"I want to be original," says the young startup founder. Well, I've got news for ya pal, you never will be and you will kill yourself trying to go down that road.
Everything is a derivative of something else. There is no new idea under the sun. Now, you can see this as negative or you can realize the opportunity you have to explore and put your spin on something already successful. The best creative work I come across is stolen. Meaning, the people that made it did not come up with the idea on their own, but they put it into a new context.
I'll give you an example, my friend Luis rebranded an agency a while ago. This agency's office overlooks a harbor in San Diego. So, he took the brand down a nautical path and turned them into a rebellious rouse of scallywags. They changed their name from Digital Style to VSSL, shifted all of their lingo to mirror a gang of pirates, and even named the rooms in their space after the places on a ship (the brig, the gulley, even the poop deck).
Here's the thing, Luis found every single element that went into that brand, he didn't conjure it out of thin air. The logo, the name, the language, the visuals, even the culture of the company is rooted in life at sea.
Find something inspirational and different, then steal it.
There's a two-fold mission to this statement: one part applies to your startup's value proposition/unique selling proposition and the other pertains to the brand (how your startup makes people feel).
In short, you must know what is out there so you can create something that stands out. Let's break it down using the categories listed above.
Most startups will resort to "lowest price" on this point, but we can do better than that. Instead, ask yourself what are the alternatives to your product and what do they lack that your customers need? Sometimes it's as simple as a better interface or a different distribution method (i.e. Dollar Shave Club going subscription for razor blades). This should indicate what the big selling point of your product is or at least inform you of what is lacking within your competitors. From there, you can adjust your messaging to hit on the specific pain point your customers are looking to ease.
No two companies are alike in nature. Not even if they are in the same industry. Guaranteed, there are cultural nuances and quirks within every company that make them unique and special. Frankly, most of them hide it behind a professional demeanor and an unwillingness to be human. So, your goal is to assess your competitors personalities and find a void to fill. If the majority of them come off as stoic and cold, you have an opportunity to be friendly and vulnerable. Granted, you have to know yourself, since you can't put on a false identity in the hopes of attracting people.
These two bits of research can inform almost every decision your company should make in marketing itself. They give you the reason people should buy your product and why they won't forget you.
This is the first in a small series of punches surrounding April Dunford's Obviously Awesome! and how good positioning relates to good branding. Enjoy!
Positioning is where your company falls in the mind of consumers. Specifically, why your company should matter to them. In here book, Obviously Awesome! April Dunford breaks down effective positioning into 5 steps with an occasional 6th. First things first, examine what's already out there and what people might do, or currently be doing instead of using your product/services.
Note, it's not about being "better" necessarily, but more about assessing why these alternatives to your solution are being used.
In branding, this step in crucial in assessing the emotional alternatives to your company.
What is it about brand x that makes it so special? What do I feel differently about them versus brand y?
By attacking this from the angle of "how are they different?" instead of "how are they better?" is crucial to understanding their positioning and where there is space for your brand to be positioning without being labeled a copycat.