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The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is dead. In his book ZAG, recently named as one of the top 100 business books of all time, Marty Neumeier argues that USPs are ineffective for two main reasons. First, extreme clutter in the marketplace makes it nearly impossible for any message to stand out. Second, that today’s consumers don’t like to be sold, they like to buy, and they often buy in tribes. Marty continues to illustrate that high performing brands are doing away with USPs in favor of building Unique Buying Tribes or UBTs.

Here are some other new definitions from Marty.

Brand – A brand is a customers gut feeling about a company, its products or services. Customers create brands to bring order out of clutter. Your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what customers say it is.

Branding – A company’s effort to build lasting effort by value by delighting customers.

Goal of Branding – To delight customers so that more people, buy more things, for more years, at a higher price. Branding has a Karmic side as well. For example if a company promises more than it delivers, than the brand will suffer causing the opposite effect – fewer people will buy fewer things, for fewer years at a lower price.

With that, I’d like to introduce you to a modern brand strategy that exemplifies Marty’s concept of Brands, Branding and UBT. David McQuillen, cyclist and founder of a series of indoor cycling training videos called The Sufferfest was kind enough to spend some time with me talking about how he built a his brand. The irony of our conversation is that for a guy who’s job it is to cause pain, he sure talks a lot about love.

National Flag of Sufferlandria

Q. Why did you start The Sufferfest?

A. In the wintertime, you need to be training and if you’re getting on a trainer and you’re not motivated, it’s not going to work. So I remembered when I was a kid living in Erie, my brother and I would watch VCR tapes of Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault over and over again and it felt like we were climbing the Alpe d’Huez with those guys. I wanted to do that again so I started ripping videos off YouTube and putting them together with iMovie and put them up on iTunes. I figured a couple people might download them and 1000′s of people ended up downloading them which scared me. I didn’t have the rights and even though I was giving them away for free I took them down and decided to do it over the right way. Initially, I did this to solve my own problem first.

Q. Why did you decide to keep going on and do it the right way?

A. Because it was for fun! A lot of people liked the idea and 1000′s of people sent encouraging notes. Keep in mind, I had no idea what “doing it right” meant. I didn’t know how to license footage, I didn’t know how to edit sound, I didn’t know how to edit video, I had no idea how to do digital distribution, but it was a nice challenge. I work in customer experience in banking so it was quite nice to apply those skills in something else where I could be more creative.

Q. Not knowing what was going to come of all your effort like getting the UCI footage and music rights, learning all those new digital production skills must have felt like a big investment. Did you know what you were getting yourself into?

A. I didn’t think of it as a big investment at the time. I just thought that it would be really cool to meet with the UCI hoping that they’d buy into my idea and it’s not like I had a lot to lose. At that time, I didn’t think that The Sufferfest would be very big. It was just a little project, a couple videos and I wanted to make one or two of them and see if people would buy them. It was still intimidating of course, negotiating with people who license stuff professionally and I had no idea how to do it. I figured I’d just try and plow right through it and be open and honest and say ‘hey guys, lets just try to work together for all of our good’.

Q. I was really interested to see that you work for a bank and that you’re a manager of group customer experience. What have you applied from that position to The Sufferfest and the community as a whole?

A. Well, in banking I deal primarily with experience design – channels, processes, customer experiences and business models. But to be honest, I’m learning more from The Sufferfest and applying that back to banking because I can experiment more, I can take more risks with The Sufferfest. I’ve learned an awful lot about customer service, what that takes and how hard it is. I’ve never been on the front line of customer service. It’s so easy to criticize companies customer service and say ‘why don’t we serve all of our customers well?’. When you’re not on the front line, it’s really easy to be a critic, but then with The Sufferfest all of a sudden, I had people who couldn’t download videos or for some reason didn’t like the video, or who tried purchasing and their transaction didn’t go through. All of that was quite new for me. I’m a customer service guy and I wanted to see that The Sufferfest had a great customer experience if anyone had a problem or needed anything. I put a lot of energy into customer service like emails, and that’s where the community really started in my need to help everybody. These kinds of lessons I’m taking back into the bank.

Q. Brains on Fire talks about the importance of passion in creating communities. What do you think of that?

A. The creative process and all the things in these videos are things that I’m really passionate about music, cycling, training programs, designing structured workouts, customer service and being online. It’s my art. When I released my first video called Downward Spiral it was really scary. I was terrified. I was exposing the way I thought, the way I was viewed. I wasn’t thinking so much in terms of sales, I was thinking ‘are people going to like my art?’. The whole model of what I was doing was really different, and I really liked it. I was hoping there were other people out there like me out there. Turns out there are.

Q. In communities and tribes, there are lots of shared rituals, language, images and traditions. What are some of yours?

IWBMATTKYT – I will beat my ass today to kick yours tomorrow. People liked that attitude. It became an acronym because I just got tired of writing it. I used it as a Twitter hashtag and it took off. At least one guy that I know has it tattooed on his leg. You know you’re on to something when somebody tattoo’s your logo on themselves

Bleeding Eyes –

Sufferfest Bleeding Eyes Logo

Sufferlandrians – anyone who is a Sufferfest tribe member

Sufferlandria – the place where all sufferlandrians come from

Sufferlandrian Flag – I wanted to get a flag for myself

Grunter says – Grunter is the Sufferlandrian coach.

Torture Chamber – The room where Sufferlandrians train

Chamois Dance – the celebratory dance of Sufferlandrians

Q. How did you integrate Facebook and Twitter for the community?

Facebook came first, then got on Twitter. It started because I wanted to get fans and have conversations. Facebook was a way to interact with people and have open conversations. I got on Twitter to follow other professional cyclists. The idea of community started when I made a video called Local Hero. It and The Hunted were the first two videos I made that told a story. You were a character in a story going through a workout. You were a person from a fiction country called Sufferlandria going to compete in the world championships. It was the first time I used the flag. In that video I made reference to the fact that Sufferlandria was used to own Norway, sold it and got in a battle with the Ukraine in 1886 and had a cabbage famine. It’s in the video. I actually created the flag. All of the sudden people on Facebook started calling themselves Sufferlandrians. I hadn’t intended it, but that’s what people did. I always ask questions and feedback of the Sufferlandrians.

Q. One of the important things of communities is leadership. How do you view your role?

On Facebook, Twitter and email, I consider my primary role customer experience. I’ve never liked when I’ve written to a company and never heard from them. I’ve never liked it when I had to write sales@companyx.com so that’s why the email is david@thesufferfest.com. I’m super engaged. I answer every email myself. I’m on Facebook and Twitter every morning and every night and on my phone. I throw stuff out there. I quote lots of suffering quotes. I post lots of photos of the torture chamber. Actually that’s probably where the community really started, there’s hundreds of photos there now. I think it’s so important to be engaged and it’s lots of fun. I love these people. The stuff that they come up with is funny and shocking and I sometimes get touching emails from people who are suffering from cancer, had a death in the family and the Sufferfest videos help them get back to health. Those are the kinds of things that I’d never expected. I just love interacting with these guys.

I’ve always wondered what is it that I’m doing with the Sufferfest, what makes it work, what do I get out of it? I realized that what I’m doing is helping people feel proud of themselves. People talk about how hard they work. How they beat the shit out of themselves for an hour and how they almost threw up. But they’re really proud of the fact that they did that to themselves, that they were able to push themselves like that. It’s your average Sufferlandrian who’s sitting in his basement all by himself who for an hour feels like a superhero because he crushes himself and feels proud when he’s upstairs recovering … I just love that.

Part Two – is here

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