Saturday, July 16, 2011

Branding Strategy of the Day: Everyone Else Lies

This blog post is in two pieces, since the discussion that prompted it was also in two pieces. First of all, I want to thank the folks at Hinge Marketing for not only providing a thoughtful presentation with (gasp!) empirical (vs. anecdotal) data, but also for having a business card that's hinged. See Why Do We Still Have Business Cards?

Piece One: Everyone Else Lies

Thinking back, I can recall more than five client engagements where we had reasonable facsimiles of the following branding strategy discussion:
Them: What we provide is innovative in our space.

Me: But a quick web search shows many competitors that say they do exactly the same thing in the same way.

Them: They're all liars.

Me: We can't create a brand based on being the one company in this space that doesn't lie.

Them: Why not?
There is no doubt that many companies over-promise or dress for the business they want instead of the one they have. This creates a great deal of noise for the company that actually does what everyone else only says they do.

But first... a little due diligence should show if the other companies are really "overstating" or if your company is actually only hoping the others are liars. And a little more due diligence (read: customer surveys - both present and past) will show if your company is also overstating or, perhaps more importantly, if anyone actually cares that they receive this additional "value."

Let's assume that both due dillies reveal that a) your company is unique and b) the clients do care. Now you have the challenge of marketing the "other companies are liars" messaging. Good luck with that.

In all the cases where I found myself in this position, we took another tact. We marketed the end point of the value, not the innovation or ability*. The client interviews were instrumental here, since the clients told us what it felt like at this end point and we used that for messaging. The competitors did not know what the end point looked like, let alone get their clients to articulate this for them, since they were unable to deliver it.

Then we could follow up with case studies and client testimonials supporting this messaging. And we named names and gave out customer phone numbers. In one case, the customer called me and said he felt like he was our new salesperson since he spent all day on the phone telling callers that, yes, this really happened. The market now knew the competitors for what they were (cough cough liars) and did not need to take our word for it.

In other words, as the travel company adage goes: Sell the destination.

*We also created branding that looked very different from what was prevalent in the space. Most industries (like soup cans) have common color templates. We picked away from this list. This does not mean we needed to be garish, just not soup can red.

Piece 2: You Shouldn't Have a Position Where There is No Viable Opposite.

Look at professional service firm positioning: Excellent customer service. We care. We're responsive to your needs. Experience where you need it most.

Not only are these positions bland, but if you cannot be positioned opposite, then you cannot be positioned positive.

Let me write that again: If you cannot be positioned opposite, then you cannot be positioned positive.

Pick one: Excellent customer service. -or- Shoddy customer service.

Pick one: We care. -or- We don't care.

Pick one: We're responsive to your needs. -or- We focus on what's best for us. (Which is true most of the time, but no one wants to say this out loud.)

Pick one: Experience where you need it most. -or- Experience in places that don't matter.

As you create your positioning, think of what the other side of the mirror looks like. And if any of your competitors would ever want to be on the other side of the mirror, let alone a significant subset. If not, then you aren't positioning or differentiating, you're pontificating.

Another option is to get specific. If you are going to say you are responsive, for example, say how responsive. And provide a guarantee. Examples: 30 minutes or it's free. Less expensive or we'll provide a competitor's name. However, you had better be able to deliver most of the time or you will quickly go broke and/or lose all of your customers.

Or get creative. Example: Not just fast, but freaky fast. However, you had better back this one up. And if you ever order from Jimmy Johns, you will hear yourself say, "Wow. That was freaky fast."

While no one would say they have slow delivery, they might not say they have "freaky fast" delivery. And not everyone would guarantee 30 minutes, since they might prefer to trade some speed for more quality.

Clearly not all hooks have viable opposites. So, if you do pick a hook without a viable opposite, sharpen the hook until fewer companies would (or could) hang their hat on it.

Piece out.

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