There’s an old Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out is quickly hammered down.” In Japanese culture, conformity is a highly desirable trait. But in Western culture, especially here in the United States, we admire — or at least can’t ignore — the stand-outs and non-conformists like John Wayne, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and Robin Williams. (R.I.P. to them all.)
We admire companies that stand out as well: Apple, Starbucks, Tesla and Zappos. In a world of computers, coffee houses, car companies and shoe brands, these firms are unique. We like unique. We remember unique. Commodity companies and their products can only trade on price, but as consumers, we’re willing to spend more money on brands that are unique and that makes us feel unique for buying them. (Think about it, the guy with the Tesla next door is probably much more interesting than the other neighbor with a 2008 Honda in the driveway.)
So getting down to brass tacks, how unique is your company? Is your funeral home or cemetery or supply company just another standard-issue brand? Or are you doing something that’s stand-out, that’s un-ignorable, that the competitor down the street isn’t offering? Are you an Apple or are you a Dell, or worse, a “house brand?”
And from a marketing perspective, does your message communicate your most unique qualities? Or is it pretty much doing what others are doing and what your audience expects? The most grievous and costly mistake you can make is developing marketing programs and content that get ignored because they suffer from sameness. Even if they’re seen, they won’t be remembered any more than you remember any one of the hundreds of ads, commercials, billboards and online messages you were exposed to today that didn’t stir your attention.
Bland is a slippery road into obscurity and failure in today’s business world.
There’s a perceived downside, of course, in being unique. It demands taking the risk that somebody might actually notice you and possibly react negatively. In my book, getting any reaction at all is far better than anonymity. Besides, there isn’t one unique person, one outstanding company, or one one-of-a-kind anything that doesn’t have its share of detractors. Some people hate the taste of Starbucks coffee or think the stores are pretentious. Some people think a Macintosh computer is way overpriced and the software doesn’t play well with other platforms. But that doesn’t stop those companies from going their own way. The more one makes an effort to stand out, the more likely some will take exception to what they’re doing. And that’s fine, the way it should be. I have one client who laughs every time they get a complaint about their unusual radio commercials because he knows then that people are hearing them and reacting, and discounts the small – but vocal – percent who gripe. It requires thick skin to be the stand-out brand, but the rewards are most welcome.
Being Unique is the first of six values we attribute to the most successful marketing campaigns. In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss the other five: Simplicity, Clarity, Surprise, Story and Experience. But the first value, being Unique, is foremost. Nothing else matters if you don’t stand out.
Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com. You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.