One of the least polarizing things I can say is that Glenn Beck is nothing if not polarizing. He speaks his mind, has strong opinions, and rarely holds back. Regardless of my opinion of him, his success is undeniable. He has a point of view that shapes his worldview. And this is the key to his success.

I met Glenn Beck once and learned more about him and what makes him tick. It was fascinating because he left me inspired (not because I agree with everything he says, but because his passion and point of view permeates through every aspect of his brand). With every touchpoint and piece of content, what you see is what you get, and this raw honesty is rare and unique to find in business.

During one of his talks he wrote a quote on the chalkboard that really speaks to what makes him, and his brand so special.

Glenn Beck is polarizing. He knows it. And most importantly, he embraces it.

He knows that not everyone is going to agree with him, and he actually encourages it:

“Many people will laugh at this idea. Let them. We won’t notice as we will be busy changing the world…To the rest of the world we may appear as MAD MEN – we actually like it that way because they will never see us coming.”

In this quote, he is catering to his people, his tribe, while pushing away anyone else who doesn’t agree with them.

What’s brilliant about Glenn Beck, and others who pursue a polarizing strategy so successfully is they end up attracting people to their point of view due to their passion. You can’t help but admire someone who draws a line in the sand and says “This is who I am, this is what I believe in, and if you like it, welcome, if you don’t, that’s ok too, but this isn’t the place for you.”

In a world where gaining market share is everything, a polarizing brand says, “To hell with that, I don’t want more of the market, I just want a piece, and that piece will love me so much I will be more successful than any of my competitors.”

Now Glenn Beck is an extraordinary example, and he operates in a political arena that rewards polarization.

However, polarization can be done in many industries, and it doesn’t always have to hit you over the head with its point of view. You too can drive a wedge in your market, and carve out a profitable niche.

But how?

Poke the haters

Some companies succeed by intentionally antagonize brand detractors. This can create a buzz and reinforce the brand’s connection with its most enthusiastic consumers, because people often feel compelled to defend a favorite product that has come under attack. Additionally, the defense mounted by fans often sways neutral consumers into becoming supporters.(1)

Amplify a polarizing attribute

Often a single characteristic is responsible for the deep schism between a brand’s fans and its detractors. Instead of seeking to narrow the gap and reduce the haters, some companies decide to create new products that amplify the point of differentiation, in the hope of bolstering loyalty and revenue from loyal, die-hard fans.

Launch a provocative advertisement

In other instances, marketers may try to increase a brand’s visibility by running ads all but designed to turn off a certain share of viewers. That was the case with Progressive Insurance, which in 2008 began running a series of ads featuring a super peppy character named Flo.
In contrast to its rivals Geico and Aflac, which built ads around friendly animals (a gecko and a duck), Progressive made Flo a real person with a big personality — knowing that although some viewers would adore her, others might find her annoying. And they did: Facebook now hosts “I hate Flo” groups, and Progressive routinely appears high on lists of most-disliked ads. But the campaign and the negative reaction raised brand awareness and increased sales. (1)

For many companies, their point of view is the key to their success. In today’s world quality is assumed, and we can only compete on price to a point, and in many cases we don’t want to compete on price. Therefore, having a strong point of view is the key to your success or failure as a company. It unlocks the ability raise prices, and allows for your brand to curate a loyal, passionate, and profitable customer base.

(1) From Harvard Business Review © 2013 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp.

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