Summer Series - What A Difference A Difference Makes: Standing Out In The Marketplace
*Our Under The Influence Summer Series airs Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:30 on CBC Radio One.*
This week, we look at brands that separate themselves from the herd. In the world of marketing, standing out is the most critical thing a company can do. Having a distinct personality gives shoppers a reason to remember a brand and a reason to buy. We'll analyze a wrestler who used a delicate flower to intimidate his opponents, a single eyepatch that gave one company a $28M bump in sales and a motorcycle brand that succeeded by taking the fun out of the ride.
One day in the early 1940s, wrestler George Wagner was walking down the aisle on his way to the ring, when he overheard two women say he was "Gorgeous."
Wagner had been looking for a stage image he could bring to his wrestling career, and he liked the sound of the word, so he re-named himself, Gorgeous George.
From there, he created an absolutely original persona. In a sport where men were tough and redneck and serious, George would enter the arena to the strains of Pomp & Circumstance.
His hair was bleached blonde. He wore robes that were velvet.
Some were made of taffeta and still others had feather boas. Sometimes the ring announcers didn't know what to call them.
As George entered the ring, his shapely assistant would spread rose pedals at his feet, then lay out a small mink rug for George to stand on. Next, she would take gold-plated pins out of his hair, which George would toss into the crowd.
Then his assistant would hold up a silver mirror, and George would stand there admiring himself.
Gorgeous George called himself "The Human Orchid" – not exactly the most intimidating nickname – considering he was a villain in the ring. He loved to cheat and break the rules, the crowd loved to hate him and George loved the attention.
His career happened to coincide with the advent of television. By the late 1950s, wrestling matches featuring Gorgeous George were only surpassed in ratings by comedian Milton Berle.
Gorgeous George created a spectacle. A spectacle that had never been done in professional sport before.
Near the end of his career in 1961, Gorgeous George was promoting a wrestling match in Las Vegas. He found himself on the same radio show as a young unknown boxer named Cassius Clay.
George told listeners he was the greatest wrestler in the world, and that no one was more pretty or beautiful. Clay sat back in wonder.
After the interview, young Cassius asked Gorgeous George for some advice. George told him to brag and be sassy, because people will pay big money to see someone shut your mouth.
Later that day, Cassius Clay said to his trainer Angelo Dundee, "That's a goooood idea."
And that's how Gorgeous George inspired the spectacle that would become Muhammad Ali. And it goes without saying that George's influence can still be felt in wrestling to this day.
George was inducted into the wrestling hall of fame because he stood out from all other wrestlers. He found a way to differentiate himself from hundreds of competitors. That distinct and outrageous persona made him a rich man.
Gorgeous George was an orchid in a field of dandelions.
In the world of marketing, standing out from the crowd is the most critical thing a company can do. Having a distinct personality separates a product from the herd, it gives shoppers a reason to remember a brand and it gives them a reason to buy.
With the amount of competition these days, attention is like oxygen.
You either have it or you suffocate.
And companies think of some pretty gorgeous ways to get it.
As a shopper, you are influenced by differentiation every day and you may not even realize it.
You are probably buying from the most clearly defined companies and routinely ignoring the weakly defined ones.
Smart companies differentiate themselves in many ways – using colours, sounds, shapes, voices and language.
If you and I were to meet on the street, you might say I have a shaved head, I wear interesting shirts and I'm devastatingly handsome. Who could blame you?
But you wouldn't describe me as having two arms, two legs and a head.
The brain is not interested in sameness. It looks to catalogue unusual differences in order to remember.
It's the same in marketing.
That's why something as simple as language can be a distinguishing factor.
McDonald's uses its "Mc" prefix on many of its menu items, from a Big Mac, to McChicken, to an Egg McMuffin to its McCafé.
A&W has its own language, using the "Burger Family" terminology, from Baby Burgers, to Teen Burgers to Mama, Papa and Grandpa burgers.
Starbucks may be the greatest example of all. It has created its own ordering language – which mystifies non-Starbuck's customers but generates big loyalty with regular Starbuck's fans.
Sometimes spelling can be a memorable marker. Toy 'R Us founder Charles Lazarus took a lot of heat from teachers and parents when he put a backwards "R" in his logo. But he stuck with it because he knew it was an attention–getter.
Think of photo site Flickr without an E, or F-R-O-O-T Loops or Cheez Wiz spelled with a Z.
You may think small spelling choices are meaningless, but a Harvard study showed that differentiators beat cost-cutters almost every time.
In other words, powerful differentiations create the most enduring profits.
Another way for a product to stand out in your mind is with the use of a mnemonic.
A mnemonic can take many forms.
Back in 1966, Maxwell House Coffee used a musical one to make its brand stand out. They chose the sound of a percolating coffee maker:
Those musical notes became the identifiable sound of Maxwell House.
Back in 1951, David Ogilvy's ad agency was just three-years old.
A men's clothing company based in Maine, called C. F. Hathaway, hired Ogilvy to advertise its shirts. The owner of Hathaway told Ogilvy he only had a $30,000 budget, but promised he wouldn't change one word of the advertisements.
Ogilvy said he nearly cried at how small the ad budget was, but he couldn't turn down that kind of offer.
It would turn out to be a very smart decision.
In that era, most clothing ads were illustrations. So Ogilvy decided to buck the trend and use photography instead.
That alone was a differentiator.
Ogilvy believed in embedding "story appeal" in every ad. Put another way, he felt there should be an intriguing element in every photograph that suggests a backstory.
Ogilvy's idea was to create the "The Hathaway Man" – a dapper gentleman that would come to personify the brand in all the ads. So he hired a David Niven-looking male model and a photographer.
A few nights before the photo shoot, Ogilvy drew up a list of 18 things that might contribute story appeal to the photo. Number 19 was to have the model wear an eye patch.
On the way over to the photo session that morning, he dropped into a drug store and bought one. Near the end of the photo session, he asked the photographer to take a few pictures with the model wearing the black eyepatch. Both the photographer and the model looked at Ogilvy as if he were crazy.
But when they viewed the photos a few days later, nobody could deny it: The eye patch was the most riveting image.
Hence was born the famous "Man in the Hathaway Shirt" campaign.
The eye patch worn by the model in every ad was the differentiator. That small campaign caused Hathaway sales to jump from $2 million per year to $30 million. When Hathaway hired Ogilvy, its shirt line was carried in 450 stores across the country. A few years later, they were in over 2,500.
Not only that, the campaign made David Ogilvy famous, launching Ogilvy & Mather, which would become one of the world's largest advertising agencies.
All that success – due in no small part to an eye patch.
It's amazing what a differentiating idea can do.
Years later, it would be a lesson Swatch would take to the bank…
Design is another big differentiating aspect that makes products stand out from the competition – and it can influence purchases.
Swatch was an interesting brand that chose to stand out with design. Up until then, all watches were sold on precision. From Rolex to Timex, a watch's ability to keep time was the main benefit.
Then along came Swatch. It used self-expression as its defining characteristic. Swatches were made of plastic and came in all sorts of fun colours. The benefit to Swatch wasn't time, it was the fun you would have wearing the colour that matched your personality.
Or your wardrobe.
The name "Swatch" was a contraction of the words "Second Watch" as these timepieces were meant to be fun, casual and disposable.
Swatch became a sensation in the watch category.
What a difference a difference makes.
The key to standing out in a sector is to not look or act like the sector.
That's why I would always tell clients to stop thinking like a beer advertiser if they are in the beer category, or to stop thinking like a tire advertiser in the tire category - but rather think like a great marketer instead.
In a sea of products, it's easy to get lost. It's like trying to find your car in a big mall parking lot. If you can't recognize your own car, it fails the personality test.
That's why the most sharply-defined brands sell the most products.
A recent report issued by one of the top advertising firms in North America stated that products are 200% more alike today than they ever were.
The crucial element that separates them is unique branding.
Often companies will establish a unique competitive advantage by telling customers how to use their products.
In Guatemala, an inexpensive motorcycle brand from India overtook the leading Japanese brands simply by telling customers to use their bikes in a different way.
The company suggested that riders not use the motorcycle for fun or sport, but rather for work. The ads said: "This is the motorbike that helps you do your job better."
So people started using the bikes to get to work and in many instances - for work itself.
As a result, banks began giving preferential loans to people who wanted to buy that brand, because banks now saw the bike as a work tool. That motorcycle brand stood out from competitors and went on to enjoy a 60 percent market share.
A company's point of difference may even be operational.
When Tom Monaghan founded Domino's Pizza, he spent years shaving seconds off pizza cooking times and inventing things like corrugated pizza boxes to keep the pies hot during delivery. After many years of tweaking, Monaghan revolutionized the pizza business when he pioneered the "30 minutes or free" delivery promise.
Because of the constant refining of his kitchen systems, it was a benefit his company was able to deliver long before his competitor's could.
It was an operational advantage.
Differentiation takes many forms.
Emotion is another way to clearly define a brand.
Hallmark uses emotional imagery and sponsors emotional television shows to carve out its unique position. Is it a successful strategy? Well, quick – name another greeting card company.
Hallmark commands over 50% of the greeting card market.
Geico chooses comedy to create a distinct image, using its quirky Geico lizard in some commercials and funny situations in others. Geico chose to stand out by employing humour in the insurance industry – instead of the usual category choice of fear.
Remember that Cadbury commercial from 2007 where a gorilla plays the drums to a Phil Collins song?
You may be wondering what a gorilla has to do with a chocolate bar. The answer… is emotion. Viewers had an emotional response to that commercial:
It was mesmerizing. That feeling of joy the gorilla experiences drumming to the song transfers over to the viewer – which transfers over to the product.
A company's mission can be its distinct point-of-difference. As I've mentioned before, Apple's famous "1984" Super Bowl TV commercial forever positioned it as the IBM slayer.
WestJet's mission is to make flying fun.
Patagonia's mission is to save the planet by selling less clothing.
Each one of these differentiators was an exercise in articulating the company's most distinguishing factor. Then remaining absolutely consistent with that unique point-of-view – never changing it – using it as marketing bedrock.
Colour is one of the fundamental ways companies brand their businesses and products.
If you've ever bought any jewellery from Tiffany's, then you know the Tiffany box comes in a very unique robin's egg blue. Specifically, Pantone number 1837 - named for the year Tiffany's was founded.
That distinct colour actually creates excitement. Case in point: Would you rather unwrap a jewellery gift in a white box, or one in a Tiffany blue box?
As a matter of fact, the blue boxes are so desirable, you can find empty Tiffany boxes for sale on eBay.
Now – who would want to buy an empty Tiffany box?
I'm looking at you, husbands. Tsk, tsk.
One company that stands out because of its colour is UPS.
As a matter of fact, the UPS slogan for years used to be "What can brown do for you?"
When founder James Casey started the delivery service back in 1907, the company grew to include four automobiles and five motorcycles by 1915. Casey decided the fleet could use a consistent colour scheme, so he chose yellow.
But one of his business partners protested the colour choice, saying that yellow would be impossible to keep clean.
He pointed to the famous Pullman rail cars of the time, which were brown for that very reason. They were easy to clean.
So Casey reluctantly changed the fleet colour to brown. And the rest is UPS brand history. You can spot a UPS truck in traffic instantly. And I've always thought the brown colour lends the trucks a slight military feel – which quietly gives customers the feeling of military efficiency.
Another is Facebook.
If you've ever been on Facebook's site, you'll notice that the predominant colour is blue. Same with its mobile app.
Blue is the world's favourite colour. As a matter of fact, six of the top ten colours of Crayola crayons are shades of blue.
Many companies, especially financial corporations, choose blue as their branding colour because blue instills confidence. It's why Obama wore more blue suits than black ones during his presidency.
But the reason Mark Zuckerberg chose blue for Facebook is interesting.
It has nothing to do with blue being the world's most trusted colour.
The reason was more basic than that: Zuckerberg is colour-blind. More specifically, he is red-green colour blind.
Blue is the richest colour for Zuckerberg. It's the one colour he can see all of.
Facebook branding - built of colour blindness.
It's a funny thing about some brands. Many that we view as iconic came about for the most unlikely reasons.
In 1883, a Wyoming printer ran out of white paper while printing a local residential phone directory. So instead of waiting weeks for more white paper, he used yellow.
And that's how the Yellow Pages were born.
Which also inspired one of the most memorable slogans of all time:
Back in 1966, Mary Wells was given the task of re-branding Braniff Airlines.
Wells was probably the most famous ad woman of the 20th century, and her Wells, Rich, Greene agency created some of the most memorable advertising of the 60s and 70s.
Up until 1966, airlines were mostly drab as far as branding went. The airline business had been built out of the military, and modern marketing hadn't got its hands on the industry yet.
Planes were all white, airports were drab grey, flight attendants – or stewardesses as they were then known – dressed like nurses.
The president of Braniff told Wells he needed branding so big and unusual that it would cause news overnight.
So Wells and her staff got to work. One of the first things she decided was that there was going to be a lot of colour.
After all, it was the sixties, and colour was everywhere – except on airlines.
Wells decided to pitch the idea of painting Braniff planes many different colours. There was to be a blue plane, a green one, red, turquoise, and so on.
When she presented the different coloured plane idea to the Braniff president, he was silent. Wells held her breath. Then he laughed and said, "That'll do it!"
Next, Wells chose colourful fabric for the interior and seats. She re-designed the Braniff ticket counters. Then she hired designer Emilio Pucci to re-design the flight attendant's uniforms in bright colours.
The attendants were given four different outfits, and on long flights, would change four times, to the amazement of passengers. During flights from cold climates to warm ones, the outfits were designed so flight attendants could take a little bit of their chic uniforms off one piece at a time.
When Wells asked her creative team for a campaign to launch the re-branded Braniff Airline, they suffered from writer's block. They knew how important the launch advertising was going to be, and they were in a funk.
So Mary Wells walked into their office one day to try and inspire them. She noticed a rumpled up ad in the wastebasket that said, "The end of the plain plane." She pulled the ad out of the garbage and said, "This is it!"
And it was. The end of the plain plane perfectly summed up the revolutionary re-branding of Braniff Airlines.
By the end of 1966, Braniff had received more publicity in newspapers and magazines than it had paid for in advertising over the last ten years.
Tiny Braniff Airlines had done the near impossible – it had found a way to stand out in a crowded category of bigger competitors… and did it all with flying colours.
At the highest realm of marketing, the smartest brands know that standing out is job one.
If a company isn't memorable in a field of competitors, it will always struggle.
That's why clearly defined brands make up over 90% of the products we all buy. Market leaders are always the ones with the most distinct personalities.
In the world of marketing, that's serious business – and most small companies don't spend enough time differentiating themselves from the competition.
When a company identifies its most unique characteristic, or creates an unusual mark, it should be nurtured and protected.
Because the powerful elements that make a company unique are its crown jewels.
It could be colour like UPS. Or sound like Maxwell House Coffee. Or language like Starbucks. Or it could be even be taffeta in the world of professional wrestling.
We are all drawn to the unusual. We are attracted to the unique. We remember the remarkable.
That's the key to success. You're either one in a million, or you're one of the millions…
…when you're under the influence.