Standing Out on a Massive Scale
What soft drink stands out above all others? Not which one is the best or tastiest or healthiest, but which one is recognized the most? That would be Cola-Cola, right? The Coca-Cola Company, founded in 1892 and headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, actually produces over 3,500 different beverages globally. The red and white Coca-Cola (or Coke) logo is recognized by 94% of the world’s population. The term “Coca-Cola” is reportedly the second-most understood term in the world, right behind “OK” or “okay”.
How is This Possible?
How did this drink, which once contained cocaine and was sold as a “nerve tonic” and cure for morphine addiction – a drink which contains phosphoric acid (the same chemical used to clean rust off cars), loads of sugar (or sugar substitutes) and chemicals known to bring about headaches, fatigue, depression, osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease – become so omnipresent and instantly recognizable?
Billions in Advertising
The Coca-Cola Company spent $2.9 billion on advertising in 2010, ahead of Microsoft ($1.6 billion) and Apple ($691 million). Almost $3 billion spent just on advertising in one year! Why spend all that when everyone knows who you are anyway?
People just don’t pay for the product. They pay for the image. They pay for the image they’ve been hit with their entire lives. They don’t just buy Coke. They buy familiarity. They buy something that reminds them of being a kid on a hot summer day. When they see a commercial of people drinking Coke on a hot summer day, they’re reminded of commercials they saw as a kid of people drinking Coke on a hot summer day. So the next time they order a drink, they order Coke. All this happens without them being cognizant of what is happening. Drinks like Coke are also very addictive, which I imagine is no accident.
How to Stand Out
Drinking a Coke isn’t going to kill you, but drinking it your whole life, like millions of people do, is not a great idea. It’s even common knowledge that it is bad for you, not dissimilar to cigarettes, alcohol and psychotropic drugs (although those things are considerably worse). But even though people know it’s hazardous to their health, billions upon billions of dollars are made through shrewd and large-scale marketing.
But what about you? One would think that if you offered something that is actually good for people, they’d be interested in it. But just because you have something worthwhile, doesn’t mean anyone knows about it. And you don’t have billions of dollars for advertising and marketing. You may not even have thousands. How do you stand out from your competition on a limited budget? Here are some ways:
Don’t Have Competition
If you’re the only one, you won’t have competition…at least for now. True, people will attempt to copy your idea, and they may be successful at it. But you can still be the originator and even the best. Just being the first could give you the edge you need, but being the best will always set you apart. If you are the first and/or the best, don’t hesitate to tell people.
One thing the entrepreneur (and the inventor) does, is notice something lacking or something frustrating, or just some problem somewhere, and solve it, through an invention, an app, a product, a service, etc. They can even solve problems people didn’t know they had. They are in that moment unique.
What makes you unique? What makes you different than anyone else? When you isolate these attributes, use them to your advantage. Your personal story or your company’s origin story can be used to distinguish yourself. A clear sense of identity is extremely important; so are the unique characteristics of your product or service.
Are you exclusive and niche? Or are you reliable yet affordable for the masses? Are you unabashedly cool, hip and forward-thinking? Are you proudly old-fashioned, sturdy and workmanlike? Or are you a retro-hybrid, firmly rooted in the past with a cutting edge, futuristic slant? Know who you are. Be certain of your unique identity.
Your Core Clientele
One way to set yourself apart is to set your customers apart. If you’ve put together a cohesive business plan, you should have some idea by now of your core clientele or customer base. You should know their habits, likes and dislikes, where they hang out (online and in the real world), and a slew of other facts. You can also survey them for more pertinent data. Use all this to your advantage – make yourself in their image so to speak. Avoid things which they detest and embrace that which they love. Do all this while still being yourself – an interesting trick.
Understand Your Niche
In the internet age, the ability to cater to a niche has become more and more prevalent. You can sell just one color paint, but sell it to anyone in the world who wants that color paint. You can sell pre-war comics to those solely interested in pre-war comics. You can sell Coca-Cola memorabilia to the Coca-Cola memorabilia enthusiasts of planet Earth.
That is not to say you must be niche. You may be targeting a broad demographic, but even then the same rules apply. You should have a firm grasp on what is needed and wanted and by whom. You are making someone’s life better or easier, and you should be able to clearly state and deliver that. The narrower the niche, the more specific the message.
Apple Inc. is an excellent example of uniformity. Steve Jobs wasn’t just smart when it came to software and hardware, he was a marketing visionary. He had a philosophy of how his products should look, feel, operate and integrate with one another. But he also had clear ideas on how they should be presented conceptually and visually, down to which colors to use. Now, what you offer could be the polar opposite of an iPhone or a Mac, but you can work out how to achieve uniformity in what you produce and how you present it. People are hit daily with a continuous barrage of messages and images. When you are consistent, direct and repetitive, you can pierce through the over-saturation. Still, you’ll have to tinker with it to make sure it’s working, but you can get a breakthrough and build on it.
There is no substitute for being good at what you do. And this includes how you talk to people, handle their complaints and take care of them. If you really want to stand out, when people call in, make sure they are answered by a human being who is helpful. Continual reliance on machines has depersonalized countless activities. You could practically make someone’s day by being a real person with decent communication skills. Always strive for better-than-expected quality and service. And online, amass positive reviews to back it up. You’ll stand out.
Stand Out Aesthetically
You may notice how some establishments and businesses adorn their brick-and-mortar premises and even their websites with whimsy and artistic flair. They are making themselves stand out. Do you know what image people find comfortable and inviting in connection with a dentist office? According to a friend who did lot of research on it, it’s NOT a smiling tooth! It’s a lighthouse!
One dentist I know of in Oregon, who specializes in pediatric dentistry, uses superhero imagery: The staff dress in red uniforms, there are comic book paintings on the walls, video games in the lobby, and TVs on the ceilings the kids can watch while they get their teeth cleaned and their cavities filled. It looks more like a Chuck E Cheese’s than a dental practice. And they are very successful.
More Examples of Individuality
Quite a few independent coffee shops get the idea when it comes to standing out aesthetically. They feature work from local artists, baked good from local bakeries, and the place looks and feels like a quirky living room. They have free Wi-Fi so students and anyone else can hang out and work, and buy and drink more coffee. And they tend to stay in business provided they are located correctly.
A doughnut shop in Portland, Oregon has achieved some fame and notoriety for being quirky, unique and a bit bizarre. They’re called Voodoo Doughnut and they’ve been featured on the Travel Channel more than once. They sell Cap’n Crunch doughnuts, grape Tang doughnuts, vegan doughnuts, the flagship bacon-maple bar and many other odd combinations – and their trademark bright pink boxes have become rather iconic. They do a lot of business, always have a long line out front, and have opened two more locations in Portland and one in Denver. Despite the quirkiness and strangeness, they are not entirely laid-back when it comes to their business model. Their cashiers are individually required to ring up several thousand dollars daily – cash only!
Many companies have a brick-and-mortar presence and an online presence, but not all of them. I see some businesses, such as a lonely store that specializes in clogs (not shoes but clogs!) or a store on an empty street that sells “Classy Hats and More!” – and I wonder how on Earth they stay in business. I am dismayed when I discover they do very little online marketing or sales (or none at all). Needless to say they aren’t always there the next month.
Stores are smart to run an online campaign along with their storefront. Stores that locate themselves where their clientele congregate will do even better. Having professional and noticeable signage is essential. There are a lot of basics when it comes to displays and how to stock shelves – basics which many smaller places seem oblivious to. Assume the point of view of the pedestrian or customer, attract their attention and draw them in. Apple Inc., for example, makes a point to use clean, geometric lines and their stores have glass walls. Your store however could be totally different yet just as striking.
People appreciate a socially conscious business. Quite a few companies make a point to give back. Some of them do it more earnestly than others. You can stand out by being an active member of your community. Participate in charity drives, clean-up projects, after-school programs, sports programs, races – whatever works well with your business and your brand. It’s a good idea to pick causes for which you have a personal passion.
It’s great when a manufacturer goes “green”, like the Subaru plant in Indiana. Subaru promotes this plant because Subaru buyers – who are some of the most loyal around – appreciate the sustainability with which their car was assembled. Not every demographic cares deeply about how green the plant was that built something they bought, but it’s still a great idea. Do a little homework into what people would appreciate in your area, especially your customer base.
Ideally, in your online marketing, you’d dominate page one of Google. Keep that in mind and work form there. You’ve got to have a great website that makes it easy for people to contact you and makes it easy to buy! Set up social media pages that link to your website and keep them maintained. Answer people’s questions and posts. Provide useful content, blog posts, etc. Make sure anyone can find you using Google Maps, Apple Maps, etc. All this may seem like a hassle but it is pretty much expected these days.
There are many creative ways to partner with other businesses to make yourself stand out. I’ve mentioned, a couple times now, something called a strategic alliance or a host beneficiary relationship:
Essentially, you piggyback on an established and respected business. Meet up with the other business and strike up a deal where they offer a free gift from you. The other business is sticking their neck out to some degree by putting their name with yours, so you must be reliable and professional and offer them value. For example:
A high-end woman’s clothing store partners with a BMW dealership who sends a voucher for a free kimono to all their female customers. The dealership gets free goodwill. The clothing store gets a slew of new customers. That was a real example by the way. The new clothing store spent $9,600 on the project which generated $240,000 in sales and 600 new customers.
I am sure there are many brilliant ways you can partner with others and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Lastly, be yourself, Be YOU. You are unique. Your business probably is too. Accentuate those qualities. People don’t just want to buy something. They want to connect with something. Unless you’re Walmart, which you’re probably not, simply offering low prices may not be what you’re all about. You may be about a different experience altogether. Work with that. It takes some trial and error. You may find that YOU stand out just by being YOU. Good luck!