Competition is Irrelevant

“Competition is Irrelevant” by Peg Marckworth is a business strategy/branding book. The book’s core theme immediately reminded me of a line I picked up somewhere, that the hardest part of any argument is knowing your own opinion. In other words, if you’re doing it right, branding isn’t about clever gimmicks to “spin” your company (or, in the case of a personal brand, yourself) in ways that make you appear to outshine your competition, or even to appear differently than you are. It’s not about approaching your customers with a mentality of using gimmicks to make them remember you or think of you in some way other than as you are actually trying to be.

The book offers five most common missteps in branding:

  1. Confusing branding with marketing. In short, branding is who you are, and marketing is how you spread the word. They overlap, but they’re not the same. Part of why these are so often confused is that brands are stories. E.g. Coke is a brand whose story is  about consistency and feel-good fun, meaning that Coke offers a story of people (or Polar Bears) drinking Coke and experiencing a consistent, feel-good fun. (I’m sure the folks at Coke might resent seeing this boiled down to something so crass as a few words, because they also want Coke to be about classyness and lots of other things–it’s a brand they’ve build up over a long history–but you see what I mean.) Meanwhile, marketing is the work you do to get that story to the ears/eyeballs/etc to create and sustain your customer base.
  2. Confusing a logo, tagline, jingle, website or etc. for a brand. Brands are stories. All that other stuff may be a way to transmit a story, or a recognizable way to help people remember a story, but it isn’t the story. To take the old Faith Hill / Pepsi jingle: “ba pa pa pa ba pa pa pa the joy of cola.” The tune isn’t the story, and making tunes comes after determining the story to tell.
  3. Failing to identify a difference between you and your competition. The book uses a realtor example, but to stay on the cola analogy, you are not going to be simultaneously quirkier than Dr. Pepper and better at being low-calorie than Diet Coke and better at being the classic feel-good beverage than Coke. Find your story, and be willing to tell it, even if that means some people will realize you aren’t what they’re looking for.

For #4 and #5, you’ll just have to buy the book. Plus, that’s just chapter one. There are many great marketing books out there, but this is the cleanest articulation of what branding  is all about.

Edited for typographical mistakes 24 Jan 2017

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