Is Your Brand Wandering Through the Darkness?
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Is Your Brand Wandering Through the Darkness?

I started my career at an electronics big box retailer, writing product signage and price tags for vacuums. Day in, day out, I boiled down features and benefits to a few short sentences and a handful of bullets. That was 20 years ago, but it taught me an unforgettable lesson: what’s merely True about your product (especially a product in a category riddled with parity) isn’t enough to stand out. You need a Truth. Your Truth.

True vs. Truth
What’s the difference between True and Truth? Features and benefits are True. But, a Truth is something more powerful. Something deeper. In fact, the best Truths are a mixture of human truth, popular opinion and a reputation earned over time.

Back to vacuums. Dyson’s differentiator is rooted in cyclonic vortex separation. But, because that sounds scary and dangerous, the marketing department came up with something a little slicker—they claimed that Dyson “Perfected Suction.” Puffery? Perhaps. But, it worked. Dyson’s technology was better enough and the claim was true enough to command a premium price point and propel Mr. James Dyson to billionaire status.

Think about your product and category. Be honest. Is your thing really, truly better than your closest competitor’s thing? If the answer is yes, you can stop here, because you work at Apple. Everybody else should keep reading.

How you express your brand’s Truth is as important as the Truth itself.
Let’s talk about advertising. Even if you’ve already identified something unique about your product or service, and you’ve already got something you think is a “Truth,” the wrong execution of that Truth can accidentally sell the category — not your product. For example, picture the last TV spot you saw with a sports car tearing across the salt flats of Utah. Do you remember the brand of that car? If you can’t (and you probably can’t) that ad was merely selling the idea of driving a fast car — not buying and owning a particular brand of fast car. This is unfortunate. Don’t do that.

Conversely, think about Snickers and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky. Both brands have a product that solves an age-old human predicament: when you’re hungry, you don’t act like yourself. The sugar says, “you’re not you when you’re hungry,” while the meat is making light of “hangry
moments.” Same Truth, very different executions. Google it.
 
Ignoring your truth is worse than not having one.
Some brands and categories have a look and feel, or maybe even a reputation so firmly cemented in people’s minds, it’s almost impossible to change. Take JCPenney, for example. For decades, the company was addicted to discounts and coupons. So addicted, in fact, it literally ran out of doors to bust, products to BOGO and weekends to “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” When that happened, there seemed to be only one thing left to do: go cold turkey. No more sales. No more coupons. And then they remodeled the stores and killed some legacy owned brands, to attract younger, fashion-forward consumers. It was a valiant effort, but it failed miserably for one simple reason: over decades of promotional erosion, JCPenney’s Truth had become rooted in its sales, coupons, and “mom jeans.” Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s clear now that cold turkey was too much, too fast. The business bottomed out and sales were reintroduced, only to find itself (like many other brick and mortar retailers) staring down the barrel of the loaded cannon called Amazon.com. 
 
The cure for common marketing hopelessness.
To cut through the noise and untangle the stubborn, jaded consumer mind, you could try to yell louder than the competition with high-impact media and fingers crossed. But, if you don’t have that kind of time and money, there is hope — a silver bullet, waiting for you to pull the trigger. What is it? Creativity. Creativity will always be your most powerful unfair advantage. Especially when it’s fueled by curiosity, unleashed with courage and rooted in Truth. 
 
15191_TCB_YAM_Thieman_DigArtHeadshot_300x300.jpg Andy Thieman, Executive Creative Director, Yamamoto