Famous Last Words: Exclusivity, Yesss!
Recently, I saw a photograph of a polar bear floating on a lonely hunk of ice in the Arctic, and the accompanying story told how these exquisite creatures will be doomed, victims of global warming. Sad.
My mind raced back 15 years when during the last week in October my wife, Peggy, and I—along with 36 other intrepid adventurers—spent two days in strange vehicles called Tundra Buggies on the frozen shore of the Hudson Bay to photograph polar bears as they slept, sparred, nuzzled and played in the snow. White against white. It was magical. Shortly the bay would freeze over, and the bears would head off for their lonely and mystical eight-month sojourn into the Arctic to hunt seal and have their cubs.
Yeah, it was expensive as hell, cold as hell, and yeah, the accommodations were rough—sleeping cars with upper and lower births. The loo was a one-holer with a plastic bag beneath it. Doors didn't close; we ate food (as opposed to partaking of cuisine) served by three energetic, delightful but somewhat scatty kids charged with taking care of 38 people. But if you wanted to see polar bears from first light to sunset in Churchill, Manitoba, during a six-week window, the only way you could do it was with Len Smith, who invented and built the Tundra Buggies and held most of the permits to take tourists out to see the bears. Smith's tours always sold out, and he had a waiting list. He could charge a lot and didn't have to match Hilton or Helmsley service, because he had the exclusive.
Isn't exclusivity the most precious commodity in business? You can cream the market. Anyone trying to imitate you will have startup costs plus the challenge of persuading your existing customers to switch. If you do a halfway decent job, existing customers won't switch, which means the newcomer is forced to market to the leftovers who were too poor or too disinterested to buy from you in the first place.
Who has the exclusives in this world? The gorilla safaris in Rwanda. Consumer Reports for its ratings of cars and appliances. The Green Bay Packers, whose waiting list for season tickets extends to the year 3000 [sic!]. Food concessions in small airports and large stadiums. Richard Branson's space plane. Target Marketing Group's Who's Mailing What! Archive of more than 200,000 direct mail packages amassed over 20-plus years. How many other exclusive products and services can you think of?
There's a saying in marketing that people will buy from you for four reasons—and four reasons only: price and/or service and/or quality and/or exclusivity.
If you can move your business into the area of exclusivity (and guarantee quality), you have no worries about price, service … and competition.
At the same time, exclusivity can be fleeting. Global warming will put Len Smith's polar bear safaris out of business. Cruel hunters may well do in Rwanda's gorillas in the mist. The Internet is wreaking havoc with the viability of your favorite local newspaper. Will e-books displace printed books after their 500-year run that started with Gutenberg?
In the immortal words of the late Bill Munro, former marketing director at PepsiCo, "Imitation is the sincerest form of collective stupidity."
Go for it while you can, and hang on to it for dear life!
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the e-mail newsletter, Denny Hatch's Business Common Sense. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.