3 Steps to Building Your Brand's Unfair Advantage
Attention, marketing unicorns: There is no such thing as an unfair advantage.
Not in the traditional sense, anyway. Traditionally, an unfair advantage is like winning the genetic lottery, where a growth spurt can put a lanky high school basketball player on the fast track to the National Basketball Association. Having started three companies, I felt that the unfair advantage is less about pure luck -- though that never hurts -- and more about seizing opportunities and honing a strategy to set your brand apart from the rest.
In the current landscape, figuring out how to rise above the noise is more important than ever. The market is crowded, competition is fierce, and consumer attention spans are depressingly short. Finding a way to differentiate your brand gives you more than just a competitive edge -- it can change the rules of the game.
Luckily, it’s also in reach for every marketer, as long as you’re willing to commit. Here are three steps to creating your brand’s unfair advantage:
1. Define your brand’s mission.
Understanding what you do is crucial to figuring out how to set yourself apart. Defining your brand’s mission is the first step to articulating your messaging in a way that customers will understand and respond to.
Today’s consumers have a wealth of options for every kind of purchasing decision they make. They no longer base their opinions on price alone. Instead, they seek value. Outlining and then explaining that mission is a great way to connect with the consumer on a deeper level than just the transactional.
Take Everlane, for example. The minimalist fashion online-only retailer has built an entire business around its brand’s mission, which revolves around offering fair pricing for high-quality items through complete transparency.
The brand is upfront about the costs involved with sourcing and manufacturing and how that affects pricing. By delivering on its brand promise, Everlane has been able to craft an unfair advantage: Customers who identify and appreciate the brand’s commitment to transparency feel satisfied with their purchases, and develop brand loyalty based on the value offered.
In short, authenticity is key. Your brand mission can’t just be taken at face value. You have to mean it.
2. Speak your customers’ language.
Once you’ve defined your brand mission, the next step to is to develop a voice that communicates effectively with the shoppers who identify with your brand.
Forging genuine connections is key to developing long-term, loyalty-based customer relationships, which is ultimately what will give your brand the unfair advantage. But to do so, you must understand your customers and communicate in a way that resonates with them.
Usually, this is best accomplished through high-quality content. In other words, the content must demonstrate your understanding of your customer base.
Dollar Shave Club is one brand that embodies this rule. Most of us know know the video that went viral, but the men’s razor subscription retailer has proven time and time again that it is no one-hit-wonder. From the creative emailing and messaging to the style of TV commercials recently released, Dollar Shave Club’s brand voice is pitch perfect. They strike the casual-cool, humorous tone that resonates with their audience, while delivering a service that is both convenient and simple.
Even the progression of Dollar Shave Club’s business model reflects the company’s deep understanding of its customers, from razors to men’s grooming and shaving products. When asked about the sustainability of a business based on mail-order razors, CEO Michael Dubin explained that the razors weren’t the end goal of his brand, but rather the first step in his bigger goal of supplying everything a man would need in his bathroom cabinet.
That clearly defined vision is what has shaped Dollar Shave Club’s distinctive voice, which is a large part of the company’s runaway success.
3. Always look to innovate.
The third step to building your brand’s unfair advantage is to look for new ways to innovate and engage with your customers. A clearly defined brand mission and a corresponding voice are great achievements, but it’s important not to rest on those laurels alone. The key to building a unique advantage is through actively searching for opportunities to go above and beyond your competition, in service of your customers.
This is a particularly relevant topic for me, as it coincides with my own company’s journey. As a young company, we’ve spent the last few years defining our own mission and voice. Our goal is to provide data-driven solutions for marketers, and I think we’ve done a good job of identifying our audience and understanding their pain points. The next step in my company’s progression, then, is to find new ways to alleviate those pain points with the technology we’ve built.
Ecommerce has changed how consumers interact with brands, for better or for worse. The downside is that it’s an exponentially crowded space, but the upside is that shoppers are looking for ways to connect with the companies they choose to interact with.
Marketers, your input is more valuable than ever in forging those connections. So tell me -- what’s your brand’s unfair advantage?
Jerry Jao is the CEO and co-founder of Retention Science, a leader and innovator in retention marketing. Prior to his founding of two other marketing software companies, he worked at he worked at Morgan Stanley, KPMG Advisory and Clear Channel Communications. He is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Yale School of Management.