What can a pair of waterproof shoes teach us about building our businesses? A lot. And, it all is linked through content, context, and connection.
Leon Leonwood Bean figured there was a natural market for his homemade “duck boots.” People came to Maine to hunt and they lacked the appropriate waterproof footwear. He got his hands on a list of nonresident Maine hunting license holders, prepared a basic mail order circular, and opened shop in his brother’s basement. He promised the hunters they’d love the product or they’d get their money back. He even offered a lifetime guarantee to ensure the quality craftsmanship.
On his first production run, 90% of the boots were returned due to a manufacturing defect. This wasn’t quite what he had planned, but he was committed. He honored his guarantees and pressed forward. Word spread. They really were great boots, and this little startup had demonstrated integrity. Today everyone knows L.L. Bean, their catalogs, and their duck boots. Let’s break what happened at the beginning down farther.
Bean had a quality product (content), a specific use case (context), and an interconnected group of people who would directly benefit from and talk about it (connection). The narrowness of his original target market was his advantage. If he convinced them the product was great and the brand was trustworthy, word would spread. Even with his defect and the 90% return rate, he was able to spin the story to develop his reputation within that target market. Their network helped amplify his brand and what it stood for.
As we think about the people we want to reach, we want to think very specifically about who they are and why they’d want to hear from us. What is the content we offering? What is the context that it will immediately make sense to them in? What’s the connection they have to each other? What’s the connection back to us, and how does this interaction build on that relationship?
When we move forward thoughtfully, even our setbacks can be opportunities. L.L. Bean is still selling duck boots today with an amended (but still fair) version of the lifetime guarantee. Good business is smart business. If we know the content, context, and connection, we are on our way to a viable strategy.