Inc. recently ran a fascinating article: “How We Market to ‘The Man.”
Two entrepreneurs, motivated by a calling to create an online apparel company aimed at the metrosexual, urban “hipster” trend.
Their path soon took an unanticipated turn.
Do You Follow Those You Serve?
Like many young people, Blank Label founders Fan Bi and Danny Wong were motivated to push the envelope, to be on the avant-garde. They are Millennials. When they founded their company in 2009, Bi was 22, Wong was 19.
In 2010, the founders reviewed their business. They searched for more information about their customers.
Who Are You Serving?
Inc. reports that the entrepreneurs were astonished to learn that their customers were not who they thought they were. That is to say, their customers weren’t like they were when they started their company.
In fact, their customers were more like the founders after the latter had found a modicum of financial success: “It was like, ‘Holy crap, our customers aren’t 22-year-olds who are rebellious and against ‘The Man,’” Bi says. “Our customers are The Man.”
Ultimately, Blank Label decided to serve their proven customers. Those customers happened to be “well-off white-collar workers in their late 30s. Many were attorneys. They were the type of consumers who had previously been shopping at Brooks Brothers, not Urban Outfitters.”
The Four Questions
In terms of Serve to Lead, the Blank Label founders’ decisions can be analyzed through the lens of the Four Questions:
Who Are You Serving? Bi and Wong identified their customers. They determined to serve them, even though they were not the group that initially motivated their service. To have maintained their initial notions, against the reality they uncovered, would have been to serve themselves. This appears to have been a deeply personal decision for each of them, given that it altered their initial vision.
How Can You Best Serve? Bi and Wong necessarily have adjusted their value proposition, working back from their greater understanding of who they’re serving.
Are You Making Your Unique Contribution? Bi and Wong appear to have carved out a compelling niche. It’s also a highly competitive place that is open to challenge from the next smart, energetic entrepreneurs. A challenge they will now face: having identified that they’re serving a different customer than they anticipated, will they create a deep relationship with those new customers? Will they be able to move from acknowledging their new customers–no small first step under the circumstances–to co-creating their products with them? Social media tools may be central to this task. The founders may need to be especially attuned to whether the various generations they serve use such tools in different ways.
Are You Getting Better Every Day? It’s early to know if Blank Label has cultivated a culture of continuous improvement. If the Inc.report is any indication, the company is off to a great start. The company was conceived with the generational perspective of the founders being asserted. Soon it has found that its customers are of another generational cohort. Will the company continue to learn from its own generation and older ones? Will it be open to the perspective of the younger ones coming up?
The Four Questions are, arguably, timeless. Yet they’re certainly timely, indeed required, to maintain competitive advantage in the fast, furious, new world of 21st century leadership.
Blank Label | Follow Those You Serve