How Small Businesses can make Themselves Remarkable

In modern marketing the name of the game is brand remarkability, but it has been done incorrectly. When I mention brand remarkability, you are probably thinking of controversial or scandalous advertising, which is true but the problem goes deeper than that. More often than not, brands attempt to differentiate themselves through popular trends, audacious messaging, or clumsy emotional appeals. In other words, the ads that win awards and the industry cites as evidence that it is important.

Not only does true remarkability require a completely different type of introspection, but it is something that works better for small businesses. Here are a few tricks to set you apart and truly set you up for long term survival in your market.

Remarkability Requires Soul

I can’t tell you how many content marketing trends I have burned through over the years. I’ve seen people unironically say “brand evangelist” with enthusiasm. For the record, many strategists are and were excited about this because it meant you can tap into the minority of your fans and essentially monetize them as free advertising. You may have sat in presentations where it was pitched to you that we can employ these people to essentially make content for free. I’ve worked in many places where the word “community” is literally used in the opposite way it should, as something that can be exploited by a faceless ruler: your brand.

We tend to speak about marketing in very human terms: we want to build trust, we want to achieve familiarity, we want people to have an emotional connection, etc. Having an emotional investment in an abstract concept is very hard, which is why the only ideologies that achieve this are radical ideologies.

You may have noticed many brands grasping desperately at whatever radicalism they believe makes them more human when in fact it simply makes them more provocative. Have you noticed that some of the biggest brands in the world seem like teenagers who just came back from college for Thanksgiving and they adopted an entirely new fashion sense they are claiming is a personality? You do not like this person; nobody likes this person. Evocative radicalism as trendiness sucks when your friends suddenly do it, and it sucks even more when soft drinks do it.

Brand Remarkability is Already in You

There’s a lot of literature I could quote you on the topic. In the seminal book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout, they outline the mechanics of how many duplicate ideas can exist in a person’s mind, and that number is around two. You position your business by finding a niche which doubles as an unexploited market and also a value statement.

There’s 100 optometrists in your town, but how many of them are #1 in contact lenses? And how many of them are #1 for contacts for teenagers? This is how you assess the market and differentiate yourself while giving your whole enterprise purpose. Similarly, in Purple Cow by Seth Godin, the name of the game is making yourself not-noise. In the book he uses the example of driving with his family and seeing a cow which everyone looks at. After a while, people stop noticing all the cows in the fields.

In your lifetime you have probably seen this happen with the explosion of yoga. There was a time when yoga was in the news, same with cappuccino, and same with SUVs. There is risk involved in being remarkable, and if you do it correctly it’s like an explosion. Explosions can be dangerous but remember what we are trying for here: to separate you from the noise. In a culture dominated by information, you are in a constant psychological game with your customers.

Something I always say to smaller ones: imagine explaining your business to a room full of children.

The funny thing is, while children like gimmicks, you’ll see in their eyes if you’re losing them, and even worse they may start making fun of you. You can’t buy them off with treats or free samples. What you need to do is bring it down to their level, relate it to their experiences in simple terms, and make yourself a physical manifestation of that job. They will be able to tell if you hate your job, and you need to explain to them what makes it so exciting for you. You don’t even need to explain why it’s important to them: they will get it and inch closer based on this energy alone.

Experimentation is Essential

In my experience, most businesses struggle with the concept of experimentation. Especially in the area of digital campaigns, the presumption is that the access to data and the nuanced targeting capabilities leads to better and more immediate results. While this is largely true, there is a good reason you’ve probably heard the word “optimization” more than anything else.

To be frank, a lot of people just use it as an umbrella term to mean “we’ll see what happens” because it’s being handled by many different people and nobody wants accountability. In reality, you should always interpret it as meaning “experimenting and learning.” When you start a campaign – or any project, really – you need to allocate time to gather data and, as insufferable people in our industry say, “learnings.” This is not indicative of any lack of skill or trying to pad out invoices. In nearly every case, a new campaign will be testing assumptions and those assumptions will be wrong.

I’ll give you an easy example with a practical application: geographic targeting in pay-per-click ads. Many clients have gone in completely sure that a specific area will be filled with people who want their product or service, and it just ends up being wasted money. Or even worse, it’s traffic of the wrong kind.

Most importantly, the more data we accumulate, the more accurate everything is:  technologically, these social and search platforms need time to build up audience characteristics. The longer we run campaigns, the more likely we can plug AI into it to generate lookalike audiences, dynamically generating copy for specific users, etc. In short: the longer you run a campaign, the smarter it becomes, both for us and for the infernal machines.

But it is not going to be great right away. If you want to make a lot of money with advertising, you need to go in assuming you will be testing a lot of hypotheses which will need a lot of runway. The good news is we can learn in one month what used to take one year, and at a fraction of the price.

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