Even in an age of accessibility, fueled by 24-hour news outlets and social media, there's still real allure found in exclusivity, and high-priced business models, and though unwelcoming, may be the best option for brands that need to provide high-touch support.

While limited editions, wait lists, and time-sensitive specials certainly help consumers pull the trigger on purchasing an exclusive product or service, this mindset can also help brands by narrowing their field, and improving the quality of their offerings.

Accessible Services Can Thrive as Exclusives

Culturally we can argue about whether where someone went to school or other factors should exclude them from a dating pool but the dating app market has shown-with several niches-that people are seeking some kind of focus or narrowing of options in what they are seeking.

Dating service The League promised a stronger dating app experience to its users by investing in a handpicked, invitation-only user base. This process earned some criticism from some who felt it was elitist, but it's driven interest from users and $2.1 million in funding from investors. 

Jay-Z's music streaming service, Tidal, also took heat from those who felt the platform couldn't compete with Spotify and others because it doesn't offer a free version. The platform's goal, however, was to reward musicians who'd been burned by other services, putting money back in their pockets through ownership of the platform.

Despite its much-maligned reputation in the press, Jay-Z's app earned the third spot on the list of highest-grossing music streaming services in 2017.

Too often, entrepreneurs seek validation more than the market. Tidal is succeeding without being popular. In a culture of instant news and opinions, it's important to remember that you don't have to create the most widely popular product or service in your space to win.

The Right Client Is Better Than the Biggest Client

Likewise, Repost, a platform helping musicians gain control over the platforms they value, doesn't accept every application it receives, preferring to bring on board the musicians who stand to benefit most from its approach. Its application process has artists apply with their existing SoundCloud accounts; its algorithm then scans through the channel, looking at average play count per upload, follower count, and the artist's biggest track and smallest track to determine whether the artist is likely to make money through the platform's setup. The result: 100,000 rejected applicants and 5,000 accepted.

Repost's CEO Jeff Ponchick said, "This allows us to ensure we work with mid-tier artists and labels who actually have sustainable followings we can help to drive real revenue toward. We're focusing on using technology to dictate which bets to take so that we can run a proper business." 

When I started my first business, a PR firm, I needed clients. I quit a job, I was suddenly bringing in zero guaranteed dollars. But I turned down 80% of the client business that came my way. Why? I had a price floor.

In a service-based business, especially in your first couple years, you will always have someone looking to do something with you for less. And you may even feel the need to do it, to prove that you have what it takes.


Once you establish you're willing to do something for below your market value it's hard to get back to that market value. You don't walk in to an outlet mall expecting to pay full price. That's where patience, if you can afford it quite literally, is so important. 

And there are workarounds. If someone wants to pay you less, do something for free. I wrote about this last year. But instead of devaluing my service I would rather do something in exchange for an introduction to another client, more visibility, anything that will push my business forward. 

That way you progress a relationship, without devaluing what you do. 

Building the Future

By offering high-quality service to the people they do serve and making sure their exclusive offerings are distinctive from the competition's--thus, making them truly exclusive-- companies serving narrow segments can build a future on more than novelty or limited access. And by doing so, they can lower the cost layout of attracting clients and retaining them.

Exclusivity may sound unwelcoming, but it can be a boon to both businesses and the customers they serve. By developing a product or service people covet and thinking through the ideal audience to receive that offering, a company can make sure that it's building a stable foundation and increasing its chances of customer retention. People want what others can't have, and sometimes, that makes good business sense.

Published on: Sep 18, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.