Frank Lessons: Be You, Everyone Else is Taken (I copied that from Oscar Wilde)
We’re working with branding a financial services company right now. A few weeks ago, we were at the beginning of our process and starting to research the competition. This means investigating other brands and pulling reference to get an idea of the trends that are out there so we can avoid them. Oftentimes, it’s an exercise that highlights how much white noise is created when everyone is doing the same thing as their competition. Now, obviously, you’d think no one wants to be a copycat. Except for…most brands in the financial sector. Let me tell you, you very quickly discover the trends and universal language that are out there. That being said, we did notice one competitor was doing something differently than the others: Sigfig.com. No blue and white color palate, no insider language, no stale infographics–just a very approachable tone with lifestyle imagery all speaking to an audience about personal financial management. (Back pats, SigFig. Well done.) SigFig stood out visually and through how they communicated. It wasn’t the same path we wanted to chase down for our client, but it reinforced how you can look different, communicate effectively and stand out. We included this brand and it’s website along with some other examples in our show-and-tell research with our client in order to make this point.
Cut to two weeks later. Right before our client meeting, we started pulling up our chosen competitor websites and noticed one of them had totally redesigned their website in the past week. This competitor, a big player in the sector, now looks like a visual one-to-one with Sigfig. This bigger, more established company, apparently decided that was a good look. So instead of interpreting that idea for themselves, they did pretty much a direct lift of good old SigFig. And I’m sure they won’t be the last.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn’t exactly set you apart. It just makes you look the same. Expected. Safe.
In business and in life, being yourself and being unique are important. Why? Because smart, successful, game-changers have a visual and tonal point of view that is unique to them. And they attract and keep an audience. Brands like Nike, Apple, IBM, Starbucks don’t look like their competitors. But they DO have brands consistently looking for ways to draft off of their success and become the next big thing. Copying the way they look and talk is not the way to go. However, using the process of discovering why your brand is different and how to express that superior difference is. If you’re a new company that’s breaking onto the scene, do you really want to look like a carbon copy/dollar store version of your biggest competition?
Here’s a quick example:
Exhibit A: Blue Apron. One of our clients. We branded them when they started out and created their identity system, packaging, website, recipe cards, etc. One of the first chef-in-a-box players on the scene and one of the best known and most successful. They’re worth approximately a bizillion dollars now.
Exhibit B: And then there’s these guys. Look familiar?
Do you think the established audience for that superstar brand is going to suddenly switch their allegiance to a lookalike? Well…probably not. So why do it? Why try and draft off another brand that’s your direct competition? Lots of reasons, but here’s a few. Existing identities that are successful have a proven track record. They have brand recognition. They have a built-in audience. Wouldn’t it be lovely to just co-opt that? It would, but you won’t. Consumers won’t let you. They aren’t just buying because they like the product or the price point. They buy because they like the brand. And just because you look like Beyonce, that doesn’t mean you can make Lemonade.
So to all you new brands out there (or to you established brands looking to be down with the cool kids), I say this–Do you. Don’t do someone else. You’ll find your people. And they’ll love you for it.
Written by Jiffy Iuen, Founder & Creative Partner