Everyone in business knows the phrase, "you gotta stand out from your competition." It's so cliche it hurts my head even to think it. It sounds so great and so easy. Like when they tell you the key to becoming a millionaire is finding a need and filling it. Yea, sure, but how?
What you see above is my kitchen counter after one day of mail. Well, it might have been two days. The point is, it's not even election season, and I have two metric tons of postcards, pre-approval letters, catalogs, and sales flyers in my mailbox.
"We Will Make You Stand Out"
Almost every designer, billing themselves as marketers, says this line to their clients. Smaller businesses usually believe it; larger companies go along with it but are more concerned with internal buy-in. Either way, all of them paid a designer to create each piece you see above. Undoubtedly, countless hours were spent fretting over headlines, making logos bigger, swapping pictures, and tweaking messages. The result?
The Lesson to Learn
For this article let's look at one common trait all of these pieces of marketing had in common:
Every piece was telling me to do something the company wanted me to do.
Not one piece was fundamentally designed to bring value to me. Every single piece was asking something from me, or a thinly veiled manipulation to buy something (i.e., discounts, sales, pre-approvals, blah blah blah).
You might say, "Well, isn't that the point of an advertisement? To get sales?"
It might have been at one point, but the fact is the consumer has changed. For one, advertisements have become an assault on the senses by supersaturating our world. Just about everywhere you look, you see an ad. In response, consumers have developed a mental resistance to ads and continuously look for ways to avoid them. Furthermore, modern consumers can control when and where they get their information and have little interest or patience for loud interruptive corporate messages.
So, if you want to stand out, you will need to go back further than clever designs and catchy headlines. If you're sending out direct mailers, buying banner ads, and considering radio spots, you will probably need to rethink your entire marketing strategy. It's not that those tactics are inherently wrong, it's that you probably arrived at them with an old world mindset of beating your message into your audience's mind with brute force ($$$). Guess what, there are about 4000 other brands (most with a lot more money) competing for the same square inch of gray matter on a daily basis.
How on Earth do you stand out!?
You can stand out by doing something no one else is doing. Remember the common thread between all those mailers on my kitchen counter? Every brand was asking for something; not one was focused on giving. (Again, coupons and sales are not giving - they're manipulations).
So what does that look like?
One of those pieces was a company that kills mosquitos (doing the Lord's work for sure). I might have been a potential customer for them, but their postcard went straight to the trash without a second thought. However, if they had sent a creative piece, perhaps a 4x4 booklet, with compelling content about smoking ribs, lawn maintenance tips, or outdoor entertaining, I might have sat down and read their content. I wouldn't be learning about the company, but I would be reading something I'm interested in, and Mosquito Killer (I don't know the company's name...case in point right?) would have earned my attention! They would have officially stood out from the masses. Because they gave me something of value, there is an established relationship between the brand and me. That relationship, trust, affinity, whatever you want to call it, is something that no other brand took the time to create.
If the idea above sounds impractical for print, I might agree, depending on the budget. But how easily could all of that content be turned into a series of blogs on their website? It could be broken up into dozens of great social media posts and boosted to tens of thousands of people with the fraction of the cost of a direct mail campaign.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Of course, if your company is struggling to find a way to stand out, drop me a line and we will discuss. We could call it a consult, but why put labels on things.