There’s a business in Seattle with a 22-person staff and a space that combines a factory, showroom and retail store – which is open to the public only one day a month. Its product category has intense competition from several big-name brands sold through hundreds of distribution channels, yet the business owner designs all the products and hand-makes all the prototypes. Other than the once-monthly store opening, his goods are sold through his Web site. Sound like the perfect way to ensure your foray into entrepreneurship is brief – or, at best, get just enough business to get by? Actually, Tom Bihn is one of today’s most outstanding success stories.
Tom Bihn is a real person who has been creating all manner of travel bags for the past 20 years. His approach combines precise spatial engineering, stylish design and high-quality fabrics for distinctive bags that enjoy a cachet among frequent travelers. But quality and attention to detail don’t necessarily result in achieving the desired market share – or even survival. So how does Bihn position his brand so effectively?
1: Conveys the difference between “value” and “price.”
Tom Bihn’s quality comes at a price that’s typically higher than other brands’ comparable pieces. However, Tom Bihn’s demographic appreciates – and is willing to pay for – durable bags that hold all their clothes and gear, easily meet storage challenges, and get said clothes and gear to their destination in excellent condition.
2: Makes connections and builds relationships with customers, turning them into brand advocates.
Tom Bihn does little traditional advertising. An integrated social media infrastructure engages customers to interact with the brand and each other. That the brand’s highly mobile demographic is more likely to also be heavy users of social media is all to its advantage.
Social media outlets consist of Tom Bihn’s blog, user forums, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. The latter two are typically used to demonstrate product features and optimal packing instructions. Tweets avoid the hard-sell that too many brands and businesses feel compelled to pummel visitors with, instead providing an informative mix of company news, customer feedback and product introduction updates.
Customers post their own photos of products in use, offer packing advice, relate travel stories and share their overall enthusiasm for the brand. In addition to fortifying the brand’s frequent-flyer cred, such interactions allow Tom Bihn to see how people actually use the bags, and, when warranted, inform the design of new styles.
But like the design and construction of the bags themselves, this sophisticated level of intertwining social media isn’t a random process. Company vice president Darcy Gray manages all social media activities, coordinating and updating across all outlets on a regular, consistent basis – quite a different tactic from that taken by brands and businesses which simply open a Twitter or Facebook account and consider their job done.
3: Has passion for the brand, and conveys it to the world.
As stated in a previous blog post, it ultimately isn’t enough for customers to be brand advocates – everyone in the organization needs to passionate about the brand, know the brand message and stay on-message in all internal and external activities.
4. Has passion for the people who make the brand what it is.
Tom Bihn’s Web site, www.tombihn.com, features photos of all key personnel photographed at their workstation (or a photo of a favorite location in their place). Unlike many company Web sites that focus on executive-level bios, Tom Bihn’s About Us page features those on the factory’s front lines who actually sew the bags, order the fabrics and ensure quality at every step. Some bios include links to the team member’s favorite Web sites.
5. Knows what the brand is all about.
Tom Bihn knows that every brand is ultimately about people, not products or services.