Pop quiz. When I say Porsche, you say…fast?

I say Volkswagen Bug, you say…quirky?

Corvette? Muscle.

Toyota? Reliable.

And of course, Volvo = safe.

In fact, Volvo has carved out such a formidable space in consumer minds with the word ‘safe’, nobody even bothers to check if they’re the safest car on the road (they aren’t.)

That, my friends, is the power of one word positioning. And here’s how you do it.

know thyself. but know thy neighbour better.

A friend of mine conducted a positioning exercise with a group of ad agency executives. He asked each executive to jot down one word that described their agency’s superpower. Then, he had the execs pass their note to the person next to them.

Finally, each exec was asked to read their neighbour’s note out loud. Most of them read ‘creativity’.

If you want to stand out, you need to know your superpower. Equally important, though, you need to be absolutely certain it isn’t the same superpower your competitors are claiming.

What happens when you don’t differentiate? Commoditization, confusion, and, invariably, price-cutting. Not to mention being treated by clients like a vendor, not a partner.

ask

A few years ago, as I was launching my consultancy, I thought companies would engage me because I was (here it comes) brilliantly creative. That thinking took me straight to commodityville. Not pretty.

That’s when I asked my former boss why our previous clients would spend a fortune to have me creative direct their advertising. Without missing a beat, he blurted out “Because you’re simple!” I felt like Forrest Gump. Simple?

What he meant was that I had a talent for taking snarled, complex business propositions and magically simplifying them. Thanks to my simplification skills, consumers were able to easily absorb my clients’ messages. And presto, sales went up.

I was skeptical, but as you can see from the home page of my site, I took his words to heart. To this day, when I tell prospects that my superpower is making their message simple, they light up.

make it an adjective

If you were an animal, what would you be?

If you were a computer? A car?

If you hear a brand ‘expert’ trot out these old tropes, ask for your money back. Invariably, everyone wants to be an Apple, or a Tesla. You haven’t lived until you hear a diet snack manufacturer say they’re the Uber of diet snacks.

Instead, make your life easy. Make your differentiator an adjective. Keep things simple. You’re the (blank) diet snack.

use it to modify your name

Boeing 747. If you weren’t familiar with the plane, those words would mean absolutely nothing.

Jumbo Jet. Aaaaah, now we’re getting somewhere.

Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. Suddenly, the curtains rise and I see a really, really big plane. Gargantuan, in fact. And it’s from those nice folks at Boeing.

If you have a powerful one word differentiator, the first place you should apply it is as a modifier, or enhancer, of your company name.

Let’s face it, most of our company names don’t exactly scream differentiation. And they certainly don’t provide natural answers when people are typing queries into Google. Ergo, those people have to read the descriptor of what we do, and…oh look, is that a kitten in that banner ad?

On the other hand, if a consumer is looking for a gargantuan plane (as we all do on occasion) and Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet pops up, the battle is won.

stay curious

The competitive landscape is constantly shifting. Your differentiator today could be vanilla tomorrow. You need to keep asking clients and friends what sets you apart, you need to keep tabs on competitor claims, you need to be willing to tweak tweak tweak.

Certainly, it’s a bit of work. But hey, if a frumpy Swedish car manufacturer can do it, so can you.

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