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Your Brand’s Bug May Actually Be A Feature

December 10, 2018

BeetleA couple of years ago, Boardwalk was competing for a large piece of business, a brand refresh for a well-known resort and entertainment destination. After a lot of work on what, for us, was a huge proposal document (and two in-person presentations), we made it to the finalist stage along with two other competitors. To my dismay, I learned the other two were large, global consulting firms with resources that Boardwalk could only dream about. Worse, I knew their bids were likely to be three to four times more than what we proposed. Regular readers of this blog know how much I preach that you never want to be the least expensive option. I was commiserating with a friend over this state of affairs when he corrected me, “No, Kevin. You’re not the cheap option. You’re the boutique option.” It seems silly but, once he said that, everything seemed better. He made me realize that, in this context, “inexpensive” didn’t necessarily signify a second-rate solution. Rather, it meant the other two bidders had bloated overheads and, worse, an inflated evaluation of the worth of their expertise. I was no longer afraid of the final round of competition. I even had a pithy line about the client shouldn’t have to pay for the consultant’s Johannesburg office. Or something like that. I was ready.

Unfortunately, the final round never came. The client decided to scrap the project altogether. Nobody got the job. But I learned a lesson about positioning.

It’s still true that businesses should never compete on price alone. That tends to commoditize your offerings and exposes you to constant pressure to continue lowering your prices. But sometimes, if you have other things going for you, being low bidder can provide strategic advantage.

In the example given, we were able to push our rivals into undesirable territory. The client’s project would have been a major assignment for us. It was small potatoes for our two competitors. The client knew I would be leading the project personally. They would have immediate, day-to-day access to me and my 20+ years of relevant experience. They knew the big global firms would assign the work to inexperienced, low-salary associates. The day-to-day contact would be full-time account executive who would only be handling scheduling and paper work. And the people with the real expertise? They would hardly have time to pass judgement the work of the lesser-paid associates. Why pay more for that kind of set up? If you were the client, who would you rather hire? So, in spite of being low bidder, I felt we had a good shot at the job.

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When we try to think about what differentiates us from our competition, we tend to only want to look at our strengths. It’s only natural to want to put your best foot forward. So sure, when listing the things that set you apart, include all your wonderful attributes. But don’t stop there. What are the things that embarrass you about your offerings? Those are differentiators too. And what things seem inconsequential but still are different?

There’s a famous story about an outside consultant working with the marketing staff of a piano manufacturer. He was asking them what made their product unique from other pianos. All day long they compared various features but it seemed as if pianos are all alike. Almost at the point of giving up hope of ever finding a differentiator, they realized that their piano weighed more than the others. That led to the discovery of a certain part inside the piano that was heavier than its counterparts in the other brands. And that heavier part provided demonstrable evidence that the client piano was a far superior investment than any other on the market.

Except for the consultant, everyone in the room knew that the specific part was heavier. Yet, even though the question being asked all day was, “What makes your piano different?”, no one thought to mention it. Why not? Because they weren’t thinking “different”; they were thinking “better”. In their eagerness to help the consultant, they were trying to think of good qualities that they thought would matter to piano buyers. To them, the part in question was a technical thing not a sales thing.

But the consultant recognized its value as a differentiator and wrapped all the new marketing communication around that heavier part. In due course, there was a six-year wait to get one of their pianos.

All differentiators matter, whether good, bad or neutral. You never know which one will help prove a point that matters to your market. So don’t be shy about making a list of differentiators and putting everything on it: your highlights, your lowlights, your technical differences, your personal differences, etc., etc. Look at your offerings from every angle. Then study your differences carefully to find out which one will lead to your optimum positioning. If it turns out to be what you once thought of as an ugly bug, don’t worry. Just flip it over and make it a beautiful feature. Then watch your business grow.


Best Branding Reads – Week of December 10, 2018

Why Brands Are Crucial To Innovation
A fascinating and compelling reversal of the adage: Innovation is crucial to brands

Brands once used elitism to market themselves. Now inclusion sells.
Exclusion still works for very high-end luxury experiences.

No more Mr. Nice Guy: why every brand needs an enemy
V-e-r-r-r-y interesting, Mr. Bond.

How B2B Brands Succeed With Thought Leadership
“But only when … others can benefit…”. That’s the key.

Queen logo: Who designed it and what does it mean?
Never knew they even had a logo. Guess I’m just a casual fan.

New Logo for Drinkworks
In the future, every household will have a robotic bartender that will have “the usual” waiting for you when you get home. 

How this veteran’s company found profits in Trump-era patriotism and polarization
“Polarizing topics create brands.” says the entrepreneur.  How I wish this wasn’t true.

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