Are you just another X?

Bear with me for a minute (and get ready to use your imagination).

This vending machine doesn’t sell mineral water.

It sells “X”.

“X” is whatever line of business you’re in. And you’re bottle no. 24.

There’s a client, standing in front of it, coin in hand.

They’re ready to spend. But you’re just one of 60 options available to them…so why commit to 24?

Identical bottles. Identical labels. Identical caps. And – presumably – all offering the same contents.

Surely 24 is just the same as 25…or 10, or 2, or 59?

If there’s no good reason to pick you (or you have to explain the difference between you and the other 59), you’re just another “X”. That’s not good.

The client is facing what’s known as the “dilemma of choice”. It’s up to you to make that choice easier for them – not harder.

And in a world awash with what feels like infinite choice, that is a job for your branding.

Before we dig deeper, let’s talk about that “dilemma of choice” thing, and ask: “Isn’t lots of choice a plus point for any business?”

No, it’s not.

Studies have shown that a vast array of options can leave customers dissatisfied with their eventual choice (take note, those of you with over-complicated product options and pricing structures). Not just that: the actual process of choosing becomes so much harder – for reasons involving so much psychology that it’s way above my pay grade, but you can read more about it in this Wikipedia article (make sure you scroll down to the link at ref. 3 “When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing?” – well worth a read for any business owner).

The bottom line is this: we’re complex and contradictory creatures: we love having choice – we’re just not cut out to handle too much of it. Having too much sucks up more mental energy, requires more analysis and soul searching, creates more pressure, and brings with it “FOMO” – a fear of missing out if our choice proves to be the wrong one.

But here’s where brand comes in. That Wiki article puts it nicely: “the phenomenon of overchoice (ie choice overload) occurs when many equivalent choices are available.

Note that word: equivalent.

Because when it comes to your brand and the part it plays in a client’s decision-making, “equivalent” is a huge red flag. It’s one of those words you should be horrified to hear anyone use about your business.

To put it another way:

You shouldn’t have any equivalents.

In our fictional vending machine, every bottle costs the same. In the real world, when you’re seen as having equivalents, there’s every chance that choices will be made based on price alone – and if that’s the game you want to play, good luck, because it’s a race to the bottom.

It’s not about being different for the sake of different, or about providing niche products and services that others don’t.

It’s about building a strong brand.

A strong brand is your differentiator. A strong brand makes choosing one option over the others such a no-brainer that the dilemma of choice is all but eliminated. Ask devotees of any big name, from Apple to Nike – so strong is the connection with their chosen brand that the competition is nothing more than irrelevant background noise.

It’s about emotion. It’s about resonance. It’s about fit. It’s about your values meshing with theirs. It’s about being the perfectly-sized square peg for the square hole of their needs and desires.

And ultimately it’s about crafting a remarkable brand with a remarkable brand message that encapsulates all this – and then communicating it to ideal customers through a remarkable visual identity and remarkable copy.

Note that I didn’t suggest starting with the remarkable visual identity.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, but I’ll come to that) an awful lot of businesses out there just don’t get it. They’re happy to be just another bottle, either by choice or blissful ignorance. They’re the unremarkable ones, with the generic branding, the me-too message and nothing different to say – ironically, the kind most likely to resort to straplines telling you they’re different.

And the “fortunately” bit?

If your 59 competitors don’t get it, but you do, you’re already several laps in front.

On a related note, here’s a game to pass the time on a long car journey – I call it Strapline Snap. Every time you see a commercial vehicle, read the strapline (without compromising your safety or that of other road users, of course). By the time you’ve reached your destination, you should have a small but satisfying collection of duplicates. Award yourself extra points if they’re particularly meaningless or if they wouldn’t even begin to influence your choice of company. Have fun.

(You may also be interested in our other game, Strapline Bingo).