My friend Erika just wrote a book on The Power of Unpopular. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, considering my business name is WTF Marketing.

I know very well the impact that unconventional names your business or uncompromising principles (like no faxes) can have on your revenue stream.

I’d estimate that about 25% of the potential clients I have access to tuck tail and run when they hear the name of my business (or when they see an un-filtered four letter word on my blog). That’s just how some folks are – skittish. Just today I was on the minority of an argument on whether or not a friend should fire a client because they insist on doing most communication through the fax machine. If you’re wondering – I was for firing the client.

I don’t fax. My reasoning: in the time it takes me to go find a fax machine somewhere, I could have created a kick-ass strategy for some element of your marketing. In the time I’d be standing around, twiddling my thumbs, I could have boosted your social ROI. Instead, I’m waiting for a slower, stupider email. I could have designed something out of this world cool in the time it took the damn thing to go through.

No faxes. Period. The user experience suffers because of ’em.

And yet… there are freelancers who can make a living off of providing services exclusively to the folks who like to fax. Because it’s a market I refuse to touch – and they don’t see it as an annoyance – there’s a lot less competition for those particular clients.

Just because I hate to fax anything doesn’t mean there’s not money in it. But hate is such a loaded word – because there’s a few different kinds of hate we have to address if we’re talking about marketing.

Let’s take a look at three brands: Old Navy, Grapple, and Ash Ambridge’s The Middle Finger Project.

OK, so what about Old Navy? Well, first of all – I cannot watch an Old Navy commercial without a 20% chance of an aneurism. Even though they’re created by the incredibly talented team at CP+B – the same folks who created Kickin Chicken and those hilarious Hulu ads, I can’t wach Old Navy commercials without spiraling into some sort of TV commercial rage and foaming at the mouth. My hatred here stems less from my worldview than it does my particular appreciation for humor.

In short, Old Navy commercials are a bit like hiring Penn & Teller to do your birthday party and them doing nothing but poop-joke filler for two hours and then drinking all your booze. Stuff that should be legitimately funny is lost in a haze of intentionally obscure/weird/stupid references. Remember the sweater commercials with the dog and the old lady? Ugh.

This type of hatred is about niche pandering. Niche pandering is all about the lowest-common denominator. This is usually how political ideas spread and how racism gets played off as acceptable politics. Niche pandering is dangerous – it results in a flavor of the week kind of promotion that has to be continuously regenerated. You use these tactics to scrape the bttom of teh barrel because chances are once you find those customers, they become long-term customers.

Grapple is a kind of apple that tastes and smells like those grape crayons you had in elementary school. My wife hates ’em. I love ’em. My wife’s dislike stems from the fact that it’s unnatural for an apple to reek of grape from across the room (grapples are not GMOs, if you were wondering – they ARE processed, however). I love ’em for the fact that they make me crave fruit – grape jolly ranchers were always my favorite, and this is a more nutritious way for me to satisfy that craving.

The very thing my wife hates about Grapples is the thing I love. This kind of hate has to do with worldview about product attributes – admittedly odd and unique product attributes, but attributes nonetheless. Consider those who drink Coke over Pepsi, 7up over Sprite, or Dr. Pepper over Mr. Pibb. Effectively, very little difference exists between one cola and the next. But don’t tell that to a Coke person. A cola, to someone from the south, should be ice cold and come in a bright red can. An apple should be an apple and not taste like a grape jolly rancher – according to my wife.

Finally, let’s look at Ash Ambridge’s The Middle Finger Project. Ash takes two dissimilar things and melds them: swear words and a heart of gold.

The thing about Ash’s business that makes so few people run in fear is pretty deep: the fear of missing out on something utterly amazing just because one of her navigation links is Your Mom. This actually translates to the hatred of missed personal growth opportunity. One only has to read one of Ash’s stories to realize she’s on the mark. Afterward, forgiving the occasional swear isn’t an exception for her, but like that second helping of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving – something you reward yourself with over and over again each year.

So what does all of this have to do with finding what your customers really want? The opposite of hatred is delight. Garnering a pure, focused, extreme niche group of people delighted with you and your product – that’s awesome, right? Better than people who are kind of meh about you and your product… right? So how does it work?

Old Navy works on the premise that their ads will either make you giggle (morons) or their ads will be so annoying that when you drop in to give the store manager a piece of your mind, you’ll also notice that absolutely adorable sweatervest that goes so well with your capris you could die. Least Common Denominator niche – love us or hate us, you’re still buying.

Grapple works on the premise of “this is our product, take it or leave it”. They don’t care if you don’t like grape. They unapologetically continue making them – grossing people like my wife out and delighting people like me. They don’t waste time marketing to people who aren’t impressed – because their customers do it for them. Every time I see ’em in the store, I think about someone new who I’d like to introduce to the Grapple so I can ensure they’ll be around another year (as, I would suspect, do so many other Grapple eaters – it’s our cross to bear). Love us or hate us – we’re still in your face as yet another superfan tries to convince you an apple should taste like a jolly rancher.

Finally, The Middle Finger Project works on the premise of daring you to not like it. “You can hate me, but you’ll regret it.” Like dating the super-hot but super-crazy classmate in high school, you’ll kick yourself for the rest of your life if you don’t give it the chance. Ash’s testimonials speak volumes about just how very good she is – but to get to ’em, you have to get past her edgy branding, past her “Your Mom” link, past the title of her site… each one daring you not to proceed. You can try to hate it, but you know deep down – like that secret candy bar stash at the office you found – that you’ll be back.

When I develop my own projects, I immediately seek out folks who absolutely hate it and try to find out why. Not so I can convert them, but so I can understand who I’m delighting and who I’m forsaking.

(Photo credit: Love and Hate)

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival – a group of bloggers joining forces in the name of infotaining the crap out of you around a certain topic. This month – Finding Out What Your Customers Really Want. Click the link to see more Word Carnival awesomeness from my fellow bloggers!