If there is a universal lesson for all companies, it should be a reminder about humility and respect: That success has many authors, but sustained prosperity is the result of the dedication, loyalty and passion of a core group of supporters – the people who birth a brand through their own word-of-mouth marketing – and transform a business into a national or global phenomenon.
These men and women are smart, resourceful, communicative and, above all, passionate. I know of what I write because I record what I see, from personal experience and professional responsibility.
In my role as Founder of Wonderfully Raw Gourmet, makers of distinctive and delicious organic snacks and treats, I owe a debt of gratitude to members of the raw food community, people with the utmost regard for health, taste and nutrition. These individuals are at the center of my company's success because, well before a business or product or service goes “mainstream,” there are persons – the so-called early adopters – who are the most vocal and sincere advocates for your cause.
Indeed, they help define or strengthen that cause – telling consumers to stand up and shout out, with enthusiasm and joy – the merits of your work. To forsake these fans is both foolish and wrong; they are your champions and your unofficial advertisers, popularizing your products when you have no traditional means of promotion and while you are still too small to be anything more than a ray of hope for a dream yet fulfilled: To change a part of your world, and improve the entire world, with a contribution too original and meaningful to ignore.
Engaging Your Supporters: Recognition Is Respect
My advice to business owners with a similar group of loyal fans is simple: Give these consumers the attention they deserve because recognition is a form of respect. Think of these activists – and by activists, I mean people who have a devotion to quality and purity of product – as unflinching in their standards and unwavering in their belief that yours is a brand worth buying.
These individuals award your business or company their recognition, which is synonymous with respect, so I believe there is a moral duty to reciprocate in kind. All of which means, in my case, I strive to create – no, we seek to offer, as a team of friends and family – items, which meet the exacting rules of using the finest ingredients (like organic Vermont maple syrup, in lieu of agave and its substantial sugar content, or great-tasting vegan snacks) with the best combination of flavors and iconic packaging our supporters expect.
By engaging your principal consumers, you begin an ongoing conversation about leadership and integrity. And therein lies your job, as a CEO, to express your respect by demonstrating your recognition of your most important customers: To acknowledge and answer every email, to reply to every request and respond to all queries; to articulate a philosophy, and actualize it with transparency and excitement.
Succeed without Amnesia or Stay True to Your Founding Ideals
As success accrues, it is easy to allow time to erase memories or airbrush the challenges of a once modest startup. It is tempting to forget the struggles and setbacks, the anxieties and apprehensions of a business, which now appeals to consumers of all interests and critics of all tastes. Such bouts of convenient amnesia are, in fact, an invitation for arrogance and a betrayal of the people who care the most about your brand.
Life teaches me that there is room for everyone in the proverbial wagon train, for longstanding allies and newly formed alliances, that a company with a conscience welcomes everyone aboard — and thanks everyone for making the journey, from the beginning or along the way. A leader, in these travels, in this pathway of health and happiness, is a symbol of harmony; no title separates us, no office relegates us to the front or back, for we move in unison.
Put another way, the best brands are also the most authentic businesses: They forever remember their origins and maintain their humility amidst the fanfare and acclaim, because in the earliest days, when others only saw obstacles, one group saw – they still see – only the grandest opportunities.
Find and care for these consumers, these citizens and supporters. Think of them always, and thank them repeatedly. They are the ones at your side, cheering your work and saluting your courage.
Sequioa Cheney, Founder of Wonderfully Raw Gourmet, which creates a series of distinctive, delicious, organic, all natural snacks, treats and bite-size morsels, which are also raw, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free.