Unique, peculiar and passionate: why idiosyncrasy is everything for brands

Brand strategy is all about idiosyncrasy, argues M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment’s Kim Walker: in a world where everyone else is already taken, modern brands need to be brave enough to be truly themselves.

According to Nielsen Media, there are more than 500,000 brands in the world, across more than 2,000 product categories. So, dividing the first number by the second, logic suggests that people typically choose between 250 brands in any given category. That’s a bewildering number; a gargantuan amount of choice.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz has said that choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed; not happier but more dissatisfied. As a result, marketing gurus like Byron Sharp have found that brand scale is a huge predictor of brand growth. People buy what they know, because they don’t have the time, energy or inclination to hunt out the new.

So how do brands grow in the real world? How do you meet shareholder targets even if you’re not the biggest brand in your category? How do you keep being interesting to your audience as culture moves at lightning speed?

The answer is simple: be idiosyncratic. Be unique. Be peculiar. As Oscar Wilde (may have) said, in a world where everyone else is already taken, be yourself.

What we like, and what we don’t

Your brand strategy needs to make you stand out in a way that piques the interest of the audience you want to notice you. Saying nothing else, focusing on no one else, apart from the one thing you want to say most, to the people you care about most.

Gartner rated brand strategy as the number-one most vital marketing capability. It’s the point at which you choose who you want your brand to be – at the same time as getting crystal clear on who you don’t want to be. In that way, you make your brand a useful shortcut to the things your audience wants.

No one likes a copycat. Trying to copy the codes of your category or what the brand did last year will at best make you look like everyone else and at worst make you look irrelevant. You might just end up reminding people why they like their regular brand. Remember the Tropicana debacle in 2009, when juice brand Tropicana momentarily forgot itself and what it offered that was distinct from supermarkets’ own label juice?

Conversely, everyone likes a trailblazer. The one that stands out because they’re into what they’re into. The one that cares less what everyone else thinks. The one that’s brave enough to do what feels right to the world right now. Our brilliant client Alison Perrottet knows this better than most. As we were creating the Absolut Choir with her, she quipped that “The thrill of working on an iconic brand like Absolut is equal to the pressure of living up to its heritage.”

And everyone likes being made to feel special. Humans respond better to things that we think have been especially designed for us and not for ‘the typical consumer’. So make sure people see themselves in your brand. The Cannes Lion-winning British Airways ‘A British Original’ campaign is a great example of using creative lines and innovative media buys to make the audience feel seen by a brand.

Everybody’s special

For your brand strategy to drive growth in the real world, you have to make a lot of people think that you are unique, and that they are special. Skims is a great example of this: a brand that is laser-focused on making modern audiences of all body types and sizes feel good about the way they look. Since launching in 2019, it’s now valued at $4bn worldwide.

What can we learn from brands like this? First, add value. Especially in the context of a cost of living crisis. Whether that’s through purpose, passion or pure joy. If you’re not adding value, you’re taking up space.

Second, keep it simple. Say one thing over and over again. Your beautifully crafted brand strategy which details every customer touchpoint for every global market for the next 5 years will end up bearing very little resemblance to what real people actually notice in the real world.

And finally, be passionate. When brands care about what their audiences care about, they are much more memorable for all the right reasons.

So in your next brand strategy presentation, be the passionate and brave trailblazer. Stand out from the others, make your audience feel special. Because your brand is worth it.

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