The average person sees 5,000 ads per day. Every company, new and old, wants to grab our attention and introduce us to their product or service. Consumers have an unbelievable amount of options, from shoe stores to airlines to restaurants. But, how do we choose between all of the alternatives? Do we choose the brand that we have seen the most on our NewsFeed over the brand your friend has been raving about? Some startups are betting on the latter. They have introduced exclusivity as a tool to drive business demand. How can restricting access to potential customers possibly allow for a product or service to be successful? I’d like to answer this question by introducing you to three startups that are employing this model.
High-end sportswear startup, Wone, was launched this past spring by Kristin Hildebrand. The first collection that Wone released featured leggings for $320 and a sports bra for $150. This collection has completely sold out, and Hildebrand told Fast Company that she estimates to sell 15,000 garments by the end of 2018. The most impressive part of this new brand is that Wone invests $0 into marketing. As of right now, the company relies solely on word of mouth to promote their products. When the first collection was released, Hildebrand informed all her friends and family and gave samples to a few influencers in the fitness world. Wone does not even use social media as a source to reach consumers. People who hear about Wone must apply to access the products, and the owner says that she personally googles all applicants. She described this as a more hands-on approach to personalized marketing that other companies use, not an invasion of privacy. Through this process, Hildebrand gets to know customers on a personal level and can adjust her product to their feedback. Eventually, Hildebrand wants to open up the website to more customers, but strives to maintain the close connection with customers. But while she’s launching her product in the meantime, she can control demand and therefore satisfy the vendors. The members of Wone have strong brand loyalty because of the personal connection to Wone employees and easy channels of access. Wone has found great success in the startup world thus far through its exclusivity approach to acquiring customers.
Like Wone, InList has an approval process for their app, which allows members to browse nightlife, entertainment and charitable experiences. These events are very exclusive and handpicked by industry experts. The app features events available in 45 cities worldwide, from New York City to Dubai to Sydney. InList lives by the saying “our connections are your connections” and seeks to take the guesswork out of partying. Members are attracted to this service because they have 24/7 access to a live representative through the app and a nightlife ambassador at your destination, with whom you can connect. This impeccable client service allows InList to have a loyal customer base, solid relationships with early adopters and constant feedback. Additionally, these passionate InList members become the best salespeople for the app. The application process adds an element of high social status, which many users desire. Hence, the exclusivity of InList breeds enthusiastic members who provide open and honest feedback.
Launched in 2015, the League is an exclusive, members-only dating app aimed at working professionals. The League approves its members based on Facebook and LinkedIn data. Applicants are added to the waitlist pending approval (unless you pay $349 for a year membership). Additionally, applicants that are referred to the League by members are expedited through the process, and the app measures everyone’s “Referral Quality,” which is based on the popularity of the people you have referred. Although the app is free, users have the option to become a League member (for more matches, read receipts, etc.) or to buy extra daily matches individually. Additionally, members can upgrade ot be League Owners, who enjoy expedited entry, daily stats, read receipts, Groups and VIP passes. By vetting all of the people joining the app, the League looks to provide a positive experience for all its members. Many members become free brand ambassadors for the League through their friend recommendations.
When I came across the Wone brand, I was surprised that it found so much success in its first few months without a focus on marketing. However, the exclusivity of the products and the direct contact with consumers builds stronger brand loyalty than all-inclusive products. Wone, along with these other exclusive startups, seeks to create an unwavering customer base, who will continually support the business.
Many customers like the high social status that comes along with the expensive products or services. The League markets itself as an app for someone with high standards for their partner’s educational and career accomplishments. Therefore, the League provides additional filters for users. Critics have called this model very “elitist,” and the app was even accused of racism three years ago for requiring users to disclose their race. CEO Amanda Bradford rebutted that the “ethnicity data” is used to help the site become more diverse and inclusive. Overall, these companies must make careful decisions regarding their vetting process.
These three startups are examples of exclusivity across three different industries. They rely on a strong customer base of repeat-purchasers for their success. I am excited to follow these companies, as they grow larger, and see if they continue their same member restrictions!