Quick Hits

Selling Your Brand, Your Way

5 minutes
Chris Stephens

Along with ‘sharing is caring‘ and ‘do unto others as you’d like done unto you’, ‘be yourself’ is one of those lessons most children grow up hearing. Why, then, do we throw it out the window when it comes to business? How can you get back to selling your brand, your way?

Simply being yourself is valuable for a lot of reasons in our society. Uniqueness and ingenuity are positive traits, and making your own way in the world demonstrates perseverance and strength of character. It’s the entrepreneurial way!

But over time, businesses lose their way. Instead of being what they are, they try to be what they think everyone wants.

Incredibles character, Syndrome, pointing forward as a laser beam shots out of his finger.

If everyone’s super…

Have you seen The Incredibles? In the story, superheroes have been forced to live mundane, unexceptional lives due to a series of high-profile incidents. The villain, Syndrome, is a disillusioned brat who wants to use technology to give the whole world superpowers. His reasoning? “If everyone’s super, no one is.”

In marketing—particularly online marketing—this is applicable. Far too often, business people try to emulate what so-called “good brands” are doing. Their marketing strategy then becomes a weak rehashing of what they see other brands doing, rather than what will best serve their brand. There are a few things wrong with this approach.

1. Flooding the market

Selection Cola is simply unremarkable. This may be their goal, but is it yours?

The first problem with trying to emulate the success of others is that you wind up becoming one of many similar brands.

Think of Coca-Cola, for instance. It’s the first and biggest cola brand in the world. Now, think of your local grocery store’s house-brand cola. It’s probably packaged with a red label and some kind of white, curly font. What it ends up looking like is a cheaper, worse Coca-Cola (which it is).

You’ll achieve nothing if you aim to impersonate a more successful brand by emulating their style. You may even reinforce the original brand’s prominence. You won’t be the first (or last) business to try copying the big guys. Don’t get lost in a sea of similar brands with similar websites.

2. Selling your brand, their way: No two brands are exactly alike.

Trying to copy another brand is a flawed idea from the start. Just like no two people live exactly the same life with the same experiences, no two companies evolve in precisely the same way.

Unless you’re part of a large franchise, you must create an experience matching your strengths. The second a company tries to emulate someone else, it loses the ability to brand itself. Instead of analyzing their organization and creating a marketing strategy that suits them, they lose perspective and chase someone else’s vision.

[1] To be clear, we’re not saying franchises are bad (quite the opposite). We’re saying that unless you’re part of one, you need to differentiate your business.

3. Creativity thrives. Imitators don’t.

One common complaint among the public about modern branding is the lack of creativity and the lack of truth in advertising. That’s partly because advertising is big business now. Media saturation is at an all-time high and will only go higher as we become ever better connected and big companies keep growing and expanding their influence. As such, we’ve gotten numb to advertising. It doesn’t work on us the way it used to.

Once upon a time, ads just showed you the product and told you why you should buy it. They could be truthful or deceptive but were taken at face value. As more and more ads competed to engage with potential customers, consumers grew more wary of them.

Today, it’s harder to sell than ever. Consumers are wary of hard selling, and the big companies have ad spends so far beyond any small competitor that broad campaigns won’t work. In 2015, Coke spent almost $4 billion US on advertising alone. The only way to take customers away from the big players is to become more adaptable, and targeted—and creative—than them.

Advertising is what you can get away with[2]

[2] Full disclosure: I stole that headline from Andy Warhol. Based on the nature of his art, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.

Advertising, and branding in general, is a peculiar mix of art, expression, and calculated engineering. You need to combine inspiration with genuine insight when you’re looking to brand your business. It is very much the case that boldness is rewarded, but excess can be punished.

The Old Spice ad campaign that began nearly a decade ago successfully rebranded the company as playful and fun. It was edgy in the sense that, at the time, viral advertising and goofiness were novel ideas. It was unusual and exciting for a brand to embrace the internet and communicate directly with consumers.

The recent controversy surrounding the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad proves that some lines ought not to be crossed. People don’t like brands overstepping their bounds, blowing their importance out of proportion. Pepsi sells sparkling sugar water. It doesn’t help celebrities solve race issues in America.

Being edgy doesn’t mean giving up your common sense.

Why does this matter for your brand? There’s a right way and a wrong way to sell yourself. Edginess can increase the potency of your brand, but stepping over the line can make you look foolish — or worse, actually hurt your public image.

Selling your brand and some closing thoughts

The takeaway from this article should be that wild and crazy, ultra-modern, ultra-successful brands are not the be-all-end-all. Not every business suits zaniness. Not every business needs to be on Snapchat, or even Instagram.

Customers can smell B.S. better than ever, and trying to be something you’re not will likely limit your growth, not expand on it.

Accordingly, the lesson should be this: Whatever your business is, advertise it shrewdly, but honestly. Decide who you are as a business. Sell your brand, your way.

No bull

Let us help you share your brand’s most authentic self with your customers, the right way. From your website to your socials, we can help you sell your brand your way.

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Chris Stephens, Twirling Umbrellas CEO, in black and white.

Written By

His bookshelf is a mishmash of leadership learnings, the latest in technology, and Marvel Comic heroes. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Clark Kent and Elon Musk, he started Twirling Umbrellas in 2013. Since then has built it into the ambitious, digital agency it is today. When he’s not in the office, you’ll find him rising at 5 am for his boys’ hockey tournaments or training for a marathon.