Vanilla ice cream is a crowd-pleaser. Most people like it, and almost everyone will eat it. It’s easy, comfortable, and safe. The Gap khakis of ice cream.
Vanilla is the comfort zone.
Far fewer people, on the other hand, like pistachio ice cream. Pistachio is a distinct and polarizing choice. Yet the people who like pistachio usually love it. Re-e-e-a-lly love it. Crazy love it.
While fewer people buy pistachio, this flavor has a competitive advantage: Rather than dumbing-down its taste, it can focus on serving a tightly-defined core with a distinct point of difference.
The goal of pistachio isn’t to please everyone. It’s to engage a few people really, really well.
Are you vanilla? Or pistachio?
There’s nothing wrong with vanilla, of course. I keep vanilla in my freezer when my goal is to appeal to the maximum number of people with the minimum amount of whining.
Yet while vanilla might be an easy choice for the masses, it’s not necessarily the right choice for YOU.
Beware vanilla (unless you have the biggest marketing budget).
If you have the biggest marketing budget in your category, vanilla is probably a smart place to focus. You want the lowest common denominator. Your goal should be to avoid polarizing a substantial segment of the market, especially if your brand has an established, trusted presence among customers. Vanilla brands, such as Wal-Mart and Kellogg’s, fascinate with the repetition and familiarity of the Trust Advantage, often expanding market share with mass media (for instance, a SuperBowl spot rather than targeted social media).
But let’s say you DO NOT have the biggest budget.
If you do not have the biggest marketing budget in your category, you need to compete fiercely without vast resources, or even without an established market presence. While your competition has been splashing their faces all over town for years, you have a smaller client list.
You have to fight tooth and nail for every lead.
In this case, my friends, you must highlight what makes you different. And that’s where pistachio comes in.
Instead of trying to out-do your competition, focus on what makes you different. And win.
Step 1: Identify one thing about your company that makes it distinctly different.
It should be something quirky or peculiar, something that might normally be assumed to be a negative attribute. It might even be downright off-putting to the majority of customers. The goal is to find where you and your product diverge from standard expectations.
Here’s an example. In 2011, when we first released the Fascinate test, the process of creating profiles was time-consuming and labor-intensive. It took a few months to figure out how to automate things. Until we did, each profile was painstakingly hand-finished by a heroic designer on our team named Emily Johnson. We were selling less than 100 profiles a week, but still, each day Emily would customize the day’s profiles.
During this stage, it took two days in between when you took the test and received your results. We worried that people would get impatient. (After all, we’re all used to instant online gratification, right?)
We handled this the only way we could, by being honest about the delay, and explaining that each profile took 48 hours because it was being finalized by a human being.
Today, we don’t need 48 hours to deliver your results and Emily is no longer typing in your name by hand. But, people seem to miss the 48-hour pause. That window built the anticipation. It was Mystique in action.
We turned a disadvantage into part of the customer experience.
How about you, and your business? How could you turn a disadvantage into an advantage?
For example, could you highlight the following:
- Perceived blemish in your company history (such as a bankruptcy or product launch failure)
- Lack of extensive customer service support
- Odd location (such as a store or office in an old strip mall, faceless office park, or inconvenient spot)
- Slow manufacturing process (causing customers to wait for your product or service)
- Lack of previous experience in a specific area
- A peculiar product (not conforming to industry norms)
- Inconsistent result (rather than standardized format)
- Unappealing company name (um… “Hogshead”)
Step 2: Identify how these so-called “flaws” can give your customers an unexpected benefit.
These flaws are probably things that you’ve felt obliged to cover up, or compensate for.
But hold on now. Not so fast. Illustrate each quirk as a selling point. For instance, if your restaurant has an inconvenient location, could you offer 10% off for delivery service? Another example: if your retail location doesn’t have ample parking, could you have your own version of valet?
If you’re selling cars, and there is 3-month waiting period in shipments, could you use that waiting time to heighten the customer’s excitement and anticipation by showing the car on its journey to the destination?
Step 3: Flaunt your quirks!
Rather than thinking of them as a downside you’re stuck with, can you take them on as intentional strengths? Instead of trying to copycat other companies, how could you embrace your differences, and heighten them?
Is there something your current customers appreciate, and even love, about these quirks? (If you don’t know, ask them and you might be surprised at how they will champion the very things that you might think of as negatives.)
Step 4: Identify customers who will love you for your pistachio traits
Figure out what type of customer would actively appreciate your differentiating qualities. How can you target and pursue these people?
As with any bell curve, most brands want to cluster smack-dab in the middle, where vanilla and chocolate and strawberry live. In the comfort zone.
But when you create fascinating experiences that elicit a strong and immediate response, well, you know which flavor to choose.
Be the pistachio. Refuse to be the vanilla.
What is your pistachio? In other words, what makes your brand different than everyone else? If you haven't taken the Fascinate test yet, take five minutes to discover what makes you different today.