Recently, I attended a huge bank marketing conference. The sessions were full of great information, the speakers were inspiring and many banks were reporting back truly phenomenal results. However, I couldn’t help but notice how eager many of the attendees were to simply copy the methods being displayed. It was like everyone was lining up for the magic bullet. It’s a small example of is a huge problem for marketers. If XYZ worked for someone else so it should work for us, right? Just plug and play. The problem is, once everyone at a conference starts to copy XYZ, it loses its uniqueness, which was part of what made it successful in the first place. It’s the me-too syndrome. It’s at least partially responsible for the lack of differentiation among competitors. So, whether you are a financial institution or any other company in a competitive industry, how do you avoid the me-too syndrome?
Make your company stand out: What creates differentiation?
There are three elements that you simply cannot afford to copy. Your brand, your ideal buyer personas, and your strategy.
Your brand: your brand is your stake in the ground. It must be defendable in the marketplace; your unique differentiator is something your competitors cannot replicate. Your brand must be deliverable in a consistent way; the employees must live, breathe and provide a consistent experience from top to bottom. Finally, it must be desirable to your target audience; what motivates them into action why would they want to engage with you?
Your personas: Your ideal buyer persona is something that you simply can’t copy from someone else’s plan. You need to understand what triggers their actions. What goals do they have, organizationally, professionally and personally? Research, interview and gather data. Then put some thoughtfulness into documenting your ideal buyer personas. You absolutely cannot get this information any other way than going through the process yourself.
Now that you know who you are (brand) and you know who your customers are (personas) you can dive into your strategy. Remember, other company’s strategies are based on their business goals, brands and personas, not yours.
Your strategy: aligning your brand strategy with your business strategy is the key to standing out. Your brand must be positioned to grow with your business, just as your business needs to support your unique position in the marketplace. Creating a strategic marketing plan that supports the brand and business will ensure you are executing effectively.
Bestselling author, marketing innovator and one of my personal heroes, Seth Godin explained why not standing out is a failure: “Playing it safe. Following the rules. They seem like the best ways to avoid failure. Alas, that pattern is awfully dangerous. The current marketing ‘rules’ will ultimately lead to failure. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”
For innovative ideas, look outside your industry
What do you want in a marketing plan? What do you want in a marketing team? What do you want in a marketing agency? You could go with the super niche, career industry expert and ask them to copy what they have done for your competition. But here’s a unique idea: work with an agency that has experience outside of your industry. You may be surprised at the innovation they bring into your marketplace.
Here are some real-life examples of how outsiders can help innovate an industry:
- A team from Silicon Valley came in to salvage the ACA website at the last minute. They were expert coders and developers but they weren’t healthcare experts. Their focus was to solve problems. That’s the kind of agency you need, a problem-solving agency. Not one that slaps a template approach on you.
- Formula 1 is innovating the supermarket industry by taking the engineering behind airfoils to save energy costs. The airfoils which allow race cars to make sharp turns have been reengineered for use in making open-air fridges more efficient. Formula 1 believes in cross industry innovation so much they have set up a collaborative workspace for engineers in the defense, energy and many other sectors to. How does this relate to your marketing? Look outside
- Workers Credit Union was launching a new initiative where they were going to give their members money back for banking with them. In their launch year they gave back over $2M – that’s a pretty big deal. We helped them brand their new initiative and called it The Workers Giveback, but we wanted to announce it in a big way. Borrowing from the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, we created an angry Wall Street banker who was irate with Workers for giving money back – for making him look bad. This angry banker appeared at various branches and events and even staged his own protest with his Wall Street banker friends outside a big Chamber of Commerce breakfast. This was not “me-too” advertising, this effort pulled in best practices from event planners, actors, stage-hands, costuming, and more. We partnered with outside of the industry experts to create an out-of-the-box experience.
The point is, truly inspired marketing campaigns don’t come from the me-too syndrome. Don’t be terrified of ideas originating from a total unconnected industry or from people who don’t live your industry 24/7. Those might just be the ones that break you free from the me-too syndrome and help you truly differentiate from the competition.
If you are a financial marketer you might be interested in downloading my Top 10 Takeaways from The Financial Brand forum to learn about what’s going in the industry.