Standing out in the crowd is key to building your brand, but knowing when to say no to growth is equally important.
Much has been written about the importance of brands, especially in this crowded, competitive world. If you're not a brand, you're just a commodity: There are computers, and then there are Apple computers. Two types of brands exist: corporate and entrepreneurial. An example of a corporate brand is Lexus, the brand for people who want to pay more for their Toyota. Examples of entrepreneurial brands are Michael Dell, Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford, Ferdinand Porsche and Donald Trump. For these entrepreneurs to build their brand, they must first be the brand. Their unique character is projected through their business, products and brand message. When I meet with Trump, the moment I enter the lobby of Trump Tower, my senses are overwhelmed by the Trump message, Trump experience, and ultimately, the Trump promise.
Few entrepreneurs develop into a brand, simply because their product or service doesn't reflect their true character. Often entrepreneurs want to be pleasing, polite, inoffensive, nice--all things to all people. This isn't being a brand; this is being a commodity--and a boring one at that.
Brands become exclusive by excluding. They know who their customer is and cater to that customer. For example, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton knew his customers wanted low prices. Trump, on the other hand, knows his customers expect the very best and will pay for it.
For most of my life, I was a loyal Porsche fan. When I was poor, I dreamed of owning a Porsche. When I became rich, I owned several Porsche 911s. But when Porsche came out with the Boxster, Carrera GT, Cayenne, Cayman and a rumored sedan to compete with BMW, I switched. I switched because they were trying to include, not exclude. In an attempt to gain more market share, Porsche diluted its brand.
I love Apple's ads because the chubby PC guy isn't the cool Apple guy. Apple and Steve Jobs want you to choose. They want to exclude. Apple is Jobs and Jobs is Apple. Richard Branson, Walt Disney and Warren Buffett are also characters and brands.
What does this mean for you? It means that entrepreneurial brands must guard against the inflection point that comes with success, when too much growth pushes your brand from exclusivity and uniqueness to inclusivity and universality, from being a high-margin purchase to a lower-margin purchase. When Wall Street demands double-digit quarterly growth, your brand and vision are in danger of becoming just another corporate brand . . . and then stalling. Examples of this are everywhere: DuPont, Ford and Starbucks. Fortunately, it's reversible, as Jobs proved at Apple.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad series of books, is an investor, entrepreneur and educator whose perspectives have changed the way people think about money and investing.
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