In a sea of capitalist competition in every field, we develop a desire to stand out. Difference is a survival technique, and, if it’s done right, a game-changer. But we have to be conscious of both sides of the coin, being a producer and a consumer simultaneously, to form an objective opinion of our own marketing decisions.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
Neuroscientists refer to our penchant for noticing the unique as “Selective Attention”. It’s a residual instinct left over from our more survivalist days when early humans had to keep note of things like which berries were poisonous or which soil was growing the best plants. Selective attention has two primary functions:
1. Highlighting important parts of high information flow (i.e. conversations, written documents, etc)
2. Holding on to those parts in our minds so we can learn from them and compound our findings
This is our minds’ way of filtering information so that we don’t get easily overwhelmed or miss context and patterns. The trick for those seeking the selective attention of others is being the good kind of different.
Don’t be the poisonous berries.
There are two major ways to stand out: being different in who you are and being different in what you do.
In the past few years, a new trend dubbed Corporate Twitter has emerged on social media. Brands have begun using their Twitter accounts for more than just basic promotion and announcements – they’re now joining subsects of a-political discourse on the platform, often joking with competitors or adding their take on the meme of the week.
While this can be done effectively, there’s also a very thin line that brands tiptoe around when they try to immerse themselves in the zeitgeist and language of such an unpredictable landscape as Twitter.
Brands fall off the tightrope when they don’t take into account the perspective of the one tweeting on their behalf. When the PR employee who has always tweeted the website links and the newsletter pull-quotes suddenly proclaims a new product to be “on fleek” or “lit,” they could leave a weird taste in the mouth of the company’s followers.
Corporations are not human, and they shouldn’t have to be, but without a sort of tongue-in-cheek humanity in an online presence, human followers will feel like they’re being joked at by a robot, and that’s hard to laugh along with.
It can also be all too easy to misstep on something like a rebrand or a new product if the only innovation being made is for the purpose of standing out rather than actually improving what the company has done in the past.
People are attracted to authenticity, and it’s so important to keep authentic intention at the heart of every move you make. Authenticity is your guiding light when creating something new, and without it, you get something like green Heinz Ketchup.
Back in 2000, Heinz began its foray into colored ketchup with its green iteration, originally intended to promote the movie Shrek. From there, Heinz released purple, blue, and, quite ironically, red ketchups.
If you don’t remember this infamous flub of marketing, the new ketchup lined shelves for a shocking six years in bottles more reminiscent of Elmer’s Glue than a condiment before being pulled for declining sales.
But it worked at first. The green ketchup had something of an authentic ambition. It was intended to promote Shrek, which did become a major success, and tomatoes are naturally green before fully ripening to red.
Green ketchup is not an unreasonable stretch of the imagination. The problems began when Heinz ran with this and created unnatural colors for its ketchup, falling away from the authentic ambition of a Shrek promotion and stumbling into something reminiscent of coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns.
People fear clowns because they are a perversion of the recognizable. Clowns are almost human, they are almost in the realm of the familiar – their features are exaggerated to just outside of familiarity, but not far enough that they are clearly unfamiliar.
This phenomenon is called the Uncanny Valley, the gap between the believable and the unbelievable where things become inherently uncomfortable to behold.
Purple ketchup isn’t unsettling on paper. We are familiar with the color purple and the flavor of ketchup. But mentally and emotionally, we know those things don’t go together, and when you put purple ketchup in an unorthodox bottle, it drops into the Uncanny Valley. No one wants to eat the berries that grow in the Uncanny Valley.
Be the good soil.
Let’s take for example MoonPie. Their corporate Twitter really took off when MoonPie’s account threw all convention out the window and someone well versed in Twitter’s dialect combined the meme discourse with product promotion.
One of MoonPie’s great tweets reads, “Mouths are referred to as pie holes for a reason don’t @ me or do what you want twitter likely won’t be policing this particular issue.”
Here, MoonPie takes a great deal of agency by proclaiming its product is meant to be eaten, it flawlessly incorporates the popular “don’t @ me” meme, and it subverts its platform, Twitter. This is that tongue-in-cheek humanity to which consumers are attracted.
Another good example is Lays release of their first line of barbeque potato chips in 1965. This is a simple innovation: people love potato chips at their barbeques. Why not bring the barbeque to the chip? The ambition is authentic, the execution is straight-forward, and there’s nothing uncanny about it.
Being better is temporary. Be refreshing instead.
Status is so fragile and so fickle. Even if you’re on top today, someone else is going to usurp you tomorrow – or, more likely, this afternoon. You can subvert status, however, but stepping outside a hierarchy mindset and altering your brand holistically instead. To be refreshing is to be desirable in a way that doesn’t depend on others being undesirable. Being refreshing isn’t a competition, and it’s not a finite status.
Do you know what’s refreshing? Honesty. Authenticity. It all comes back together. Consumers want to feel as though they can connect to the brand, that the brand has their best interests at heart. It’s easy to be sleazy, to cut costs and raise prices, but there’s a greater rate of return for honesty.
AMS knows that the company/customer relationship is just that – a relationship. AMS has been building those relationships for over 25 years. We know what it takes to make you different, better, and refreshing. Give us a buzz and let’s chat about how we can do that for you!