Businesses need to grow. It’s the fundamental business objective that drives all the others — turning a profit, hiring top-shelf employees, marketing, and customer service all rely on growth to sustain them.
What that means is that whether you’re the owner, the CMO, or just a content creator, you need to be thinking about the most effective way to advance your brand. Maybe you’ve poured money into campaigns, influencers, and web design, but you’re not seeing results. Why is that?
In Intro to Marketing, the professor made sure we took away one thing: if you want a brand to succeed, it needs two things: it needs to be distinct, and that distinction needs to be relevant. You’ll never succeed if you don’t stand out, and standing out is only useful if it’s a meaningful difference to consumers. Crystal Pepsi was different, sure, but no one cared.
Luckily, there are tons of ways to make a business stand out in a meaningful, appealing way that draws in customers and keeps them around for the long run. Obviously, the strategy you take will depend on the type of business you run, but here’s how some other brands have done it.
LUSH — High-End Cosmetics Done Responsibly
The makeup market is huge, volatile, and cutthroat — trends and demands change seemingly overnight. That’s why most makeup companies are focused on high volume, low margins, and as broad a product line as possible to capture every woman’s needs.
LUSH took a different approach. Targeting the woman who’s “had enough” with the chemical ingredients and unethical production practices of the makeup industry, LUSH started to brand themselves as “fresh handmade cosmetics.”
Those sounds like adjectives usually applied to food, and that’s not a coincidence. LUSH makeup is also vegetarian, 80% vegan, never tested on animals, and made from ethically-sourced ingredients, just like your favorite farm-to-table restaurant.
By selling themselves not on what they make but on how they make it, LUSH appeals to the consumer who wants honesty, confidence, authenticity, and ethical business practices. The fact that they offer free samples of everything in the store just adds to the image of transparency.
Chipotle — Fast Food, Only Better
Most fast food is focused on two things: speed and price. Chipotle focuses on quality above all else — they just happen to be fast as well. Sure, you can feed a family of six for the $8 you’d spend on a Chipotle burrito, but the flavor and caliber of ingredients at Chipotle are unrivaled.
From day one, when Chipotle was a single Mexican restaurant in Denver with no aspirations of spreading beyond that, they’ve been focused on sourcing locally- and sustainably-raised ingredients. Even now, with over 2000 stores, they’re dedicated to a company-wide goal of getting all their ingredients from within 130 miles of each store.
Beyond that, Chipotle has been on the leading edge of healthy, sustainable food practices. From organic food to free-range meat to their recent commitment to non-GMO ingredients, Chipotle has led the charge among fast casual restaurants in making food that consumers can feel good about supporting.
All this dedication to quality comes at a cost: cost. Chipotle isn’t the cheapest option on the market, but they took a gamble and it has paid off — in 2014, they were awarded best-tasting burrito, and the brand currently commands 57% of the Mexican fast-casual market
Dollar Shave Club — Convenience You Didn’t Know You Needed
Subscription-based businesses are a rising trend, but most of them want to be like Santa on Christmas morning — new, exciting products you didn’t pick out yourself but which are tailored to your tastes, whether it’s clothes, whiskey, snacks, or whatever else you can imagine.
Dollar Shave Club, on the other hand, delivers boring, disposable commodities — razor blades. They didn’t pretend to be anything they weren’t, instead using dry wit and low-budget commercials to explain a very simple premise: razor blades delivered when you need them, at lower prices than you’d pay at the grocery store.
The best part was their leveraging of word-of-mouth marketing. Customers were so excited about the change in their otherwise boring razor-buying routine that they told everyone who would listen, and Dollar Shave Club used those testimonials to attract even more customers.
Dollar Shave Club was bought by Unilever for $1 billion just five years after it launched — not a bad ROI. It also commands a huge viral following — its top-viewed ad has over 25 million views. By focusing on substance and wit over style and a bewildering array of SKUs, Dollar Shave Club cut through the frustration of buying razors and became a juggernaut.
Think About What Makes You Different
There are dozens of other ways to differentiate yourself from your competition. You could go after a narrow niche of customers — GoPro focuses on action sports enthusiasts, not casual users. You could focus on customer service, like Zappo’s with its free shipping and free returns. Or you could put your energy into giving back, like Newman’s Own food products or Tom’s shoes.
The point is, you need to think of what it is that makes your brand, company, or approach unique from your competitors. You don’t have to be the only one doing what you do, but there has to be something special about the way you do it, or you’ll blend in and fade away. Find that differentiator, and you’ll have a loyal following for years to come.