An exclusive interview with method Co-Founder Eric Ryan. Mr. Ryan will lead a discussion on turning customers into brand advocates at the upcoming Liquid Brand Summit, held March 1 in Palo Alto.
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Eric Ryan is one-half of the “proud brain parents” of method, the leading innovator in eco-friendly household and personal care products. He started method in 2001 with his high school buddy Adam Lowry and has since built the company into a $150 million retail brand that was ranked the 7th fastest growing company in America by Inc magazine. He’s been named an eco-leader by Vanity Fair, a Food & Wine Tastemaker, an eco-revolutionary by Time Magazine, and PETA’s Person of the Year.
With method, Eric has successfully grown one of the world’s most loyal brand communities, the core of which is rooted in the company’s distinct values and brand culture.
Q: What were some of the initial challenges you faced in building a community of brand advocates for method? Can you describe the one or two things that were most successful in growing that community?
A: One of the biggest challenges for creating advocacy within method is the fact that we compete in very low-interest categories. While there are self proclaimed “clean freaks” in the world (think the character Monica in the TV show “Friends”), it is difficult to build a community around the act of cleaning, which most people consider a chore to be avoided at all cost.
We took the approach of building advocacy around a diverse set of shared values which includes the emotional connection to our homes, caring for loved ones in our homes (i.e. pets and children) and the environment our homes sit on. The end result is that our advocates share our passion for design, sustainability and eliminating toxins from the home - and it’s these shared values that allow us to create advocacy in a low-interest category.
The core of growing this community starts with our culture. The team at method is truly passionate about our values and this comes through in everything we do as an authentic brand. We purposely blur the lines between who we are and who we serve under the belief that we are all “People Against Dirty.” This allows us to build the brand from the inside-out with a high level of transparency providing a lot of ways to connect with our advocates.
Q: How has your brand advocacy program grown over the years?
A: The way we see it, brand advocacy is just a nice side benefit of creating remarkable product experiences and building a brand with shared values that people want to be part of. Our job is to do things that actually get people to love our brand and want to become an advocate so we try not to obsess too much on building a specific number of advocates. It’s really about quality not quantity.
With the explosion of social media tools, there are so many ways for advocates to share their love of a brand, so building a database is less of a priority versus creating stuff worth talking about. Over the years, we have shifted towards launching marketing flares that fuel advocacy by ensuring all of our marketing invites participation. Examples include: our Detox Pop Shops, where advocates could trade in toxic cleaning products for non-toxic method products, our Shiny Suds Viral video to build support for Al Franken’s Household Label Act that would bring ingredient transparency to the industry, and our Laundry Smarts Campaign that asked people to ditch the laundry jug to end detergent over-dosing.
Q: Can you give examples of how your investment in brand advocates has paid off? How do you track and measure the success of your program?
A: This is a tough question for us to answer because advocacy is embedded in our DNA, so we don’t stop to measure it or separate from other marketing programs. As a mission-driven brand, advocacy is part of everything we do from product development to PR. Our company is founded on seven competitive advantages, and for us obsession #1 is “inspiring advocates.” As People Against Dirty, it’s what we do!
Q: Who is typically responsible for the brand advocacy program, and where is it housed?
A: First and foremost, everyone in the company is responsible for creating advocacy for our brand. We start each Monday with an all-company huddle, which opens by reading an advocate letter to remind ourselves of who we all work for . . . our advocates.
Everyone at method is encouraged to do everything they can to build advocacy from openly using social media tools to hugging strangers on the bus. However, at a practical level, it is led within the Brand Experience department and run by the fabulous Anna who ensures we are spreading the advocate love both internally and externally. Thanks to Anna, everything we do from the Friday beer cart to the latest product launch finds its way to our advocates while leveraging insights from this community to make our brand and products stronger.
Want to here more from Eric? Send us your questions and thoughts. We’ll include them in discussions at the Liquid Brand Summit. We look forward to hearing from you.