The Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry

Method Method

RATING: 6/10…READ: January 17, 2012

The Story and Principles of how Method came to be. A Great Story of how two individuals disrupt the giants of the cleaning product industry and the insanely emotional hard work that goes into it. A valuable book for navigating the world of retail and what big business “2.0″ looks like.

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After spending countless mind-numbing research hours in supermarket aisles, Eric found himself imagining how he’d reinvent some of the products we use every day. He realized that rather than trying to create something out of thing air, it was much easier to find a proven but tired industry and identify a way to disrupt it. This is how you are trained to think in advertising. Look at a category and find the cultural shift or consumer motivation that the leading brands are not delivering on. The space in between is where you’ll find the opportunity.

With finished products I hand, we started the uphill climb to get them into stores. We can still remember walking into that first grocery store at 6:00 A.M., tracking down the manager, and launching into a nervous thirty-second pitch about why he should carry Method. We’re still not sure why he said yes—was it the beauty and appeal of the product, or just his concern that we would keep coming back?

Over the next several months, we went door-to-door, pitching to every Bay Area independent market we could find. We settled into a routine, picking up product at the factory in the morning, delivering it to stores throughout the day, and counting up how many we sold by day’s end so that we could build a sales story. To market the product, we held in-store demonstrations and passed out coupons, which also doubled as consumer research.

When you’re in an entrepreneurial funk, you wind up questioning every thing. What am I doing? How on earth did I think I could do this? Do I even want to do this anymore? Wallowing in this kind of mood, you start to think about all the opportunities you passed over along the way. Sometimes it was just an itch—perhaps a casual inquiry about job opportunities during lunch with an old colleague. Sometimes it was a fever—such as the overwhelming urge to drop everything, book a last minute flight, and start over in some far-off, exotic corner of the world where no one knows your name.

Our first pitch had taught us that Target wasn’t interested in our modest product line or our relatively unknown brand—yet. So we attacked the obstacles with zeal. Our spray cleaner wasn’t intriguing enough? We designed an entire line of home cleaning products! Our brand wasn’t famous enough? We enlisted the star power of Karim Rashid, one of the world’s best-known industrial designers, commissioning him to create new bottles! We weren’t worth the head buyer’s time? We found time with somebody else!

For those of you who have studied entrepreneurship, it should come as no surprise that our biggest mistake was simply growing too fast and trying to do too much. Rapidly expanding into a number of areas, we grew naively, as if the good times would never end.

Today we choose the brands we want to interact with, and we block out the rest. As consumers, we no longer want to be a passive audience; we want to be participants. It’s a sea change in how consumers shop and how brands do business. We call it the big shift.

The difference between a mass-market brand and a belief brand is like the difference between a monologue and a dialogue. Mass brands talk at people. Or more accurately, the SHOUT! Belief brands, on the other hand, listen and create a conversation.

Most of today’s brands are promised based brands (“always low prices”), not philosophy based brands (help you live better). But brand relationships are like human relationships; if they’re based on promise—a one sided idea—there’s no depth to the relationship. The result is that many existing brands built in the mass-media era offer little for consumers to bond over.

In contrast, a brand philosophy is subtler, more complex. Not only does a philosophy take more time to communicate than a promise, but the appropriate audience is also much smaller. That’s because your beliefs and values need to resonate with your audience before they become shared beliefs and values. Until recently, this wasn’t easy—especially for start-ups trying to get a toehold in mass advertising, competing with repetition, volume, and variety. In the race to the bottom, every company had to streamline its message, pairing away personality and depth. But the arrival of social media means philosophy-based brands have more ways to express themselves and tell a deeper story, inviting people to discover every special detail on their own time rather than interrupting them with some reductive promise.

We admit it: we were never passionate about cleaning before we launched Method. But building a belief brand with a social mission taught us that there is no such thing as a low-interest category, just low-interest brands. Anyone can generate excitement about a new cell phone technology or a new beer brand. Attracting attention in a traditionally low-interest category (like soap) takes a bit more thought. This is one of the best benefits of belief brands—they work equally well in crowded high-interest categories and in overlooked categories. Beyond the emotional engagement created by sharing similar beliefs and values with their advocates, belief brands have a philosophy, an attitude, and a story to tell. Their personalities aren’t created in some office on Madison Avenue; they’re woven into the very fabric of the organization.

Bottom line: if you’re struggling to shift your brand from low to high interest, seek to reframe your communications from presenting the problem to projecting the desired end state and wrap that in a social mission.

We weren’t all about soap back in the day, but we did have a passion for sustainability. This kind of passion is what fuels the desire to keep improving ahead of our competition and the consumer.

Today, the riches are in the niches.

Write for one person. The secret to a great brand voice isn’t just using your own voice—its using that voice to speak authentically, the same way you speak to your family and friends.

In the beginning, being fast—fast to prototype, fast to test, fast to market—was key to our survival; we had to prove we were here to stay. But we’ve learned over the years that speed doesn’t always translate directly into success. Without wisdom, speed is recklessness.

It takes three times as much energy to get something moving as it does to maintain momentum.

Inherently, speed comes with a lot of risks—more, in fact, than any of our other obsessions. Yet the rewards of moving quickly usually go hand in hand with the dangers, and shorter development cycles allow for more opportunities. In the early stages of launching a business, speed is your friend, but mishandled, it can become a liability.

“What is more likely to hurt the business: going to slow or going to fast?” This is where having an established point of view is absolutely essential. You want to have an unwavering vision, but incredible flexibility in how you bring it to life. To put it another way, you want to stay true to the destination but be open as how you get there.

In order to innovate quickly, you need to have a point of view that aligns with your core values. Whenever we assess a new idea or product we’re thinking to taking to market, we look at it with a very specific set of criteria in mind. Is it smart? Is it sexy? Is it sustainable? Will it create an advocate? Does it keep Method weird?

Breaking into a established category:

Open a test market: Find ten local stores in your area where the manager can decide whether to carry your product. If you show up enough times, they might just say yes, and you’re on your way to proving sales (which you can then take to a bigger chain).

Find an alternative way in: even if it’s not the buyer, get someone there excited. We leveraged a marketing relationship to get Target’s own marketing department to help us convince their buyers.

Help retailers see what’s in it for them: If it’s not a big and simple story, expect radio silence. Retailers are inundated with new product ideas and pitches, so if yours doesn’t have a clearly articulated benefit for the retailer, don’t bother.

Skip the trade shows: We’ve done the entire circuit. Unless you’re paying for direct access to buyers (at shows like efficient collaborative retail marketing), there are probably better uses of your precious capital.

Offer a six-to-twelve-month exclusive: Major retailers will value the head start on their competitors, and you’ll get the opportunity to test and learn before approaching other retailers.

Products fulfill needs. Experiences fulfill desires. The abundance of society has over satisfied most of our material needs so today we have to compete on more emotional sensibilities.

The transition from rational propositions to emotional propositions is the crux of Method’s obsession with product experience.

In our increasingly fragmented consumer world, it is better to upset 90 percent of the people while capturing the attention and interest of the other 10 percent than it is to be merely OK to all of them. In other words, it is better to be something to somebody than nothing to everybody.