Human beings are curious. They love to explore. And they love to shop. Many consumers—up to 25 million Americans—visit a mall on any given Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes they arrive with a list of priority items that they’re ready to purchase. Sometimes they just wander and browse. Sometimes they are looking to touch, feel, and experience products that they will later buy online.
If you have a brand, this is your chance to stand out from the crowd. Retailers tell us that strong brands sell without promotion. Consumers come into the store and ask for signature products. Weak brands sit on shelves, waiting to be scooped up at a steep markdown by bargain hunters.
In our experience, great brands can last forever—if you work them. Brands make consumers’ lives easier. Consumers love to love brands.
That’s what we call apostle brands. Think Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN) or Starbucks (SBUX). But replicating their success is a real challenge. Apostle brands are rare. Few companies have brands whose signature products and services are widely revered everywhere. There are 10,000 multi-million-dollar consumer companies around the world, but only 100 of them can properly claim to have apostle brands. They offer magic and light. They provide entertainment, nourishment, imagination, and utter joy. They inspire enduring trust, loyalty, love, and almost evangelical endorsements and advocacy. To their fans, followers, and believers, they are like religions.
How do you convert customers into apostles? How do you build an apostle brand? In our book, Rocket: Eight Lessons To Secure Infinite Growth, we have synthesized our findings to create a set of eight branding rules.
Rule No. 1: Don’t ask your customers what they want (because they don’t know until you show them)
A few years ago, a global communications giant was considering the cell phone business. In focus groups, salesmen were invited to look at the box phone and were then asked, “When will you use it?” The salesmen said that they would BE MORE LIKELY put a quarter into a pay phone than pay $500 or $1,000 for an unwieldy box. As a result, the company put the cell phone idea on a back burner. This was an expensive error. It cost the company billions of dollars to buy its way back into the business after it had taken off. The consumer could not imagine a better way to make a phone call and certainly could not imagine paying for it. Success requires curiosity and courage, instinct, and a taste for the jugular. It requires you to look beyond simple answers and impulsive consumer rejection.
Rule No. 2: Woo your biggest fans (because they’re absolutely worth it)
Few companies count the value of their best customers’ purchases and the value of the purchases that those customers promote through word-of-mouth advocacy. Our research supports the “rule of 2-20-80-150″4+.” The 2% of consumers that we call apostles personally responsible for a full 20% of the sales. To their friends and acquaintances they advocate up to 80% of a company’s sales. This combination of friends and self purchases deliver up to 150% of a company’s profits. Companies fight to sell the remaining 20% of their sales to “strangers” and generate losses chasing this business.
Rule No. 3: Always welcome your customer’s scorn (because you’ll come back stronger)
Toyota (TM) says that a complaint is a gift. The company tracks and processes every customer complaint. This operates as a system to stamp out repeated customer dissatisfaction. Complain once, let me fix it. Complain twice, shame on me. Complain three times, and I should be replaced. Toyota’s approach translates into higher resale value, a higher repurchase rate, and deeper loyalty.
Rule No. 4: Looks do count (because people really do judge a book by its cover)
Consumers use their eyes in every purchase. They look for beauty. They dream about a better world for themselves and their loved ones. The best dreamscape company in the world is Disney (DIS). Little girls visiting Disney World go to the Magic Kingdom. They see Cinderella and Snow White. They carry the image in their subconscious. For many, it draws them back when they decide to marry. Disney has created a rich business by fulfilling fantasy. Visual brilliance costs a lot, but its value is priceless.
Rule No. 5: Transform your employees into passionate disciples (because love is truly infectious)
Walk into the Container Store (TCS) with a vague idea about a storage problem and ask for help. Within moments, a counselor will have you telling him all your storage and living problems, and soon he will be offering solutions. They call this “man in the desert” selling—listening, helping, engaging, suggesting. It is a perennial favorite company to work for. The Container Store associates are treated with respect, are paid twice the wage of competitors’ employees, and turn over at a fraction of the average rate.
Rule No. 6: Better ramp up your virtual relationships (because that’s what your customers are doing)
The world has moved to 24/7. The consumers with the most disposable income have the least amount of time. But they have high-speed Internet lines at home and at work. And they want to buy what they want to buy when they want it.
Rule No. 7: Take giant leaps (because you’re not going to win with timid steps)
There are those who advocate continuous improvement, incremental advances, and consolidation. But no one ever changed the world that way. No one ever really built an apostle brand that way. To do these things, you must show foresight, fearlessness, and fortitude. Big wins require big dreams. Natura Cosmeticos, a Brazilian company, started as a small shop and laboratory and quickly realized the enormous potential of the Amazon rain forest as a source of health-giving ingredients for beauty products. It now ranks as one of the world’s most profitable cosmetics companies, transforming the lives of millions of women in Latin America and driving up the standard of living for its 1.6 million female sales consultants. It got there by leaps and bounds.
Rule No. 8: Find out what schismogenesis Means (because it will save your relationships)
Brands are fragile. They are subject to the laws of schismogenesis. This is a term from anthropology. It means that relationships are not stable. Brands work according to the same law. Brands are always moving—up, up, up or down, down, down.
Now is the time to write your story, make it come alive for all, and create infinite growth.
Michael Silverstein is a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group and co-author of Trading Up, Treasure Hunt, Women Want More and the $10 Trillion Dollar Prize. He is based in Chicago. Dylan Bolden, Rune Jacobsen and Rohan Sadjah are also senior partners at BCG.