Imagine owning a business. Not an eclectic restaurant Guy Fieri would visit, nor a store with an Apple-shaped logo where consumers line up in anticipation of your newest product release. But a mundane, average, uninteresting business. Like cleaning mildewed leaves out of clogged rain gutters. Or washing bird poop from second-story windows. In the Canadian winter.
Now imagine showing up to clean those rain gutters or wash those windows, and your customers asking if you’d mind posing to take some pictures with them. And when you do, they write a glowing review on Yelp about “what a good sport” you were.
Imagine amassing over 1,100 Facebook fans and more than 2,000 Twitter followers. And that CBS, ABC, MSNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo News, and Entrepreneur Magazine are clamoring to write feature stories about you.
And all you do is wash windows. And clean rain gutters. Oh, you also shovel snow from driveways.
Too good to be true, you say? But I haven’t told you the best part. You charge higher-than-average prices—and your customers don’t care.
A Marketer’s Dream Come True
Of all types of marketing, I love content marketing and the blogging, tweeting, and sharing that accompanies it. But I’ve also been skeptical about its value for the typical small business owner. Many products or services like window washing are mundane and uninteresting, or don’t require extensive research for a consumer to make a purchase decision. As I’ve said before, I’m not particularly interested in liking my lawn care company’s Facebook page or reading their blog. I just want a green, weed-free lawn.
So what would possess me follow a Vancouver-based window cleaning company whose nearest location is over 400 miles away?
We follow companies or brands that are interesting, exciting, clever, sexy, or funny. And we do so because of what it says about ourselves and how we want others to perceive us. But following my dentist on Facebook so I can check in when I get my teeth cleaned is none of the above.
Yet Vancouver-based window cleaning company, Men In Kilts, has taken the mundane and uninteresting and made it all that, and more. The concept is simple: dress your male employees in a kilt and a t-shirt that says “No Peeking,” then send them up a ladder to clean windows.
This unique concept provides a myriad of ways to promote yourself. Like rewarding customers for submitting photos of themselves in a kilt. Or organizing a flash mob in a local mall, with kilted men dancing Gangnam Style to raise awareness about prostate cancer, lifting their kilts to reveal boxers with the words “Get Checked” across the back.
According to their website, Men In Kilts started in 2002 with “just $500, a rusty old Honda, and one hand-sewn kilt.” Today, they’re Canada’s largest window and exterior cleaning company, with franchises launching in both Canada and the US. So what’s the takeaway for you and me? I’m not suggesting you show up in a kilt for your next client meeting, but here’s what we can all learn from our kilted fellow marketers.
Differentiation Doesn’t Happen in a Test Tube
One definition of differentiation is “making your product or brand stand out as a provider of unique value to customers in comparison with its competitors.” Conventional business wisdom says, “ask your customers.” Yet I doubt there’s a focus group on the planet that would’ve told you window cleaners in dressed in kilts is what they wanted.
Value is simply anything someone is willing to pay for—even something as intangible as interesting, exciting, clever, sexy, or funny. Remember what Zig Ziglar always said: People buy on emotion, then justify it with logic.
Niche, Target, Verticalize, or Die
Considering women are the largest purchaser of home services, I’m sure it’s not by chance they chose to be called Men in Kilts. Identifying and pursuing a target demographic, niche, or vertical market is a key factor in differentiating yourself. Steve Jobs said that focusing is about saying no and innovation comes from “saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.” Rather than limiting you, Targeting, Niching, or Verticalizing sharpens your focus.
Get a Personality—or a Kilt
The empowered consumer doesn’t want to do business with the uptight corporations of the past. Ones with personality and a social conscious are finding acceptance in today’s market. Don’t take yourself so serious and you’ll discover that customers are more accepting of your mistakes. Find a cause you believe in and get behind it, then dream up some clever ways to promote it (and yourself at the same time). If a bunch of Canadian window-washers in kilts can do it, so can you.
If not, you can always become a franchise owner. I wonder—are the kilts included?
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.