How to build a brand that stands out?


Written by

Martin Sully

a painted background with the words episode 5 in white writing on it

If you were a child growing up in the nineties in the UK, you no doubt would've heard of two characters called Zig and zag.

They were pretty unbearable. We're gonna do a little bit of this today and talk about zigging and zagging because it's just one of those things that everybody tells you to do. You need to zag.

And I'm not gonna change that opinion. I think cookie-cutter businesses that are copying one another don't have the same leverage they could. They're just doing the same old thing. 

So going back to 2007, I had, I was lucky enough to sit in a university lecture with John Haggerty. 

He was a partner in an advertising agency called Barty Bogle Heggarty, or BBH. They created some fantastic ad campaigns.

And in 1982, they helped Levi's launch a pair of black jeans. Which doesn't sound unusual now, but black jeans just weren't a thing. Denim was always blue. 

BBH ran a black sheep ad campaign to highlight black Levis.

The advert was a hundred white sheep facing one way and a single black sheep, just bucking the trend. Standing out. 

The tagline at the bottom read - When the world zigs. Zag. 

It was iconic. 

a field of white sheep with one black sheep. caption reads black levis, when the world zigs, zag

It was responsible for zigging and zagging! Which has been adopted by so many people. It's distinctive. 

Most brands just abide by industry conventions, which is excellent for you because you can break the conventions and become distinctive! 

If you differentiate yourself from other brands, you will definitely give yourself the best possible chance of being spotted and loved. 

Differentiating your brand by studying the competition

Every now and again, a question pops up – why do I need to look at what competitors do?

Let me explain. You can find new exciting ways to break conventions by looking at competitors.

What do brands in your industry conventionally do? How is your specific product or service delivered? What are the challenges and fears that people have using those products? 

How are you gonna mix your industry up and stand out?

This helps us differentiate your brand from somebody else's. It's a key factor to look at to ensure that you stand out from them. 

Differentiating our brand - how do we do that? We've got 2.7 seconds to capture people's time and attention. We want them to invest their time into our brands and make us an irresistible and irreplaceable brand. 

The simplest way to do it is to narrow down our target markets - the last two blog posts covered this more - The Art of Repelling Customers and The Art of Attracting your Dream Customers.

In essence, we don't want a broad target market - i.e. parents or shoppers. They're not useful and won't help you differentiate your brand. 

Once you have that, we have to find out what unique problems you solve so we can find the benefit to your customer and provide a solution. This is useful and will help you differentiate your brand.

With industries evolving, so should our brands evolve. You will always chase your competitors if you are one step behind them. 

How do you position yourself so you are one step ahead and competition is chasing you? It's not by offering similar services.

How do you deliver an innovative service or products? Can you make it faster? Can you make it more accurate than competitors? How can you double-down and be more front of mind for people?

Don't just get stuck in the same ways. Bring something new to the table so your business doesn't become stagnant.

Test new products. Courses. Look at different products. Do more research! 

The best solution is to look at the competition, identify them and then forget about them. You do not have time to worry about other people's actions. If you spend too much time focusing on competition, you'll always just be one step behind.

A quick way to analyse competition is with an old-school SWOT analysis. Look at your (and their) strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

The gold nuggets lie in the weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Opportunities can be a place to innovate, and threats can be internal and external –  a change in your sector, politics, the economy, and new competitors.

Take the time to consider what the competition is doing well and where they're coming up short. By finding where they fall short, you can implement and innovate! Ah hah!!! To make yourself distinctive. 

Embrace a brand villain

Consider your brand has a villain. What epic story doesn't have a villain? A hero's nemesis. It can be the inspiration you need to pick out, something that differentiates you. 

What would Luke Skywalker be without Darth Vader? What would Batman be without the Joker? Simba and Scar? Every story needs a villain.

For example, Who Gives a Crap (purveyors of good toilet paper) names their customer's villain as '2.4 billion people don't have access to a toilet'. Back in the day, Apple picked a fight against stagnant technologies and its users. 

Apple simply highlight differences and generally ends with Apple saying, "No, I don't have that problem."

Does your brand need an enemy? 

Not always, but it's a fun way to look at zigging and zagging. Who could your enemy be? The idea isn't to slander a competitor but to highlight why you rock, the values your stand for and why people should remember you.

It reaffirms your customer's social identity

Our social identities play a huge role in our purchasing behaviours. Whether we shop at Kmart or David Jones. The items we buy reaffirms our belonging to particular social groups. They also distance us from others.

Another example is your choice of car. If you buy a Tesla, that purchase visibly demonstrates your active role in climate change and fighting pollution. It reinforces your identity in other people's minds and your own. 

Having a visible enemy makes it easy for customers to understand who and what your brand stands for and whether a purchase from you can also fit into their social identity.

It encourages action

The second thing a villain can do is encourage action. Ever experienced health symptoms without knowing the cause? It's frustrating not being able to pinpoint the problem. You'll feel like any solutions are a stab in the dark.

When we invite our customers to become the hero in our brand story, they might only know the symptoms of their problem too. We need to identify what's getting in the way of their success – their villain. Once we name the villain, they can get the clarity and motivation to take action against them. And conquer that villain - Yaaaaarrr!

Who is your brand's villain?

What's stopping customers from achieving success? Are you zigging or zagging?

There's a few things to think about when looking into it:

  • The brand enemy isn't how your customers feel but the cause of the feeling!
  • When you are creating your villain, focus on one. You might think of a few, but keep it consistent and transform your brand story. 
  • Avoid picking a competitor as your brand villain. Think of it as what those competitors represent or how they operate that is the real enemy.

If you love this article, share it, and maybe look at some of my others.

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