Cut the Crap! The “Er” of Comparison Branding
Harvard Business Review (HBR) had a great article last week on common mistakes start-ups make in talking about their brands. In that piece, the author explains that start-ups (and other companies) too often rely on comparing themselves to other well-known brands in order to explain their own. It’s the “We’re like Google, only faster.” “We’re like Apple, only cheaper and better” comparison.
And it’s problematic. It’s crap. It sets up comparisons that lack believability and, more importantly, it’s selling yourself and your story, well, short! Remember the movie Twins featuring Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Yes, it’s pretty much like that. More often than not, it’s your brand that draws the short end of the stick. Enough puns – the points stands.
The problem, of course, is by mentioning the other brand as the frame for comparison, you are unwittingly benchmarking yourself against established brands and their stories – rather than articulating your own. The net of it – you’ve buried your story by putting the other brand front and center. You have become the “Er” brand, rather than the focus of your own narrative. By doing so, you’ll always be the sub-point and footnote – the subordinate position – to the dominant brand you’ve compared yourself to.
It sets off alarm bells because it means you lack a strategy and narrative of your own. Left with little differentiation, you will always be compared to the brand you tied yourself to.
Moreover, it shows a lack of reality. When start-ups tell me they are the “Google or Apple of….blah, blah, blah..,” it’s clear to me they have little concept of proportionality and underestimate their own market as well as their competition.
Reframing Your Brand
So what do you do? Stop by comparing yourself to the huge brand in your industry. And, while it is not as dangerous to compare yourself to the big brand in another industry, it’s still not ideal. It doesn’t work. You’re not them. You’ve got to reframe your narrative by taking it back and defining your own story.
1. Define your reason for being. I call it your core narrative. Some people call it your why. What problem are you solving? Why did you start the company? What motivates you? What do you value? What changes in the world are you trying to start? Define your values and promulgate them! Own your values and your mission and that will speak volumes about what you value. You are more likely to attract those who believe what you believe when you are clear and transparent about your beliefs. That’s a huge part of what makes you different and you have to highlight that.
2. Be clear and narrow about your ideal audience. Who are you trying to attract? And it can’t and shouldn’t be everyone. For example, perhaps you help CFOs with forecasting so they can increase business visibility and their personal reputations. And you can add specific industries if you specialize in particular areas.
3. Be who you are – consistently and unabashedly. Show your personality and your voice. Every great brand has one and those brands are ones that connect with audiences emotionally. We know who they are and what they stand for. Method, for example, is about eco-friendly cleaning products and they have a great sense of humor. Zappos is about happiness and customer experience. Virgin is about excellence, bold personality and fun – just look at Richard Branson. He’s fun, passionate and innovative. Your voice will be your brand and content’s secret sauce – embrace it!
How do you keep your brand from falling into the “er” trap?