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Crossing the Line in the Sand Can Be Scary

December 5, 2012
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Posted by Scott Leisler

As brand strategists we deal quite a bit with identifying differentiators for our clients. We use them to create unique marketplace positions and help find the “A-ha” or the “Insight” to help build a campaign.

Sometimes we work with clients where it’s really hard to find the differentiators. A lot of companies look alike. Maybe you even work at one, where you feel that your products and services are treated like commodities and the lowest price always seems to win.

If you find yourself in this position it might be time to be bold. Be brave. And what I mean isn’t to take a big risk and sabotage your career with some edgy, untried idea that your agency is pushing at you to win their awards. Everything still must be grounded in strong pro-growth business principles.

It’s simply about having the guts to take a step forward and cross the line in the sand. The same one that people have been daring you not to cross.

So here is the idea. If you don’t have a strong way to differentiate yourself, focus on something you do have – even if the competition has it – as long as they aren’t saying it yet or with a loud voice.

While your competition is focusing on their differentiators (which might not even matter to prospects and customers), you lead with a preemptive concept instead.

A few years ago I was watching MAD MEN on AMC.

Don Draper, the Big Daddy Kane of TV Creative Directors, was trying to sell cigarettes for Lucky Strike. The cigarette industry was facing new governmental restrictions on how to advertise cigarettes and future opportunities seemed bleak.

Don Draper came up with the idea that they should say, “Lucky Strike cigarettes – They’re toasted!” Turns out, all cigarettes at that time were supposedly toasted and the client was quick to point that out. BUT, nobody else was saying it, thus creating differentiation by being preemptive with a rather obvious claim.

And of course there will be a rebuttal to this idea. “Competitor X has the same thing – what’s from stopping them from coming out and saying they have it too?” At that point, it matters a lot less. IF you are first to use what might seem like a rather obvious benefit claim and can live up to it – the competitors may always be playing catchup.

Some real world examples of brands that have done this include:

  • Zappos – Free Shipping. Both Ways.
  • Enterprise – We’ll Pick You Up.
  • Miller Lite – Taste Great. Less Filling.
  • Volvo – Safety.
Other companies may have the same free shipping, great tasting beer, or safe vehicles, but these guys said it first and made it a believable part of the brand experience.

Lead with benefits. Tell them what’s in it for them. That’s something you can hang your hat on.

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