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Lessons Learned from a Breakthrough CEO

Brand Development
March 19, 2018

Disruptors are the innovators of the market. The ones who bring change and stand out from competitors in their respective industry. No matter the industry, there will always be challenges in developing a brand that can sustain growth and competition. So how does one stand out in an already saturated market?

Disruptor and CEO Tom Patterson, of men’s underwear brand Tommy John, gives us insight into how his company took on the challenge of developing a product that solved an unmet need in a competitive landscape while promoting and maintaining their unique brand voice.

Challenge #1: Competition

543,000 new businesses start up every month… that means 543,000 new competitors are entering the market every month. Statistically, 42% of these startups fail because they failed to meet a market need.

Back in 2008, Tom was working as a medical device salesman. He was frustrated with the quality of his undershirts. Every day he faced the annoyance of wrinkles, budging, pulling and tugging. Struggles many of us face. Wanting to find a better solution, he created one by designing an undershirt with a longer, tapered design. But the men’s underwear category was an already competitive market space and Tom knew the statistics he would be facing.

To go against large companies such as Calvin Klein, Polo, Hanes and Jockey would be no simple task for a newcomer in an industry long run by these big names. U.S. consumers tend to have strong ties to brand loyalty and are less receptive to switching to emerging brands. Furthermore, he had no background or connections in clothing design nor manufacturing.

The Solution: Become Something Revolutionary

Knowing that this undershirt was something of great quality and uniqueness, Tom submitted it for a patent. The company now has the only undershirt on the market with a patent for a stay-tucked undershirt. And that’s just their undershirt, all of their products are designed to uniquely solve problems. Their underwear has a no-wedgie guarantee, their socks will keep your feet cool and dry and are designed to never fall down, and the essential tees are unshrinkable, wrinkle-free and never pill.

You have to be able to clearly define the variables that set you apart. To market a product or service it must be something of value in order to get potential customers to listen to you. Having the credibility to back your company’s value is equally crucial. If your consumers wouldn’t rave about your product or service to their friends or family, they probably aren’t seeing the value in what you’re offering.

Tom learned the importance of being authentic and creating a product that originates from solving a problem. Consumers desire that credibility from brands. They want the product to live up to their claims. Being different is what will give you longevity in the market.

Challenge #2: Building A Brand

Creating a name for your brand in today’s competitive landscape is no easy task. What’s even harder is sustaining that market control without losing sight of your brand’s core values. The most important aspects of being defined as a disruptor are having value and communicating that value effectively.

Tommy John decided to take the humorous and relatable approach to their branding. Knowing that other brands in the market come off to consumers as unapproachable and non-relatable, Patterson decided to tell it like it is when marketing his products. He took a challenge by calling out the things men wouldn’t typically talk about in public like wedgies and adjusting. This approach was sure to be too much for some, but as in your face, as it can be, it was a clear way of showing the problems their products solved. A traditional approach would not have matched the company and who they are.

The Solution: Be Unique

The brand has an effective style of humor that makes them relatable. Whether it’s in their social campaigns, digital efforts or billboard ads, you’ll see that Tommy John talks about real life struggles men face every day. Their playful and irreverent tone of voice has caught the attention of many consumers and celebrities alike, recently signing on Kevin Hart as an investor and outspoken fan of the brand.

Taking a fresh approach to branding shouldn’t be something to fear. In fact, it’s what you should do for your company. Knowing that you have something great should make you want to put the risk into other areas, such as your marketing and advertising. The biggest lesson Tom learned was to listen to consumers’ needs and tell them the story they wanted to hear in order for them to buy into the brand.

Challenge #3: A Need to Conform

Many suggested that the brand should conform to the norms of the industry and stick to a more traditional brand feel. But Tom knew this wasn’t the way he wanted his brand to operate. He stuck true to his values and even denied an option to take venture capital funding. He stuck to his values and focused on building a longterm, sustainable business, not chasing venture capital and valuation. This was a risky decision that industry leaders felt would be a bad choice for the company as it wasn’t the traditional way of success.

The Solution: Listen to Your Gut

He knew his products would be the source of success for the company because he saw the value in them and communicated that effectively and clearly. By not pursuing continued funding rounds the company had to grow from the bottom up. They crawled their way past retail-focused competitors choosing the direct to consumer method instead.

The more success a company has, the more directions they’re going to get pulled into, but it’s important to have strong core values and listen to what your gut is telling you. Making the right decision for you and your brand is what matters over anything else. Tom learned that it’s okay to be selective in his decision making. Sustainable decisions are more important than satisfying industry leaders and following competitors.

After seeing large success from their advertisements such as the big adjustment which brought in over a million views after just 5 days, they were presented with larger opportunities than ever before. Still, they maintained their vision and stayed selective in choosing which opportunities made the most sense for the company. Their key to this success? Listening and committing to their consumers. That would be the way they would build the brand they are today.

As complex as it can be to navigate a competitive market, it’s all about proving to your competitors what allows you to not only be disrupting their market space but showing them that you can dominate it too. Be different. Be bold. Build a voice for your company that reflects your brand’s story.

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