BrainTrust Query: The Enduring Allure of the Secret Handshake
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of a current article from the Retail Prophet Consulting blog.
has become the ultimate online commune. Anyone can jump on a Groupon deal.
There are no requisites to joining Foursquare, Flickr or almost any other web
based social community. In fact, the web in general has in many ways become
the truest expression of the idea of equal access and egalitarianism — the
democratization of everything.
But let’s also not forget when high school
kids were lying about their age just to get a Facebook profile because the
service was exclusively for college students. It could be argued that those
early barriers to entry are what fuelled the mystique and excitement around
Facebook. Membership became coveted and cherished. The truth is that we like
exclusivity. We relish having privileges that others don’t enjoy. We all long
to know “the
secret handshake” that
takes us where others can’t go.
That’s why I believe we’re
poised to see a gradual but steady shift toward a decidedly less inclusive
web. This is not to say communities like Facebook won’t continue to grow
but that people will slowly begin to seek deeper, more valuable and ultimately
more exclusive communities to belong to.
In fact, a number of communities already
require certain criteria of their membership:
- Path.com calls itself a “personal site” that limits users to
linking with a maximum of 50 friends.
- Collegeonly.com picks up where Facebook began by creating a social network
exclusively for college students.
- Asmallworld.net has been called “MySpace for millionaires.”
- Beautifulpeople.com (Believe it or not!) is a site where users’ photographs
are actually voted on prior to being granted access. That’s right,
no ugly people allowed!
While sites like beautifulpeople.com may strike us as nothing more than tasteless
elitism, they point to the underlying human need to feel special, unique and
valued via exclusive membership.
Retailers on the other hand have inundated us
with free memberships and loyalty programs. As a consequence, we begin to shy
away from loyalty programs altogether. After all, if anyone qualifies, how
valuable can it really be?
Some brands like Starbucks and Lululemon have hinted
at a sense of exclusivity by creating a strong culture complete with their
own product languages. Others, like Neiman Marcus and Saks, have excluded largely
through pricing. Even sites like Gilt Groupe and Rue La La have built their
businesses on a by-invitation-only model — although getting an invitation
isn’t a challenge.
I would argue, though, that there’s an opportunity
to take the notion of exclusivity much farther, creating private customer communities
that are so experiential, enjoyable and value-added that consumers would clamor
for access. Unlike more banal retail loyalty programs, the potential exists
to build members-only branded communities offering everything from social connections
through to exclusive media, products and even live events. Imagine belonging
to a branded social network so exclusive and valuable you’d be willing
to pay to belong!
This runs completely contrary to the DNA of many marketers
who have come to regard success as providing reasonable value to as many people
as possible. In exclusive communities, by contrast, success lies in creating
enormous value for only your very best or most influential customers … the
chosen few, as it were. It means creating deep brand experiences for some instead
of shallow brand experiences for all.
Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential for more exclusive brand communities? How might they add value for consumers in ways that store loyalty programs currently can’t? Are consumers tiring of typical loyalty schemes?