In a brick wall, no brick stands out. We know they are all different, but not different enough for us to notice.
In business, most companies that compete for the same market look similar too… general contractors, attorneys, private schools. Each within its respective industry offers similar services, claims similar values, and provides similar solutions.
From time to time we find a company that branches out and creates a real identity for its business, but nine times out of 10 they all blend—like bricks in a brick wall.
Why do most businesses fail to stand out?
Seth Godin, marketing thought leader and author of many books on the topic, described the marketing of a business as a four-ring circle—aptly called the Marketing Circle. Moving from the inside out, each circle is a step in organizational focus. From products and services in the innermost circle, to external marketing tactics in the outer circle.
Most businesses, when they decide to invest in marketing, start with the outer circle. And that’s when they get it wrong. They get busy trying to create leads without taking the time to look at their products and services and the value these bring. They fail to create a brand that is distinctive and capable of connecting with its audience, because they’re too busy screaming, “Look at me, I’m another brick in the wall.” They rushed into advertising without creating a reason for consumers to care.
“Most marketing says – look at me, I’m another brick in the wall”.
Advertising vs. Branding
Even well-seasoned business owners confuse these two parts of marketing. They speak about branding in terms of graphics and speak about advertising in terms of marketing.
Advertising is about promotion: print ads, Facebook posts, emails, TV ads, and so on. These are ways in which we try to make the business more visible. Advertising focuses on offers–creative ways to deliver a message. These are good things that must and should be done for a business to be successful… but not until the brand has palpable, consumer-focused value to promote.
Branding is about differentiating. All branding efforts are about differentiating and aligning your brand with customers’ priorities and principles. It focuses on making sure your message, products and services are united under one clear identity that resonates with its audience.
It’s worth noting that branding is not graphic design. Design is a visual representation of the differentiating factors of the brand. Colors, images, style, and logos are used to help us visualize the differences, but these are not the differences per say. They are only symbols. They are no different than how a photograph shows us someone’s outer appearance, but not their feelings.
Don’t be another brick in the wall
Pretend that the green brick on this photo represents your business. Most of us would be happy to stand out this clearly from our competitors, but if we go past the obvious difference in color and look a little further into it, we can learn more from this example.
Is green the right color for your business? Does it communicate something of value to your customers?
How about beyond the visuals? Is the brick made of a different material—stronger or more environmentally friendly?
How about delivery? Can you deliver the bricks within 24 hours, 7 days a week? Can you provide certified bricklayers to do the job? Or can you include space planning and landscaping as added value?
What about why you are in the brick business in the first place? Perhaps you have a passion for classical buildings and that is your specialty. If this is the case, you might be the obvious choice for customers who are also passionate about classical architecture.
The point is a brick is a brick until you go back to your brand’s core and add value to it. When you do this, differences go beyond color or graphics. From there, visuals and marketing tactics become the vehicles or tools to communicate what is unique and of value.
- Before investing in your marketing, look at the value your brand offers.
- Advertising isn’t the same thing as marketing or branding.
- Branding is about adding value, aligning these values with your customer base and differentiating.
- Use design as a visual representation of the unique value that differentiates you.