Follow the leader is not only a children’s game but a concept ingrained in the social psychology that drives us to emulate what’s popular.
Marketers are notorious for paying close attention to what’s resonating in their industry amongst their peers and capitalizing on it, but often to a fault.
Whether duplicating a company’s branding outright or adopting an identical tone on social media, many marketing strategies today are exactly the same.
This sea of sameness in marketing doesn’t benefit advertisers as it quickly dilutes the effectiveness of a tactic when everyone adopts it at once.
And it doesn’t serve customers either as it’s difficult for them to distinguish one company’s offerings from another when they communicate so similarly.
While cost and product quality are top considerations, the distinctiveness of a company’s messaging can simplify the consumer’s decision-making process.
For example, if a health-conscious customer was choosing between products, they might select the organic option if they were aware of that benefit.
Mimicking a brand’s promotional efforts is more common today due to the ease of starting a company in the modern economy, considerably increasing the number of organization’s competing for a customer’s attention.
The numerous marketing tools that make it easy to monitor the progress of others is another factor increasing the overreliance on doing the same thing.
Many marketers, myself included, have fallen into the trap of following the lead of competitors and best practices because it’s an indicator of what works.
With pressure to perform for their boss or drive results for their clients, marketers embrace the methods that are likely to succeed and are less risky.
Reviewing the activity of competitors isn’t inherently a bad practice as it can be informative and provide ways to alter your own approach.
The problem is when we become dependent on following the activities of others as justification for a majority of our work as marketers.
Here are three ways to avoid following inline with industry norms by communicating distinctly with your customers.
Aim for better, not just unique
Touting the eco-friendly nature of a company’s approach used to distinguish it from the pact, but sustainability is now a key focus for many brands.
Yet certain company’s products are still sought out for their green approach to their industry like Patagonia’s apparel and Dr. Bronners personal care items.
The effectiveness of their distinct marketing has lasted for the long-term because they not only have a unique perspective but offer better products.
Customers aren’t actively looking for what’s different about a product, but for what items consistently delivering better value as advertised.
First, evaluate how your products and services benefit your customers over the other available options on the market.
These benefits could be the usability of your products, the convenience provided, the durability, flexibility or even the comfort level they offer.
With these benefits in mind, review how competitors talk about their offerings to determine what topic areas aren’t adequately being addressed.
Align your marketing to address this sweet spot between what benefits your products uniquely provide and what competitors aren’t covering.
Being distinct with the focus of your marketing will attract attention, but what drive purchases are products and services that are better than what’s available.
Experiment to challenge norms
Instead of following what others are doing, experiment regularly to see what new tactics and channels might be an effective investment outside the norm.
“Marketers need to continually experiment to find new answers to today’s problems as well as answers to tomorrow’s challenges,” said Cheryl Burgess, author and CEO at social brand consulting firm Blue Focus Marketing.
“This means, look at the data, test, and test again. There are big opportunities for marketers to fundamentally understand their customers’ needs and to make the brand more relevant to capture the moment, and of course the sale.”
Most companies don’t experiment enough as testing a few times a month is often what it takes to find what works, or when they do test, they approach their experiments incorrectly.
Marketers should consistently run experiments based on a hypothesis that can be tested and measured to determine whether their assumptions are correct.
A hypothesis is an educated assumption about what outcome will result from a particular activity and must be able to be proven or refuted through testing.
One could be — Sending promotional emails to customers during warm weather conditions will lead to higher open-rates and coupon redemption.
Consider testing underutilized tactics and new feature sets on a marketing channel that are uncommon in your industry like Blue Moon being the first beer brand to release a national Pincodes program on Pinterest.
Another experiment to run is testing new and upcoming channels early to see if they’re worth further investment and to get active there prior to competitors.
Paramount Pictures, for example, is testing an account on the growing social network Vero to see if the channel can drive visibility and engagement to their upcoming films amongst a wider demographic.
Make a list of ideas for marketing experiments and then identify how to structure them inline with a hypothesis that can be measured effectively.
Build moats to diversify your marketing mix
An economic moat, a term coined by Warren Buffett, describes sustaining an advantage over competitors for a company’s long-term success.
One way marketers can create their own moat is by building an engaged audience across channels to diversify where attention is earned and limit the reliance on any one medium.
Strategically choosing a mix of channels where customers are being reached is one way to stand out as each company’s marketing mix can be quite different.
This mix should consist of owned channels like gaining traffic on your website, as well as shared channels like building a subscriber base on YouTube.
For example, Peloton has built a large community of subscribers accessing live classes from their exercise bikes and a vast audience across multiple Facebook groups, one for all members and one for mothers.
Communicating with customers at different touchpoints is an opportunity to invest in a range of channels and distinguish your activity from others.
Addressing industry gaps with your product benefits, experimenting often and diversifying is key to becoming the leader that other marketers want to follow.