There's a book published in 1990 called Flow. In it, the author talks about a scenario we're all familiar with.
Someone is driving home, sitting in traffic amongst hundreds or thousands of other cars. We'll see most of these cars in our peripheral or even look right at them. After all, it's our job to avoid hitting them. But when you get home, if I asked you to tell me about a single car you saw, most of us would struggle to answer. We give each of these cars a fraction of a second of our attention. But there are a few circumstances that would cause us to be able to describe that car in detail:
- Bad Driving
- Distinctively awesome
- Distinctively odd
Let's break down each one.
Bad driving: We'll be brief here because none of us want to be known for this. I can stand out by sucking. That's true. I can tick people off by going too slow in the left lane or by cutting them off. They'll remember my car, but we'll all agree this isn't a desired reason to get attention. The nugget of wisdom in this case is to focus on retention and delivery. New customers will come again, but remember the saying: new customers are like silver, and old customers are like gold.
Distinctively awesome: If you're in a sea of champagne Camrys and a yellow Lambo eases past you, you'll notice. It stands out from the crowd because there's something about it that none of the other cars have that's amazing - the brand reputation, speed, engine sound, whatever. This is what every single one of us wants to be remembered for. We want to be so much more awesome at a thing that our competition can't come close. We want to stand on that and back it up. But here's where it gets sticky. How many of us try to force value statements like "reduces cost" or "minimizes risk" to be our distinction? We may actually be able to do those things really well, but if I drove home with a thousand yellow Lambos, I've gotta think harder.
Distinctively odd: Give this one a chance. If I saw the Oscar Meier Weiner mobile in traffic, I'd remember. Or a hearse covered in graffiti would probably get more than that fraction of a second from me. It'd lead to questions. What's the story behind that? I wonder where they're headed? Who's the guy driving? These are good things. You're probably feeling a bit averse to being recognized as "odd", but what an opportunity to get folks into the funnel. It feels risky, I know, but if being ignored is the alternative...
Here's the takeaway: whether distinctively awesome or distinctively odd, it MUST be distinct.
Most of the clients I talk to right now are trying to figure out what business development and marketing looks like without events or face to face interaction for the foreseeable future. Who knows how long this is going to take. But traditional sales is more like being on a cul-de-sac - it's not as hard to stand out when you and I are the only ones in the room or at the lunch table. I can't do that now, so how do I get your attention on I-10?
Being distinct has never been more important for getting attention than it is right now. We can't get a new paint job and expect that to make us stand out enough to elicit those questions. We can't assume our awesomeness is distinct enough either. So if you're tracking so far, here's what it boils down to:
- Scrutinize your awesomeness. In other words, cross check value statements and what you're leading with. Do the same for your competitors. Most brands and organizations, if we're honest with ourselves, can't just sell their awesomeness. And if they can right now, their competition will probably catch up soon.
- Expand your sandbox to accommodate a little weirdness. Even the most conservative brands need to push their comfort zones. Professional norms are changing. What your sales person used to be able to do over dinner and a beer, she can't do anymore. We're not going to get attention in this environment without this commitment. And let me qualify this: your weirdness needs to be on brand and needs to be surprising. But we can't get away with calling a new paint job distinctive.
When it comes to your product launch or awareness campaign for the year, think about traffic. If our strategy and creative gets us more than that fraction of a second of attention and elicits some questions, we win.
And you may have to get a little weird to do it.