There are two kinds of advice that stick with you.
The first is painfully conventional, overused advice that everyone spouts at you from everywhere.
“Put your customers first!”
“You should have several small meals per day.”
“Start every day with a to-do list.”
And the second is outrageous, contrarian advice that’s so unlike anything else you’ve ever heard that you just can’t forget it, or shake it off.
“Always put your employees first, and they will take care of your customers.”
“Eat just one primary meal per day, fast for the rest of it.”
“Forget to-do lists. Just start every day with your #1 most unpleasant task.”
This applies not just to the things other people think you should do, but to everything – including your marketing. Which brings us to today’s topic…
Do you want to build an unforgettable brand? Then go pick a fight!
Why pick a fight with your marketing messages? For 3 reasons:
- It attracts your best customers, your best employees, and your most valuable business partners. For your company to thrive and be memorable, you need to fill and surround it with like-minded people. You can’t attract them without making it 100% clear what you stand for as a brand… and what you are absolutely against.
- It builds your authority in the industry and beyond. Nobody has ever made a name for themselves, or their brand, by paying lip service to conventional wisdom. When you can disagree with a popular stance or question the status quo – and do so in a reasoned, intelligent way – you will establish yourself as a thought leader. Even the people who vehemently disagree with you will still listen!
- It’s the right thing to do, for everyone. It’s like Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” You have a duty to yourself, your customers, and the world at large, to live and do business according to your convictions. If it sounds incredibly high-minded and woo, that’s because we mean it that way.
And let’s be clear: when we say “pick a fight”, we don’t mean, “go find someone to offend, pronto!” There are far better, more productive ways to pick a fight – ways that will get the right people to like your brand more, because you say what you mean, and vice versa.
In today’s post, we’re going to look at 5 of them, and illustrate each with a real-life example from the world of business and marketing.
Let’s dig in!
1. Offer the opposite of popular advice
We started this post by discussing two kinds of advice, so it seems fitting that we continue in the same vein.
If content creation is part of your marketing, and you want to share what you’ve learned with your target market, you should ask yourself:
Can you offer any advice that goes against what everyone else (or the majority of people) in your industry is saying… and works just as well, if not better?
Ben Settle is a remarkable email copywriter. You see, every other email marketing expert will tell you: don’t email too often, build a relationship with your list before selling to them, always teach something valuable… All perfectly sensible things!
Ben Settle, on the other hand, is all about daily emails – and pitching something in every email he sends. He doesn’t just tell people to do it, though. He practices what he preaches, and has developed a system that makes his contrarian approach work for a lot of brands.
2. Question a popular stance
How often do you hear marketers say, “You need to do X” – and never explain why?
The examples are too many to count:
- Social media marketing
- Starting a podcast
- Content marketing
- Building apps
- Blogging as often as possible
- Facebook ads
At one point or another, every marketing tactic under the sun has been hailed as the next big thing that’s taking the world by storm…
…only to be forgotten a year later.
So next time you see big names in your industry jump on a particular bandwagon, “pull a Mark Twain” – pause and reflect. Question if the next big thing should be popular, and share your take with the rest of the world.
Note: it’s NOT the same as saying “X is dead!”
Sometimes, brands fall into the opposite trap and proclaim that something (blogging, email, social media, you name it) is “dead” to get people’s attention.
Sometimes it works surprisingly well, like this article on guest blogging for SEO by Matt Cutts (head of Webspam at Google), that still sends shockwaves throughout the Web, even 2+ years later.
Other times, it serves to express yet another popular stance. Just Google “marketing is dead” one of these days, and you’ll see what we mean!
So… podcasting sure is popular these days, isn’t it?
(We would like to submit the above sentence for “Understatement of the Year 2016” award.)
This article by Ryan Holiday offers a thoughtful critique of today’s podcast craze, and makes a well-informed, well-articulated case against starting your own podcast. Even if you disagree with the premise of the article (and we do), it’s still an illuminating read.
3. Debate someone famous
In any space, there are people who made it – big names who succeeded so finally and so thoroughly that people rarely question what they say.
Here’s the thing: just because some people are wildly successful doesn’t mean that everything that comes out of their mouth is pure gold. If you can present the opposite viewpoint, and vocally debate someone who is basically a walking legend… People will notice.
The key here is not to argue for the sake of it. Make sure that your contrarian opinion has merit before you present it. Be irreverent, but not disrespectful. And always, always back up what you say with proof, solid line of reasoning, or both.
To find real-world examples of this approach, all you need to do is search for “[someone famous] is wrong” – and you’ll be flooded with results.
For example, here’s an Inc. article debating Richard Branson – one of the most revered entrepreneurs in the world – and his philosophy of starting a successful business.
4. Challenge the status quo… and build your business around it
In what way does your business challenge the status quo – in your industry and the world?
And if it doesn’t… maybe it should?
One of the most sure-fire ways to build an unforgettable brand is to craft business practices that contradict the status quo to your advantage. In the startup world, it would be known as “disruption” – but calling it “improvement” should be more accurate.
And if your business isn’t contrarian, then maybe you can build a product that will be!
Some of the most innovative businesses and products out there were created to challenge the status quo. For instance:
- Warby Parker, a scrappy startup that told the world, “Hey, how come a pair of glasses costs as much as a smartphone?”
- Wealthfront, that makes investing possible for people who can’t afford brokers and hefty asset management fees
- 10 Year Hoodie, created by Flint and Tinder (later acquired by Huckberry), was made in response to the culture of producing disposable, perishable, low-quality clothing just to make a quick profit
- Tesla reinvented the electric car in a time when the accepted status quo was, “It’s impossible to make a high-quality electric car that people will buy”
If anything, these brands and their products prove that being contrarian isn’t a gimmick – it’s the foundation of any worthwhile business philosophy.
5. Do the unconventional thing (and explain it)
Some of the biggest missed opportunities in your branding and your marketing come from complacency – doing the same thing everyone else is doing, “just ‘cause”.
- Generic, nondescript guarantees…
- Boring content and boring emails…
- Standard, outdated processes and policies…
…you name it.
The good news is, if most of your competition do the same thing, it becomes easy for your brand to stand out and get noticed – just by being unconventional and doing something different.
Aside from the two examples we already mentioned (cheating, sorry!), here are two more we really like:
- Ray Edwards, a very famous copywriter, doesn’t use pop-ups on his website and blog (despite the fact that they work) – and explains why.
- Blinkist, a very successful German startup, implemented holacracy (a management-free system) in their company… and used the experience to launch a successful marketing campaign to grow their audience.
As we mentioned above, your unconventional practice doesn’t have to be world-changing to make people notice your brand. However small or huge it is, you can use it to your advantage.
Being contrarian can do wonders for your marketing and your brand-building – as long as it comes from a place of genuine conviction, as opposed to being a misfit just for the sake of it.
To make these five tips work for your business, we recommend taking a close look at everything your company does. The way you treat your customers, how you manage your team, how you approach setting goals, what you do to grow your business and break new ground – anything you do that goes against the grain, doesn’t fit the mold…
…yet still works well for you, is worth sharing with the world. It will attract better customers, better team members, and better business partners to your cause. And in the end, you will end up with a better, truly remarkable brand!