Differentiate Your Brand

We’ve all seen movies and documentaries where the beautiful herd of wildebeests is stalked by predators such as lions, hyenas, and other scavengers. The massive group slowly moves across the lush plain, grazing as long as the grass holds out.

The lions, hovering nearby, carefully observe the herd, looking for the smaller, older, or weaker animal that could easily be separated and turned into a meal.

Brands, like wildebeests, can grow and thrive, wither away, or be eaten by the competition. So, just what is the best approach to survive and grow in today’s recovering economy where opportunity and competition are heating up. Let’s explore:

Stay in the center of the herd and don’t attract attention
In a herd of wildebeests, the center is the safest place. That’s usually where you’ll find the very young, old, frail, and faint of heart. The likelihood of being eaten is much lower. Here, you only have to be faster than the slowest of your friends.

It’s also the area with far less food. The grass is sparse, and what exists is just not that tasty. Like the timid wildebeests, many companies like it in the middle where they can be safe, not drawing attention, and barely surviving off the scraps left behind by others.

Take measured risks and eat better
At the front of the herd is where you’ll find the larger, stronger, faster, and braver animals. They graze where the risks are much greater but the reward is thick, fresh, and tasty grass.

Similarly, some company owners and managers reap huge rewards by taking risks. By developing a strategy of differentiation, they effectively place themselves in front of the herd, becoming the leader that others want to follow. They take well thought out risks but recognize that the best grass is out front.

What makes your company or community unique?
I was recently visiting with a man who told me that he really didn’t think his company was any different than any of his competitors. “We’re all pretty much the same,’ he said. ‘We all sell the same services in the same way. It just comes down to price.”

“Let’s try something,’ I said. ‘I want you to write a list of all the things that make your company great.” With my annoying encouragement, he took about five minutes and wrote a short list of eight things that he felt were great about his company.

“More!’ I said. ‘You need much more.”

For the next half hour, I taunted, coached, prodded, and painfully extracted another fifteen points of greatness. He was not exactly loving me but at least we had a respectable list.

“Now,’ I told him, ‘cross off every point that could be claimed by your key competitors.” “What? Cross them off?” he asked. “Cross them off,” I told him.

As he read through his list, he begrudgingly struck through selling points that he had been reciting for years. I could see the pain, and quite a bit of irritation, on his face. In about thirty seconds, his list was slashed from twenty-three to three. “There they are,’ I said. ‘There are your differentiators.” “That’s it?” he asked, a little shell shocked. “That’s it,’ I told him. ‘Now, let’s get started on a communications plan.”

The front of the herd is a scary place
It takes great courage to step out front and graze in the tall grass. Not only are you in plain sight of the lions, you’re walking among the leaders. It’s a very uncomfortable place, at first. There you are. Everybody is looking at you, wondering what you’re doing in their grass.

When prospective clients look at the herd of service providers, does your company stand out as one that belongs out front or is it just one among a mass of weak imitators. Perception is reality, here. If you are perceived as weak, that’s the reality by which you will be judged. Brand loyalty and the opportunity for leadership are hard to come by when there is a blur of choices and few differentiators. It may be time to take a risk and step into the tall grass.

Are you a follower or a leader?
The larger and stronger wildebeests get to be that way by taking risks. By nature, the rest of the herd will follow. I sometimes find myself with company of community leaders who spend an inordinate amount of time talking about their competitors. They may admire them or fear them. In essence, they want to be like them and follow them. But all too often, the required risk, courage, and expense is just too scary, so they retreat to the center of the herd where they can blend in and feel safe.

At Brand Acceleration, we work with numerous communities and companies, helping them to identify and promote their unique differentiators. They know that we are passionate about developing message strategies meant to move them to the tall grass and keep them there. As a marketing communications and public relations firm, our differentiators are clear. Unlike most agencies, we won’t work for just anyone. We only work in three industries; economic development, construction (including architecture, engineering, and related services), and real estate. Our clients like the fact that we are actively involved in and have a deep understanding of their industries and markets. We bring solid counsel which results in powerful message strategies.

One of our clients, who will not be named here, is an amazing man. He avoids joining trade organizations and refuses to follow what he perceives as the imitators. He doggedly works to be different. He is brave, aggressive, and very successful at growing what has become a powerful and unique brand position. He’s not at all afraid to be different. In fact, he likes it that way. We love working with him because he is not afraid to step out and take a position at the front of the herd. The result? His marcom and public relations program is aggressive and the results are remarkable. His web traffic and lead count are staggering.

What is your differentiation plan?
What are you doing to get out front? Do you have a clear understanding of what makes your company or community unique or are you content with mingling among the forgotten mass in the middle?

With the economy heating up and the competition aggressive, it’s time to get serious about your brand position. Please feel free to contact me any time. I’d love to have a conversation and begin the process of exploring just what it would take to move you into the lush grass at the front of the herd.

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