In a recent episode of the Bottom Line on Radio 4, guest Jacqueline de Rojas told the story of how a business owner in Texas had made his fortune.
The entrepreneur, she explained, had opened a car wash.
In the first month he had tried to target every car owner on the planet.
By the second month he had started to target car owners within three to four miles.
After another month he had discovered there were only three types of people that used the car wash – business people, parents dropping off their children at school and people wanting to sell their car.
The car wash owner adjusted his advertising campaign accordingly. But he still made no more than $10 per customer.
“He finally woke up in a flash of enlightenment in the fourth month and realised he was not in the car wash business, he was in the status business,” de Rojas said.
And so the entrepreneur opened adjacent businesses to the car wash, including a dry cleaners and nail bar. Soon he was generating more than $60 per customer.
“It wasn’t the car wash that made the money, it was the principle,” de Rojas concluded.
Tapping into our desire to be seen in a positive light by our peers is the foundation of many of the world’s most successful businesses, and the writer Kevin Simler argues this is achieved through ‘cultural imprinting’.
“Whether you drink Corona or Heineken or Budweiser ‘says’ something about you. But you aren’t in control of that message; it just sits there, out in the world, having been imprinted on the broader culture by an ad campaign.
“It’s then up to you to decide whether you want to align yourself with it,” says Simler.
This helps explain why Nike spends over $3bn a year on marketing to indelibly associate their brand with athletic excellence, which in turn enables you to send a positive social signal when you wear something with a Swoosh on it.
And perhaps Nikes do help you go a little faster, just like a clean car seems to run better too.
By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design