There’s a common misconception in the world of business about what makes people buy from some companies and not others. Most people believe that people buy a product for one of two reasons:

  1. The product is high quality
  2. The product delivers high value

Those people would be wrong.

Today, I want to dig into why people actually buy from a given company, and what you can do to take advantage of this insight in order to grow your business and focus your small business marketing. I use the company East Coast Lifestyle as a case study to show you exactly what I’m talking about.

People aren’t buying what you’re selling

This is something of a strange concept, but it’s true. In the most successful companies, customers aren’t buying the products on the product’s merits alone. There’s something more to it than just having a high-quality product or a high-value product. A product needs to be one of those things for anyone to even consider buying it.

In other words, quality and/or value are the price to be in the marketplace at all. Without quality or value built into your product, you’re pooched. Don’t even bother opening up shop.

But, having a quality product – even the highest quality product on the market – isn’t enough to get people to buy from you.

Think about your own purchases. I like to point to cars as an example. Is the car in your driveway the highest quality product on the market? Is it the highest value? Probably not. So there must be something else at play in your purchasing decision.

As another example, think of how successful Apple is in the computer business. Do they produce the best performing computers on the market? Nope. Do they offer great features for less money? Nope. In fact, you can get much better performing computers for much less money, but somehow, they still dominate the industry.

Why might this be?

People are buying what you are

People don’t buy products, they buy into other people. They buy into what you believe. That’s why Apple is such a strong company. Sure, they make quality products, but that’s not what makes them successful. They’re successful because they’re clear about who they are and what they believe, and other people see themselves in the Apple persona and think “Yeah, they get me.”

Apple communicates what it believes through everything it does – it’s product development, it’s ads, it’s events… everything. Apple believes in being different, being an underdog, being disruptive. Lots of people see themselves in that mentality and are happy to do business with a company that “gets it”, even if it is a huge corporation.

Case Study: East Coast Lifestyle

logoEast Coast Lifestyle (ECL) is a clothing company that started out as a business class project in 2013. The company sells shirts, hats, hoodies and other accessories that celebrate the east coast of Canada.

The founder, Alex Maclean, wasn’t even trying to start a business – he just wanted to get through the project and get a good mark. But after he sold out of his initial order of 30 hoodies and was quickly asked by 60 more students to order more, the project became much more than just a project.

Since 2013, the company has sold over 200,000 units. Their products are stocked on shelves across Canada, and demand is growing.

There’s no doubt that East Coast Lifestyle is a small business success story.

How did the company do so well?

There are clearly a number of things that Maclean and his staff did well to see the success that they did. There’s no doubt that they’ve worked themselves to the bone to get where they have. They’ve got good operations, good marketing, good products and all the rest, but I believe there’s one element that really set them apart from day one: they were crystal clear about what they believed in, and people dug it.

In my view, East Coast Lifestyle isn’t in the clothing business. They’re in the pride business. Sure, they sell shirts and hats and whatever, but what people really get is the ability to show their pride for where they’re from.

You might not know, but East Coast Canadians are very proud folks. They love their home, and they love meeting other maritimers. What East Coast Lifestyle did is gave maritimers an outlet for that pride – a way to show what they believe and what they’re about.

East Coast Lifestyle saw big success very quickly because their whole company was built around a love of the East Coast – a love that it’s customers shared. Whether they intended to or not, they struck a nerve with their target market.

This blurb from their “About” page sums it all up nicely:

… born and raised at the heart of the east coast in Nova Scotia, ECL was founded on the basis that people want to wear and represent the east coast and the lifestyle we live here. By creating a great product that promotes a great place, we made something special. People came together to stand for where they come from and a movement began.

ECL created a movement, not just a company or a product line.

What about product quality?

In terms of quality, ECL’s products are good. Are they the best quality clothes on the market? Nope. Does that matter? Nope.

I own a shirt and a hoodie of theirs. They’re both American Apparel items that have been branded with the ECL logo. The clothes are “good enough” to be sold commercially. I want to be clear here – this is in no way a criticism of ECL. They hit the mark in terms of quality, and there’s no need to go any further than that, because ECL customers aren’t looking to buy high-tech clothes. 

When I buy ECL clothes, I’m not looking for high-density micro-fibre, moisture-wicking super cloth. I’ll go to MEC for that. Remember – I’m buying into the idea when I get an ECL hoodie.

How can this help your business?

So, having read all this, how can you apply this to your business? I have a few simple suggestions to get you started:

  1. Figure out what you believe – why is it that you do what you do? Be careful not to answer with what you do or how you do it, but why you do it.
  2. Communicate your why proudly. Put it in your ads, on your website, on posters in your store and build it into your products and services. Let the world know what you’re passionate about and why you do what you do.
  3. Find other people who believe what you believe – go to events, write for magazines and blogs, join online groups. Connect and learn from people who share your why.
  4. Buy a swimming pool to store all of the money you’re going to start making now that business is booming.

What’s your why?

Why don’t you try step 1 right now? Share your why with the TCC community using the comments section below. Feel free to ask any other question you might have – I promise to respond to each and every one.

Itty bitty disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with East Coast Lifestyle in any way. I just love what they’re doing and thought they were a great example to illustrate the idea I was trying to communicate on today’s post.

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