Best Buy falls into complete decrepitude and disarray while Apple becomes the most valuable company in the history of companies. The former is a dinosaur while the latter continues to go thermonuclear on the competition. Best Buy’s brand is reduced to a pennies-on-the-dollar train wreck while Apple is, well, Apple. At the small business level there’s a lesson to be learned in brand design and relevant consumer connections. The good news is that most small businesses continually struggle to define a brand while, for the fortunate few, competitive differentiation becomes a simple matter of contrarian thinking and execution. A three step plan:
1. AVOID CLICHES: “Locally Owned and Operated;” “A+ Rating with the BBB;” “Angie’s List Approved;” “30 Years in Business;” “Top Quality People;” All true in most cases. And all pathetically, mind numbingly boring. Worse than boring: meaningless. I wrote about this extensively in a prior post, but a company brand needs to push beyond empty talking points and connect with the customer on a meaningful level. Today’s consumer has both a deeper need for trust and experience and a higher level of skepticism/bullshit detector than they’ve ever had. Cliche’s operate on a superficial level of meaning. They typically function on a “What” level (What are we? Well, a family owned A+ rated company of course!). Yet the real story, the heart and soul of the brand, begins at the “Why” level. Why is the company these things, Why are they important, Why should a customer care??
2. DON’T BE A COPYCAT. The very worst brand strategy any company can take is to position themselves as having the exact same services as all of their competitors…but just being a little bit better, faster, cheaper. Total nonsense and a surefire way to stick a brand right in the middle of it’s own shit-storm. If a company wants to outdistance itself from the competition and create real brand differentiation then it needs to focus on a specific set of activities or products or services that the competition isn’t promoting–and drive THAT message. The brand has to create scarcity in the market in order to stand out. Better, faster, cheaper is a recipe for brand implosion.
3. DON’T NEGLECT THE OPINIONS THAT MATTER. “Trust thyself” as the saying goes. Most owners have a vision of their brand and have a tough time knowing if it’s connecting. So they shift it, reword it, mix it up. They talk about it in marketing meetings or sales meetings. They have strategy sessions to figure out if they’re on point. But we’re also in an era in which our customers are co-creating our brand. YET WE RARELY ASK THEM FOR ADVICE OR PERSPECTIVE. A recent study concluded that 77% of marketers feel “confident” that their brand message is in line with their customers. Yet only 34% of their surveyed customers agreed. There’s a disconnect worth paying attention to. If your brand does not reflect your customer’s then the business is forced to work extra hard to reinforce the brand/product/service position and is forced to overcome a brand-to-consumer distance obstacle. Smart business leaders always consider the market perspective on their brand. Super smart leaders actually involve the market.
In the middle of the Venn diagram is one word: “Shit.” Nobody wants their business or personal brand to end up there. And it doesn’t have to!! Go against the grain, drive messaging to the “Why,” create a performance chasm between your company and the competition, and involve your end-users in co-creating your brand message. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll suddenly look and feel a whole hell of a lot different from your competition. Ironically, that’s the best part too.