create your niche but avoid marginalizing your brand.

1. Make sure your market is big enough to be sustainable

Do your research to make sure the niche market you want to target is large enough to sustain your business. Typically, you can command a higher price for an exclusive brand, but if there are only a handful of people who want to buy from you, you won’t stay in business long.

2. Create low-risk points of entry

Even Tiffany has a few items in the $100-150 range. While their top-end products can cost tens of thousands of dollars, entry-level customers can buy a locket or a keychain and still get the elegant service and the signature blue box. These customers may go on to buy those higher-end items as their wealth grows.

3. Take a stand and add emotion to the equation

Taking a stand helps to galvanize your loyal followers. In November of 2015, REI took a stand against Black Friday sales. They closed their stores, paid their employees, and encouraged everyone to spend the day outside with their hashtag #optoutside. The emotional part of this stand was key. They weren’t just saying Black Friday sales are bad. They were saying being outside is awesome, which is a core tenet of their brand.

4. Stay in touch with your audience and market trends

There is nothing wrong with maintaining a classic brand. However, when the market shifts drastically, you may have to shift along with it. A few years back, Restoration Hardware, which previously had wonderful low points of entry, switched its focus to the high end of the market. They created encyclopedia-sized catalogs that imagined all their customers had second, third, and fourth homes to furnish. The language and images were so over the top they spawned countless blog posts, tumblrs, and media articles about what exactly they were thinking. The whole campaign was completely out-of-touch with the reality of today’s economy and their current customer base. Make sure you keep your finger on the pulse of the real world in which your customers are living.

It is key to brand building to find that thing that you do better than anyone else and find the audience who will appreciate it. Just make sure as you are cultivating that audience so you don’t alienate potential brand advocates. Welcome them to the club.

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