Branding is the oxygen of marketing communications. We all bring biases to the brand development process, including the idea that our brand must be the “best.” After all, most of us grew up believing we have to be better than the competition. But “better” is fickle—and a poor long-term positioning strategy. “Better” puts us on a never-ending treadmill—with everyone else straining to take the lead away.
Choose instead to be different. Different is strong. Different is better. Brands or people for that matter, who differentiate themselves do not remain on that treadmill, playing that never-ending game of catch-up. Dolly Parton once said, “Find out what makes you different, and do it on purpose.”
I recently read a story about author and former advertising creative, Sally Hogshead. She was scheduled to present at a marketing conference right after Seth Godin, a well-known dynamo of a speaker. Hogshead’s talk was about Jägermeister, the German digestif. Realizing that she could never best Godin at the speaking game, she went on stage and asked the audience if they had ever tried Jägermeister. After a show of hands, she took out a bottle and began serving shots. Jägermeister has a nasty taste, but the ploy perfectly set the stage for her premise—products can be disliked and popular at the same time. Hogshead not only won over the audience, but also won Jägermeister as a client.
I rarely work with consumer products. Most of my assignments are in the professional service industry where it’s difficult to understand the distinctions between many excellent firms. It’s impossible to say who is truly “best” in fields such as banking, law or real estate. I am always shocked when intelligent and well-informed people are loath to emphasize what makes them different. In fact, they go to great lengths to conform to the competition.
Often, we lack the ability to identify our best, and most unique qualities—and the confidence to amplify them. Frequently, the information is right in front of us—it just needs to be pointed out. One of our clients, for example, a leader in the legal profession, requested a more effective recruiting program and strategy. They were frustrated and confounded by their past performance. We found the answer in the mountain of research data they possessed. The firm had what potential employees wanted—the solution was to change the communication emphasis and say who they were and what they believed in. Our coordinated campaign resulted in one of the most successful on-campus recruiting seasons ever.
We are in a cultural moment surrounded with a 24-hour news cycle and a cacophony of voices screaming “good, better, best—the very best.” Get off the treadmill, stop, take a breath, and resist the urge to claim superiority.
Chose different. It’s better.