Speak with a small business owner long enough and you’re sure to hear how and why his or her business is different from the competition. Specific conversation points may include product features, outstanding customer service, or a distinct approach to a service-related need. While I’ve yet to run into a business owner who isn’t quick to share the “how my business is different story,” I’m amazed by the high percentage of these same owners who have based their own marketing programs on what competitors or friends have tried rather than developing their own unique program.
On the surface copying another business’ successes might seem harmless enough (effective marketing ideas should translate across industries, right?),but there are many reasons why not allowing a business’ unique features to drive a custom marketing program will hurt a business and waste money in the long run.
Who can forget Coca-Cola’s mid-1980s rebuttal to rival Pepsi and its “new generation” marketing? “New” Coke has gone down as one of the biggest marketing flops in history because the company interpreted a drop in sales as a reason to abandon its classic drink and force a copycat product and marketing campaign on its buyers. To the great relief of Coca-Cola “Classic” drinkers everywhere, the company learned from its mistake, embraced its original product’s unique flavor, and became one of the most valuable brands worldwide.
Unique Identity and Culture
Each business has its own unique identity and style, and it’s the job of marketers to dissect that identity and use it to develop a communications bridge to that business’ buyers. I’m talking about more than the unique selling propositions (USPs) and more about the business as a whole. Manifestations of a business’ identity can be found in its logo, brand color scheme, office or retail decor, and customer service approach, however, understanding the true identity requires digging a little deeper.
Even businesses that may seem the same from the outside cannot have identical marketing strategies. Why? Because two businesses are never truly identical. They may be in the same industry, within the same market, target the same buyers, but vastly different in culture and buyer approach. Ownership personalities, business goals, budgets, rank within the marketplace, pricing and product mix, quality control, employee skills and work ethic, and business age all factor into a business’ identity.
Assuming that market research has been performed and branding has been found in keeping with a business’ buyer, it is imperative that a business’ culture be reflected within its marketing program. As marketers, we can never forget that, fundamentally, marketing exists to sell business, and ideally the goal is repeat business. This is not only important for brand consistency, but also in maintaining honesty with the business’ targeted buyers. Using a conservative, perhaps stodgier business as an example, how would a buyer feel after biting on a whimsical and fun-loving campaign, only to discover the actual business experience has a different reality? “Betrayed” is the word that comes to my mind. What are the odds of a repeat purchase after that happens?
Related Class: Branding 101: Defining Who You Are
Tired Creative or Promotions
It’s tough for copycat marketing programs to generate the same excitement and impact as the original effort. Not only are buyers quick to spot similarities in marketing, but even the best copy lacks the element of surprise. More often than not, buyers who spot the copies will spend more time comparing the two than focusing on the business’ message. Who wants their buyers to focus on the marketing effort’s style and not on the message itself?
On the flip side, taking what’s unique about a business and applying those features to marketing will help drive fresh creative. Rather than defaulting to an industry or business stereotype, marketers should use what’s unique about a business to drive a different style or promotional campaign - and spark a copycat all their own.
There are times when seemingly outstanding marketing opportunities are actually close to their expiration dates. Timing can be the difference between a marketing program’s success and a future fraught with struggle. Simply put, a business late to a marketing opportunity may struggle to achieve the same success as early adopters. This could stem from the number of competitors or “clutter” within a particular opportunity or from changes within an opportunity itself.
Examples when timing can make a difference include professional directories, deal sites, or even store shelves where endless listings or rows of competitors can make marketing more difficult. An example where a change within an opportunity itself relates to the difference between a business with a years-old Facebook page vs. a business trying to start one up after Facebook’s algorithm changes.
Embrace the Unique
Capturing buyer attention becomes increasingly more difficult day by day, yet it is our challenge as marketers to continually make our business stand out and reach buyers. We can only do this by developing standout marketing that showcases a business’ personality while still speaking to that business’ buyer profile. This can only be achieved by embracing what’s unique about a business and allowing that to drive the creative.