June 28, 2007

King Of The Castle

A colleague asked me the classic marketing question a couple of days ago: ‘What makes the Islandbridge take on Brand Direction different from the others?’. I floundered about briefly looking for the killer line, one that would leave our competitors trailing in the dust, before coming to my senses.

I’ve long believed that the search for a unique selling proposition can be a very distracting and costly wild-goose chase for a small business. When you think about it, we’d all of us struggle to sum up in a neat formula what’s different about the important relationships in our lives, whether with soul-mates, close friends or old friends. In our personal lives, we tend to resist hype and the superlatives that marketers use would sound cheap and empty in our mouths. Young children might argue with one another that, ‘My dad is the best footballer etc’, but we generally grow out of that.

I think the ‘What makes us different’ question can distract us from the business of building on a relationship with our customers and should be replaced with: ‘What role do we play in our customers’ lives and how hard do we work to play that role effectively?’. I do believe it’s important for us to have some sense of what we do differently from our rivals but generally suggest that we keep it to ourselves.

In our own case, I like to believe that the answer to my colleague’s question lies somewhere in our commitment to keeping the brand relationship real (and therefore more effective). But I also know that a trotted-out formula will only briefly impress a prospective client. Our typical buyer is much more likely to look for signs of a willingness to roll up our sleeves and get their brand working for them than to be charmed by the slick patter of marketing-speak.

In most instances, actions really do speak much louder than words.

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