Set your company apart by being different

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Most of us spend our formative years up to high school trying to fit in with our friends, the cool kids, the jocks or other groups. We are taught the same core values and graded the same way. This is so much about conforming to a set of norms.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/03/2022 (267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Most of us spend our formative years up to high school trying to fit in with our friends, the cool kids, the jocks or other groups. We are taught the same core values and graded the same way. This is so much about conforming to a set of norms.

When we get to post-secondary education, we specialize in areas of personal interest. And yet, we still get clustered into groups. I am not suggesting this is bad, but when do we learn about being different?

Sure, there were always kids who were outliers — private and rarely interacting or special in a way that they were recognized for their unique skills and/or abilities.

Therefore, it is not surprising that we bring this sameness and consistency to our jobs. We help our companies do things consistently well and the same as others. And yet, most organizations just “fit in” with their immediate competitors in an ongoing struggle to find and keep customers. This was reinforced to me, in a recent discussion with a client, that their need to stand out differently was part of their winning game plan.

There are times in recent history where products staked a claim to something that was not originally part of the industry into which they competed. Two examples are 7Up and the Volkswagen Beetle.

The cola wars, the battle for market supremacy of brown sugary drinks, was in full swing with the industry leaders Coke and Pepsi trying to outspend any other beverage in the cola class to achieve category domination. And then one competitor decided to move away from the cola war and create a new product category to distinguish itself. This was a situation where one company changed the game where neither Coke nor Pepsi could compete. By laying claim to an entirely new and unique part of the market, and in the minds of consumers, 7Up created a brilliant ad campaign and called itself “The Uncola.” A new category was created and 7Up was first in and owned this position in the customer’s mind.

7Up established itself as something new and refreshing in a creative and memorable way. And it worked because in one year, sales grew 56 per cent. And there was nothing that Coke or Pepsi could do about this unique positioning — they remained dark, brown, sugary colas.

Another situation where a product was positioned differently was the Volkswagen Beetle campaign that positioned the car as something that was NOT a typical North American gas guzzler. All aspects of the campaign portrayed the differences and advantages of the car in a way that was practical and simple. One of the most iconic ads of all time is the Beetle ad with the headline “Think small.”

Why would anyone think small? Conventional wisdom was that to be successful you had to “think big.” The VW campaign that ran from 1959 into the 1970s was noted by Ad Age as the best ad campaign of the 20th century. Product sales and confidence in the quality and durability of the vehicles continued with successive new models.

In both cases, successful brands were built because fresh territory was staked out in the customer’s mind and the customer liked it.

One of the other reasons for the success of these two products, and their ad campaigns, is that they employed “regular” or conversational types of messaging. There was nothing special or extra clever that required mental gymnastics to figure out the meaning of the ad. In fact, Bob Levenson, copywriter for the VW ads, said he started writing each ad with the words “Dear Charlie” as if he was talking to a friend. When he finished with the ad copy, he simply removed the “Dear Charlie,” and he had his conversational ad copy.

It is remarkable that so few companies have achieved such success using such a simple approach. But what each of these products did was set themselves apart from the the norm and the competitive environment. In this way they were only compared to themselves. Brilliant.

If you are competing on the same criteria as all your competitors, it is extremely hard to distinguish why someone should select you. Every winning game plan must contain the analysis and confirmation of something that sets their product apart from everyone else. Does yours?

Tim’s bits: So often, it is hard not to get caught up in the frenzy to up the ante in the competitive landscape by claiming to be better than the rest, better than ever, or the best that ever was. 7Up and Volkswagen carved out a unique position in the marketplace by moving away from comparisons to everyone else. Instead, they were uniquely different in how they described themselves. Leading companies know they must stand out with discerning value, so they are selected instead of their competitors. So often, the ways you are different can be the ways you are better.

Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.

tim@tk3consulting.ca

Tim Kist

Tim Kist
Columnist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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