Do you remember the song ‘If Everybody Looked the Same’ by Groove Armada? Good tune. It surfaced on my iphone in the car this morning and got me thinking.
When I meet prospective clients for the first time I always ask them why they ended up with the brand identity they now have: their website, advertisements, brochures, logo, the colours they use, their uniforms and so on. I am often given the same answer. “We did it because that’s what our competitors are doing”.
That’s all good and well if you want to blend in. As branding expert William Beachy remarked, “…if you have a lame, knock-off product or service, it might be best to blend in – look like the leading competitor.”
Given the current economic fragilities, however, the need to stand out from your competitors and appear as appealing as possible to your customers is more vital than ever. (Mr. Beachy completed the quote above by saying, “But if you have an amazing product or service, you want to stand out, be different …”)
Until the economic crunch came along, me-too branding by and large could escape censure, even scrutiny, because a strong economy meant there was revenue enough to go around without anyone trying too hard. The words cosy, complacent and lazy come to mind. Then suddenly money was tighter than two coats of paint and companies had to slash fees or start pitching (usually both) just to stay in a relationship with customers, or even simply stay in business. It was no longer adequate to have branding modelled on a rival’s, and playing safe wasn’t safe: it was dangerous. (Okay, as a brand consultant in Glasgow, Manchester and Edinburgh for twenty-odd years, I’ve been arguing this case relentlessly, but it is now more valid and relevant than ever.)
The ironic thing is, when austerity, prudence and small-c conservatism became necessary, CEOs, CFOs and other top decision makers realised they needed to give customers distinctive, genuine reasons to believe in their products and services: they needed to step outside the comfort zone and put a sharper edge on their branding. Their expertise had to be seen as substantially different from the rest and accepted as better. It was time to say hello to unique corporate branding that creates goodwill strong enough to help a business not just survive but also prosper.
More than ever, the marketplace is an intensely competitive arena where companies struggle, strive and connive to win your customers’ hearts and minds, (not to mention their wallets). To create an advantage and make it stick, companies should project the things that make them different, rather than reflect the comfortable conventions of their sector. Not for no reason is one of the golden rules of branding, ‘Differentiate or Die’.
It is possible to create your own marketing advantage by branding thoroughly. Your campaign has to clearly communicate your key messages, values, beliefs and what makes you different. A good identity should unashamedly and immediately help you stand out from the crowd. Today, why not appoint yourself corporate brand agent, and ask, “Is my business relying on the same-old, same-old messages as our rivals?” Be honest, especially about well-worn phrases such as, “attention to detail”, “integrity”, “customised solutions” … you know the ones. As for “quality”, well, what does that mean? Everything has a quality of some kind. High quality is what most people want to buy into, and you should be conveying that in every aspect of your branding and marketing strategy.
Another trap to watch out for is constantly telling everyone how client-centric your business is, with threadbare phrases such as, “client focused”. If a customer thought for an instant that your company wasn’t focused on them, they wouldn’t sign you up in the first place.
Okay, I exaggerate, but only slightly – you do have to use certain key words and phrases to provide some reassurance, but be sparing with them and try not to use them as fundamental building blocks for your brand. You’ll have to find or conjure up your own differences – how about a colour, like T-Mobile’s vivid pink, or Compare the Market’s meerkats (the whole campaign hinges on a pun, for goodness sake) – and then promote them in memorable, appropriate, creative ways, perhaps taking advantage of the proliferation of new media such as Twitter, Instagram and Google Display Network. When you think about it, there are more ways to showcase your company differences than ever before. This could be your golden age.
Like my friends at Groove Armada sing, “If everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other.” Embrace your uniqueness today. It makes you stand out.
For more information, contact Vincent Bissette at; firstname.lastname@example.org.