The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!
As I continue to define the scope of my Public Relations work – particularly the emerging trends and most effective strategies for my clients, I’ve been confronted with one reoccurring scenario. Every business wants to share the message of why they’re different from all the others. But so often the differences they provide me with read like every other brochure, billboard or tagline I’ve seen time and time again. “We care….We put our customers first…We provide you with the best quality of service.” If you’ve already tuned out while reading that last sentence, you’re not alone. In fact, your reaction is the same reaction such statements receive when they’re placed on any plethora of marketing materials. Either the message is forgotten as soon as something else catches our attention or it’s glazed over altogether, never standing the chance to be absorbed into our subconscious. Neither result is desirable for the businesses who are trying so hard to differentiate themselves.
What makes a business truly different?
Truthfully, at the end of the day…very little. For the most part, products and services can be replicated (even with the best copyright laws and patents in place). There are millions of family-owned businesses with “small town values” representing every size and industry. And words like loyalty, honesty and quality – while all very good things for a business to have – are often read as ambiguous marketing fluff by customers. In very rare cases, a compelling story of how you overcame mountains of adversity to start your business may draw a unique spotlight your way, but inevitably the light will fade and a story of such depth is hard to convey on a billboard or Facebook ad. By focusing your marketing and public relations on answering the question “What makes me different?” you’re missing the question that really matters which is “How can I get remembered?”
Recognize your lack of differences with honesty.
Simply put, people appreciate honesty. The initial and obvious reaction to this fact is to position a company’s honesty and integrity as a “unique value.” But I beg of you to take at least one step outside the box. Customers aren’t easily fooled into thinking that you’re the only honest business on the block. They likely do business with many other people who they would also classify as men or women of integrity. So instead, make yourself memorable by evoking an unexpected emotion or reaction from your audience. With the right communications strategy you can make them laugh, make them think or even make them blush. You may be bold enough to directly say “We’re actually not that different from the other businesses out there,” and catch your audience completely off guard. Being remembered is the end goal and by going against the grain just a little, you’ll have a much better shot at achieving this. So long as you remain honest and genuine with your customer base, the sky’s the limit for creativity!
Actions (and brands) speak louder than words.
Nike is far from the only company that makes and sells athletic apparel. This is a huge industry and really no advertisement or marketing that I’ve seen has fully convinced me that any certain running shoe or t-shirt is all that different from the rest. Even when a seemingly revolutionary product is launched, it’s only a matter of weeks or months until 10+ other companies release their own version of this product, claiming the same technology and benefits. So what does Nike focus on to position themselves as a leader in the industry? Their brand. It’s the swoosh, the “Just do it” tagline, the distinct style of commercials and the carefully chosen celebrity spokespeople who create this solid brand. Instead of contributing to the white noise of long-winded and confusing advertising jargon, Nike has instead chose to build a brand that is so powerful and well-defined that a big white smudge on an all-black billboard is enough for anyone to recognize that as the Nike brand. While they still strive to be “first” and “different” in many aspects of athletic apparel, they know this will only every last so long until the next big thing hits. So instead, they focus their communications efforts on building up what can’t as easily be knocked down – a timeless brand.
You may not be the only one, but you can still be the best one.
Finally, there is one area where you can truly stand out and that’s at the top. By being the best at something, you leave no room for a competitor to join you on this stage. However, in communications the term “the best” is overused, misconstrued and there’s really no form you need to fill out or ribbon you need to receive to make this claim. At all levels and in all industries, there are certain awards that can help back up your claim to fame and provide a great point of differentiation for your business. But regardless of whether you’re hoping to use this title as a future marketing campaign, you should strive to be the best for no greater reason than to serve your people and your business well. There may be many other businesses out there just like yours, but if your customers truly feel like you are the best based on the quality of your service or product, I promise you that they will be back for more!
Whether you’re trying to differentiate your business or yourself, remember that for no other reason than the sheer volume of competitors, being truly different is not always possible. Instead, focus your communications efforts of getting remembered. And with this thought, I’ll close with a final inspiration:
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. “—Maya Angelou