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When Your Marketing Should Run With the Sheep - And When it Shouldn't

Trish Lambert

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A blog post by Seth Godin, called “But you're not saying anything, " lit a compact fluorescent light bulb over my head. Here is a key excerpt (at least key to my light bulb):

Marketing storytelling is not about doing everything differently. You do many things the same, intentionally, because those ‘same things’ aren't part of your story. It's the different stuff where you will be noticed, and the different stuff where you tell your story.

How great is this? I'll tell you.

We have been conditioned to think “differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. . . " Unique selling proposition, creating mindshare in our markets, standing out from the competition-these concepts tend to make us strive for novelty in as many areas of our marketing activities as possible.

As Seth sagely points out (and it's so obvious now that he's said it-DOH!), the only areas that need to stand out in our marketing are those that are part of our story. It's the story that sets us apart from the rest and captures the attention of the market, not the individual pieces of our marketing program.

Let's hear from Seth again:

If you're not telling a story with some aspect of your marketing choices, then make sure that aspect is exactly what people expect. To do otherwise is to create random noise, not to further your marketing.

Do you see the key point here? I'll try to paraphrase:

It's not that you don't need to deviate from the norm in the areasthat aren't part of your story, it's that you must not deviate.

This reminds me of the principles of online ad testing. You test only one thing at a time, so that you know what tactics are contributing to what results. If you make multiple changes at one time, you won't know what did what to the outcome.

Trying to be different in too many areas-especially in areas that aren't core to your marketing message-will distract and confuse your prospects. Conform or be bland in all areas except those that are specific to your story. That way your market can focus clearly on the message you want so badly to convey to them.

What does this mean for service businesses in practical terms? Here are some thoughts:

  • Unless you absolutely need it, forget the fancy logo and color palette. Make your business card, brochure, web site, and other non-story-related materials simple simple simple.
  • Discover the voice of your story and make that the voice of all the content connected with your company (I'll talk about voice more in a future posts. )
  • Find metaphors that represent key elements of your story and emphasize those in your marketing-but not too many. One great metaphor is way better than a bunch of good ones.
  • Use images as well as words-or better yet one “uniquely you" image used in different ways (e. g. , Seth's chrome dome, cropped from his very recognizable head shot, is the “logo" of his blog).

Selective and focused creativity in our marketing doesn't just work in terms of market perceptions. It has the potential of saving big bucks on marketing costs. We spend more on the parts of the program that are story related (but we don't necessarily have to spend more)-the areas where we conform or “bland out" will be low cost because they are commoditized.

Trish Lambert ( ) is president of 4R Marketing, a down-to-earth marketing consultancy for service businesses.


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