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June 14, 2013

Stop Imitating, Start Innovating

Stop Imitating, Start Innovating

In spite of the fact that many sales and marketing representatives have personalities that can often be described as competitive with a dash of homicidal, the sales and marketing world is chock full of fear. This is why, as you have undoubtedly noticed, many marketing strategies, brands, logos and campaigns seem really, really similar.

This isn’t because there is a dearth of ideas floating around the universe, it’s because our economic climate has made businesses too afraid to try anything untested and new. If something worked for someone in the past, let’s use it again! It’s proven! There’s data to support its success! If lightening struck somewhere, let’s all stand in the exact same spot and stare at the sky until it happens again!

There is no way to ignore what other brands are doing; it’s inescapable, it’s in your face. However, since the product/service for which you are designing packages, logos and websites is very likely a copy of some other easily available product/service, you’re going to have to develop an interesting and (dare we say) new branding strategy in order to set it apart.

So What If the Product Isn’t Original?

Now, even though the sports drink or shaving cream or chewing gum you’ve been hired to rebrand has competition out there that offers, basically, the exact same thing, the competition hasn’t exploited every, single avenue of potential product/company wonderfulness. Start thinking about company culture and how the personality of the business can lure a consumer over to its product line. It’s weird, but people buy products that match their personalities. If a line of sugar-free gum seems as though it’s speaking to the educated, urbane sophisticate market, then people (rightly or wrongly) who believe that they are educated, urbane sophisticates will be seduced.

Likewise with a line of sports drinks that appear to be either environmentally friendly or just vaguely folksy. There might not be any ingredients or methods of production that could legitimately cause a consumer to believe that purchasing that particular beverage is somehow better for the universe, but if the brand’s personality manages to convey universal harmony, the public will be convinced. Remember the early days of Snapple and Sun Chips, where consumers just believed that they were healthier and more natural than other packaged beverages and snacks while largely ignoring the information on the nutritional labels?

It’s almost unseemly for an impulse item to try to appeal to our larger sense of self, but branding is a thorny business. If your product, no matter how fundamentally unnecessary it is, can’t make us feel as though we are better people for having purchased it, then the brand isn’t doing its job.

Focus on the Brand’s Unique Element

Company history is a lot more interesting than most people think. If your company started with a scrappy young dreamer in a remote yet charming part of the country, then use it, for heaven’s sake; it has relatability smeared all over it. This is especially true if the founder’s intentions were noble – if the founder really had a great idea or product and was sincere about its ability to make lives easier or more enjoyable. (This tactic isn’t as successful when the company founder was a horrible, money grubbing dilettante who was loathed by his employees and despised by his family. Somehow, the brand is less heart warming when the founder was carved out of pure evil.)

Moreover, even though the use of origins isn’t unique, the company’s story is. There are a million variations in terms of product need, the struggle to bring it to the market, the heartache of being told it would never work and the ultimate triumph of proving naysayers wrong and building a lasting corporation. Also, the location where the company originated could be used to provide a bond between the brand and the residents of that region.

Naturally, the brand doesn’t necessarily have to highlight the founder him/herself, but the founding environment and circumstances are by their nature unique, and could go a long way to inform the character and personality of the brand.

So, what have we learned today? We’ve learned that all branding strategies don’t have to be identical even though the products the brands are selling likely are. We’ve learned that a brand can make the consumer feel as though he/she is a member of an exclusive club, even though if that club was truly exclusive, then the company would be filing for chapter 11. Finally, we learned that the story of the founding of a company can be a lovely and relatable portion of a business’ branding strategy, but only if the company founder’s last name wasn’t Hitler.

author

by Kevin Smith

Managing partner at SmashBrand. We’re a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.


Purposefully selective, we work with brands that want to stand out and also stand for something.


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