In my last post, I proposed five principles of brand differentiation:
The goal is not “difference.” The goal is value and meaning.
Differentiation is not something you find. It’s something you create.
In branding, as in life, what we do matters more than what we say.
“Best” is relative.
Be precise with your Who. Be creative with your How.
These are the starting points. But if you’ve ever attempted to cut your own hair during a pandemic – speaking hypothetically, of course! – you know there can be a huge gap between “best intentions” and “end result.” Things go wrong along the way.
The same goes for brand differentiation. There’s the moment of inspiration, and then there’s all the hard work that comes after it.
Harvard’s Michael Porter famously said that there are exactly two ways to compete: Cost leadership and differentiation.
Are you Walmart or Amazon? No? Then differentiation seems like the way to go.
Practical example: If you own an independent flooring store, and a Home Depot opens up half a mile away, do you really think you’re going to beat them on price? Time to start thinking about playing a game you can win.
The trouble is, many products, services and brands have no real point of difference. Which means they’re in trouble. If you’re not different, you’re dying.
So here are five “first principles” – mindset, not tactics – to help you stand out:
(Reading Time: 5minutes)About five million dollars. That’s the cost for one of this year’s 30-second Super Bowl ads.
For most of us who lead challenger brands, that kind of outlay simply isn’t in the realm of possibility. As underdogs, we’re used to doing more with less.
The Super Bowl – and, in particular, the hype surrounding its ads – is perhaps the greatest example in business of flawed thinking on a grand scale. Though attention is heightened during the big game, viewers are primarily looking to be entertained. (This is how we get a Bud Light ad with “caucus” jokes. Oof, you are so ribald!)
Of course, ads that entertain don’t necessarily sell. And challenger brands know that it’s all about selling.
(Reading Time: 3minutes)We’ve all seen them: The pipe dreams that are presented as “strategic plans.” Plans that seem to have no tether to reality. Plans that nobody believes in (but that somehow get approved).
There are many reasons such unrealistic plans survive. The organization may encourage activity, not results. Leadership may not be grounded in the planning process, and are thus unable to guide it. Politics may replace objectivity. And so on.
No matter the roots of the issue, I’ve found that one question is particularly useful in making a huge leap toward strategy that truly works.
(Reading Time: 3minutes)to thisWhile visiting Northeastern Ohio over the holidays, I came across cans of Bud Light that were customized in Cleveland Browns colors. The cans featured the following slogan:
“The Perfect Beer for Being Dawg Pound Proud”
(For those that may not know, the Dawg Pound is the nickname for the bleacher seats behind the east end zone of FirstEnergy Stadium, where the most fervent Browns fans congregate.)
My first reaction to this slogan was that it couldn’t have been written by anyone familiar with the team. I’ve been a Browns fan all my life, and “proud” is not a word we’re using these days. “Justifiably outraged” is more like it; the Browns have just one winning season in the last 13, and have lost 18 of their last 21 games.
The quick summary: I received over twenty-five unsolicited contacts per week – over one thousand in a year. Of these, about 98% didn’t work. Today, I want to discuss the approaches that did work.
I need to first make clear, in boldface: I am not a sales expert. My intent here is to offer some perspective from “the other side of the desk,” based on my own experience and that of other executives with whom I’ve discussed this topic. I expect that readers will have additional insights to share, and I invite you to do so in a comment below.
(Reading Time: 3minutes)At the gym I frequent, there’s a personal trainer I don’t think very highly of. Let’s call him Duff.
My issue with Duff is that he doesn’t push his clients to work out very hard. In fact, I’ve never seen one sweat. Instead, it’s more like Social Hour. Sometimes, Duff and his client are chatting it up during an exercise, which suggests a pretty low level of exertion. I wish his clients would stop wasting their time and money, and I want Duff to do better training on their behalf.
On a seemingly unrelated note, yesterday I visited a Walmart in Chicago’s west suburbs. At this store, merchandising took a back seat to other priorities; “cluttered” is a fair term to use.