Recently I was reading an article about the decipherment of a few fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Linguists discovered that the fragments – all part of a larger document – were written in coded ancient Hebrew, which was legible only to the elites of the time. As the article puts it, “The text was written in code, researchers say, and the corrective notes helped them decipher the writings. The information in the text was well known when the scroll was composed, so the writer probably used the cryptic language to signal his elite status.”

Now, before you go to sleep, let me connect this back to you and your business.

Whatever ancient scholar wrote these scrolls teaches an excellent lesson in exclusivity versus inclusivity. By transcribing in that coded version of Hebrew, he was identifying himself as a member of the upper echelons of society. Maybe good for him at the time… 

But two thousand years later, even the most elite among us (archaeologists, for example) struggle to understand all that was written (Of course, other coding mechanisms – letter counting, etc., helped ensure that copies of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament – even thousands of years later – would be accurate “transmissions” of the original text.)  

So, exclusivity can be a double-edged sword. This was true for the author of these specific Dead Sea Scroll fragments – and it’s true for your business. Here’s why.

Yes, exclusivity has its appeal

As American Express OPEN columnist Erika Napoletano puts it, “There’s nothing quite like a closed door and a ‘members only’ sign to make us crave what’s on the other side.” We all long to be one of those exclusive few. Elite organizations like the Yellowstone Club in Montana and Hong Kong’s now-closed Kee Club play host to some of the most successful and visible members of society. Invitation-only charge cards like American Express’ Centurion Card and J.P. Morgan’s Palladium Card have implanted the idea that exclusivity equals success.

But does your business have to be exclusive to be successful? I think the answer is no.

Membership model pros and cons

Membership businesses practice exclusivity as a rule. Now, if you’ve chosen to go down this route, you may be very successful, or you may not. As Harvard Business Review concludes, “Subscription business models are great for some businesses and terrible for others.”

While you do guarantee recurring revenue from membership fees, you’re holding yourself to a much higher standard of customer satisfaction and referral satisfaction, and you’re going to have to live up to the exclusive reputation that you’re trying to cultivate. And you’re going to have to convince a lot of people that they can be members, too. The danger of practicing exclusivity is that you are, by definition excluding people from your potential market or audience.

If this brings in enough revenue for your business, then good for you. But if not, maybe give inclusivity a try instead.

Inclusivity brings more revenue

Inclusivity and exclusivity are not – excuse the wording – mutually exclusive concepts. The idea behind exclusivity is customer service. And the idea behind inclusivity is that everyone can be a customer. When you put forward an inclusive business model, you widen your target market to include everyone. And while you may not be able to maintain the mystique of high-end members-only brands, you can still offer great customer service and exclusive-style benefits to all of your customers.

I’m not saying break the bank putting your clients on private jets, like Amex. I’m saying, treat your customers like they’re worth a million bucks, even if they aren’t really. They’ll thank you for it.

Questions to consider

  • Have you ever considered adopting a membership model? Did you fully consider the pros and cons?
  • Is the lure of exclusivity worth the loss of a large chunk of your target market?
  • As a consumer, are you drawn more to brands which advertise exclusivity, or inclusivity?

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