If you were a pair of twentysomethings sharing a dirty flat and have no retail experience, would you start a company to make hand wash and household cleaners? Yet that is exactly what Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, even though everyone thought they were crazy to even think of going up against the giants of P&G, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive, who dominate the supermarket shelves. They started method inc. in 2001, making it an earth friendly cleaning company with chic packaging. In 2001, they were down by $300,000. Sales hit $15.3 million in 2005. Now, method makes about 200 products with a $100 million turnover in 2011 and was named the seventh-fastest growing private company in America. Not bad for two boys whom everyone didn’t take seriously at the start.
What did they do right?
Method’s core promise is cleaning products that does not harm the earth (including everyone and everything on it) and comes in stylish, innovative packaging. This was a niche market that the big boys did not enter. They disrupted the cleaning industry by making products that looked good, smelled great and worked effectively. ‘Green’ is not an immediately obvious product benefit. For method, being earth friendly is not a ‘badge of honor’, it is simply the way they do things and the belief they have.
“There was this whole idea that [green] was a compromise – ‘It doesn’t work as well, but that’s OK because I’m doing my bit’. So when we launched we put bio-degradable and non-toxic on the back. We used design to get people in, thinking they would buy it because the bottle was beautiful. Then when they got home and used the products, they would realize they were earth-friendly and actually worked”, Ryan said.
Pitting against industry Goliaths, method went further to differentiate the brand. They injected big personality and quirkiness into their marketing and relied heavily on social media and word of mouth.
A strong brand knows its purpose. Method stands for cleaner homes and healthier, happier people. Everyone who works at method shares the same philosophy and purpose. All that they say and do revolves around that purpose.
Differentiate. Look at what the industry is doing find a relevant benefit which is underexplored. Brands can differentiate on many levels – core product, communication and experience. Method is fun, happy and quirky where the corporate giants are serious and scientific. Method relies on word of mouth with almost zero advertising whereas their competitors spend more on toilet paper than method spends on advertising.
Build a community. The cumulative effect of a great differentiated product, great purpose and marketing and an awesome personality is a cult of method groupies. There are people like Nathan Aaron, who loves method so much he dedicates a blog to the brand, populated by a community of like-minded consumers. There are design people, eco-friendly people, homemakers and bloggers who are devoted fans of method. The brand uses social media and PR to engage with this community and generate word of mouth.
“When we started this company, we had a saying that we were never going to out-Clorox Clorox”, says Ryan. “We shifted the playing field where companies are now trying to out-Method Method”. How are you shifting the playing field to your advantage?