Dollar Shave Club started with a simple value proposition:
What if men didn’t dread buying new razors? What if they actually… enjoyed it?
And they struck a nerve. Millions of frustrated guys have signed up to have razors delivered to their homes for a low monthly fee.
Dollar Shave Club did what so many successful craft brands do—they took a broken process and fixed it, all while maintaining a personal, “we feel your pain” connection with customers.
Within three years they had outgrown their niche and were suddenly running with big dogs like Schick and Gillette, facing a whole slew of new challenges and opportunities.
When A Small Brand Rapidly Becomes Goliath
So what happens when a small brand becomes a goliath? How can they stay true to their business while they grow?
This article will explore the timing of a mainstream leap and outline how craft brands can stay true to their values and act small at scale.
Becoming a goliath does involve risk, but if you prepare well, the results could exceed your wildest expectations and allow your craft brand to truly change the world.
How to Know When It’s Time to Leap
If your brand is dominating your niche, you will eventually have to answer this question:
Do we continue being a big fish in a small pond, or do we make the leap and go mainstream?
Getting to the top of your niche and not making the leap is a risky move. If your niche is gaining popularity, your craft brand will soon face tons of new competition.
If you wait for that to happen, your window of opportunity could slam shut.
Going mainstream is an inevitable outcome for successful craft brands, but there are some definite fear and trepidation that accompanies a jump to that next level.
You worry about maintaining your culture, managing more operations across the globe, hiring new people, and dealing with complex supply chains, pricing, and language barriers.
On the flip side, playing it safe could mean irrelevancy or the end of your business. The key is to know what’s coming and not be scared by new opportunities.
If you’re not sure the time is right to make the leap, ask yourself these questions:
1) Does your brand need to expand so you can properly serve your customers?
2) Are new competitors biting off chunks of the market share in your niche?
If you answered “yes” to either question, it’s time for your craft brand to go mainstream.
How to Stay True to Your Values
One big fear craft brands have about crossing over into the mainstream is becoming a faceless corporate juggernaut and losing the essence of what made them unique.
But going from a scrappy underdog to a household name doesn’t mean you have to sell out.
Zappos didn’t stop delivering world class customer service once they broke through, and Under Armour is still creating innovative apparel years after becoming an industry leader.
Whatever unique value your craft brand brings to the world should never be diminished. In fact, small, craft brands should amplify their values more than ever when going mainstream to ensure new customers love them for the same reasons existing customers do.
Double Down On Your Brand Promise
Doubling down on your brand promise also sends a clear message to early adopters that your brand won’t abandon what made it unique for the sake of mass appeal.
Look at the mainstream leap as an opportunity to combine your craft brand’s personality with the convenience of a national retailer, giving your customers the best of both worlds.
This approach does beg the question: What special quality defines your brand?
In working with a range of craft brands at Hubba, I’ve seen value defined in different ways: some brands proudly use locally sourced materials, others create gorgeous handcrafted goods, and many are tirelessly working to redefine high-end quality within their niche.
A craft brand’s value can’t be abstract. This quality should be so tangible that your team lives by it, your customers cherish it, and newcomers recognize it immediately.
You need to write your value down and filter every decision through that lens. Only then will you be prepared for the challenges of protecting your brand during growth.
But writing down what makes you different isn't enough. Staying special as you scale doesn’t happen by accident. You must be intentional about maintaining your brand integrity, which means creating a framework to make sure you:
- Stay true to your brand’s voice -- the one customers know and love—in all your marketing.
- Stay true to your brand’s values -- as your business model changes to serve more customers.
- Stay true to your brand’s customers -- and never waver in your commitment to them.
Prepare and plan for growth and your craft brand won’t lose its identity in the mainstream marketplace. But just because you’re thinking big doesn’t mean you can’t act small.
How to To Maintain Personal Connections At Scale
Unlike sprawling retailers that seem distant and impersonal, small brands are easily relatable because their connection to the customer feels so personal.
Craft brands can maintain that personal touch with customers within their niche, but what happens when they’re a household name with millions of new customers?
As these brands reach new customers, technology allows them to maintain a finely-honed message rather than diluting themselves for the sake of mass appeal.
Under the old model of scaling a business, this was unthinkable.
The old model of mass marketing to millions of people and hoping you attracted a portion of them was too scattershot to be effective.
Now craft brands can take a surgical approach and deliver tailor-made messages by:
- Creating a lookalike audience (people like your customers) for Facebook marketing.
- Distributing content through apps, websites, and social media to add value to your world.
- Utilizing a service like #Paid to set up influencer marketing opportunities.
Within the mainstream marketplace are niches you can speak to with custom messages, and when a message feels specific to each customer, a craft brand feels personal.
Don’t Forget You’re A Craft Brand—Even As You Grow
Two lessons emerge from watching small brands grow up into goliaths:
1. Never sacrifice quality for the sake of saving money or time. Trying to cut corners will always cost you customers, money, and, eventually, your business.
2. Stay committed to your customers and never compromise their trust. Your biggest advocates can become your biggest detractors if you take them for granted or disrespect them.
Every leading craft brand will eventually face the decision to go mainstream. As we’ve seen, this move doesn’t have to be a scary proposition if you take steps to ensure your own success.