Being different beats being the best

When it comes to school, we are often rewarded for being the best, having top marks, solving the hard problems, etc. But when it comes to branding — more often than not — your best bet isn’t to promote that you are the best, but rather telling a story about how you are different.

Remembering differences is easier

Most of us have had to choose between several options in our lives. Some examples that come to mind include choosing meals at a restaurant, a place to live, a car to drive, etc. Each of these situations require us to compare countless dimensions — which are impossible for most of us to remember. I say most because I know a few people with photographic memories, while I misplace my keys every few months. Instead of trying to remember everything, we resort to shortcuts like remembering what’s different between the options. For anyone who’s ever crammed for an exam, this should be fairly obvious — but many brands forget that this applies to branding as well. It’s always easier to recall something uniquely different.

Stories are easier to remember

Stories have basic structures — they usually include laying out a setting, tossing in some conflict or challenge, building to a climax, and describing the fallout of the climax. We intuitively know this structure so well that we notice if something is missing or incorrect.

Let’s take the example of Jack and Jill — I’m sure most of you remember the tale. There were a couple of kids who were thirsty. They fell and got hurt. In some versions, Jack got patched up with some suspect vinegar product. I’m fairly confident that you’d notice if I summarized this out of order. You’d notice if I omitted Jack’s injury. You’d notice if I replaced the vinegar with a far more effective treatment like, say, a bandage or stitches.

Furthermore, stories typically generate some sort of emotion. As humans, we’re great at remembering things that made us feel something. This is why effective commercials try to make us laugh, or startle us, etc. Our brains are wired so that anything associated with a feeling gets stored better. If only I could make my keys make me laugh.

The definition of best changes

Positioning a brand as just being the best is always tricky because the idea of what is the “best” is so subjective. How do you define the best hamburger? How do you define the best wireless network? Who is the best basketball player of all time? What defines the best today, may not be the best tomorrow. Finally, saying you’re the best always brings up the question of what brand is second-best and now we’re talking about your competitor.

No one trusts the bragger

If I told you that I was the best marketer in the world, you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you I had the best handwriting in the world, you wouldn’t believe me. It automatically makes you doubt my honesty, and damages the trust you have in me.

So the next time you have to work on building out a brand (including your own personal brand), think beyond simple best in class messaging.

Craft your story, highlight your differences, and be memorable.

With that, I leave you with this:


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