We are heading in to a new year and so starts a new tradition at FraternityMan.com called “Mandated Resolutions.”
Our Mandated Resolution for Fraternities & Sororities in 2015?
Monopolies get a bad rep; I’ve even slandered them when referring to expansion processes. There are bad traits that all too often accompany a monopoly: market manipulation, high prices for little product, and stagnation.
In reality, it is the endeavor of every company to create a monopoly in some way or some fashion. Those of us who attended the Association of Fraternity & Sorority Advisors (AFA) Annual Meeting heard from Sally Hogshead, the marketing genius who worked with MINI Cooper and Jägermeister. She believes that discovering your distinguishing features may prove just as, if not more, relevant than your strengths in working with other people and becoming the best version of you. (That’s my way of interpreting it. Take her assessment by clicking her name).
For example, MINI basically has a hold on the quirky, British, hatchback race car segment. No one would likely have thought this to be a particularly large market, but it’s large enough for the brand to move hundreds of thousands of vehicles.
Sally brought on stage a bottle of Jägermeister and shared that a tiny portion of the population (in the single digits) actually enjoy the taste of the famous drink. Knowing this, Jägermeister was built into a brand that everyone will try, everyone will know, and everyone will associate with a crazy night on the town regardless of whether or not they love or hate the drink. It is popular because so many people hate it. What other drink has that notoriety?
Apple doesn’t own the computer market, but their brand essentially owns the market for fashion and forward-conscious customers looking for a computer that represents their individuality (even if the computers all look the same). Blackberry, believe it or not, has a grip on the auto-infotainment industry. More than 50% (soon to grow further with Ford joining in the fun) of infotainment systems use Blackberry’s software. Apple and Google are even building their car systems to work on top of Blackberry’s technology.
When both companies were on the brink of failure and bankruptcy, Apple turned to a slimmed product line and fashion-forward technology and Blackberry turned to rely less on cell-phones and more on connected systems (connecting your car to your phone to your enterprise software). They both shrunk in order to grow.
Fitbit turned a pedometer (technology that has been around for ages) into a craze by allowing for data tracking and associating walking with health. Whole Foods hasn’t strayed from good food and alternative medicine even if lower prices would bring in more customers. Brooks Brothers has survived for hundreds of years offering nothing less than luxury clothing.
The key here is something well-outlined in Peter Thiel’s (co-founder of PayPal) book, Zero to One: Defining a niche, and monopolizing it, is the most effective way to create a loyal following.
So here’s a challenge for every chapter and national fraternity in 2015:
Define your monopoly and restructure what you do around it.
The Delta Sigma Phi chapter at Kansas State University recruits high caliber students from consistent pools of potential members. Their membership sits around 100 men and they are content in keeping it that way. There is no reason they shouldn’t be. I haven’t met a Delta Sig from K-State that I haven’t loved, they typically do a great job with their programming and some of their members have done things that have influenced our national organization and their institution’s operations.
We as a headquarters are constantly bugging them to recruit more men, to pull from more pools of students and to use their solid brand for the good of growth. I don’t think it’s wrong to suggest that they could find a few more solid men by reaching out to a few more solid men, but I also think that it is terrible advice to suggest diluting a powerful brand.
To all the students: Define a niche for your chapter. Choose a population of students to recruit from and be the absolute best fraternity chapter for those students. If you want to be the de facto “academic fraternity,” recruit students from areas with high academic achievement and never settle for less. If you want to be the “leadership fraternity” you need to identify the groups you’ll reach out to and refuse to settle for less. Rally against your Greek Life’s “common values” and standards program in the name of a diverse student experience for potential fraternity men and women.
In a sense, you need to shrink your market in order to grow your relevance. A chapter of 150 men is still meaningless if each man has a different impression of what the chapter stands for or does. Our men at Ohio State regularly recruit men who want an atypical fraternity experience with others they’d consider genuine. They recruit using 1-on-1 meetings, info presentations and some outlandish “rush” events and they get what they ask for. Those two words, atypical and genuine, are a part of their language at chapter and committee meetings. It is who they are, how they recruit and who they recruit and they’ve grown from 45 to 80 men in 3 years.
This doesn’t mean you won’t compete with other fraternities for members. A man can be a great leader and an academic. That being said, he knows what he gets from each experience and can make a better choice based off of what he wants in a chapter. Furthermore, a leadership-centered chapter should still have academic standards, but they should organize their activities around their target market of “leaders.”
Once you’ve determined a monopoly, go for it. If you are forever the academic fraternity and everyone knows you as such, you’ll have a pool of men to choose from indefinitely or until someone does “academic fraternity” WAY better than you. Thiel also observes that markets will give lukewarm receptions to innovations that don’t best the competition 10 to 1. Solar panels never became popular because they’re still inefficient and natural gas is so cheap. Why would anyone pay a premium for something that was a minimal improvement on what he already has?
If you capitalize on the fact that no fraternity today has a real, national identity, you’ll own a market at your institution for years to come.
To every headquarters: You can excel by defining your strengths, slimming your product line (Think Apple in 1998) and picking a niche target market of students.
Triangle Fraternity will always have a market to pull from as long as they remain an engineering-focused fraternity. They may never be as large as Sigma Chi, but Triangle will always be in demand at institutions with strong engineering programs. They don’t only recruit engineering students, but that’s their target market; that’s why they may stick around even when the rest of us are eliminated from history for being too bland and the cause of too much drama.
It’s not bad to limit your target market. It’ll actually make your programs, alumni networks and fundraising efforts more relevant to your membership. Imagine if Farmhouse was the number one reference with regard to agriculture? What if the New York Times refused to write a story regarding agricultural policy or procedure without first reaching out to a fraternity to get an expert’s opinion? We’d go from “zero to one” is what!
If you aren’t going to create a networking tool 10x better than LinkedIn, why are you competing with them at all? If your online education platform isn’t going to beat your in-person platforms 10 to 1, why are you dedicating so much effort toward it? If your plan for a “Standards of Excellence” or “Gold Star” or “Power Chapter,” whatever it’s called, program isn’t a dramatic improvement from what existed or something that brings your chapters from bland insignificance to niche relevance why are you even remaking it?
Before Blackberry decided to swallow their pride and dive back into the unfashionable world of enterprise management and connected systems they tried to rebrand their smartphone business with the release of Blackberry 10. It was WAY better than the previous Blackberry OS and if you used a Blackberry or liked the company (like I did) you’d switch. According to some reviewers it is the best smartphone operating system out of the box. So why didn’t Blackberry steal the market back from Apple and Google?
It wasn’t THAT much better than the competition in the areas that most people care about. If you wanted a communication and security experience 10x better than an iPhone or Android, go with Blackberry. If you wanted more apps, better cameras and better syncing with your computer and tablet, like most people do, a Blackberry wasn’t the device for you.
Blackberry has now accepted that. Their phones are merely a way to push a super secure solution for businesses and governments. If other people want them, fine, but they aren’t going to try to win us commoners over in the immediate future.
We are at a period where we can flourish or die. Do we take the bait of bland growth like Sears, Microsoft and McDonalds or will we be honest with ourselves and realize that we are not gods and are trying to do too much with too little and to no one’s benefit? If Britney Spears could come out of 2007 with four more Top 10 albums, we can surely accept that something is wrong and change course.