Embrace Your Differences To Get More Customers


Mark’s Wearhouse doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. They narrow their focus and developed a brand that was truly different.

Do you remember those Mentos commercials from the ‘90s?

They were cheesy and awful, yet people remembered them and the campaign helped Mentos become a favorite breath mint around the world.

Mentos commercials followed a formula of having people put in awkward situations and seeing them figure out a way to turn things around in their favor.

My favorite was the businessman that sat down on a painted park bench. His suit was seemingly ruined until he got the idea to roll on the bench to turn his entire suit into a pinstriped suit.

No worries. Embrace your differences and people will admire you.

Being Different Makes You Memorable

Many people laughed and snickered at Mentos commercials. Looking back they’re even more ridiculous today than they seemed 20 years ago.

But Mentos embraced that some people thought they were cheesy with their marketing. The cheesy marketed turned into their trademark or what they were most known for other than having satisfying breath mints.

Mentos focused on a strong marketing message – turn bad situations into fun and enjoy life – to create a different kind of brand appeal.

Other breath mints were boring and the same compared to Mentos. Being different made Mentos memorable. In terms of branding and marketing, that’s a big win.

Embrace Differences By Turning Negatives Into Positives

A while back, I had the pleasure to attend a conference where Youngme Moon was a keynote speaker. Youngme released the book Different and she discussed some of the examples of how brands have done the same thing as Mentos to make themselves different and memorable.

The first example was the international furniture store IKEA. The brand has found its niche in the furniture industry by doing everything against common best practice. While other furniture stores are flooded with sales staff, IKEA limits staffing on the floor. When other furniture stores discourage children, IKEA encourages furniture shopping to be a family experience. While other furniture stores assembled everything for you, IKEA made you do it yourself.

As you can see, some of those differences could be seen as negative. Common reasoning would make it seem that making customers assemble their furniture would be a negative.

But IKEA turned it into a positive difference and won customers.

The second example was BMW and specifically the brand’s BMW Mini, which seemed destined for failure when it first launched.

The car was small and seemed to lack basic things car consumers demanded. BMW acknowledged these apparent deficiencies in their marketing efforts and built a strong and loyal following.
The “Win Small” campaign turned small (a seemingly negative attribute) into a positive with phrases like:

  • Small Is A Long Shot
  • Small Is Fearless
  • Small Works Harder
  • Small Wins Our Hearts

The car came to represent strength.

It became a cool car to own because it bucked the system.

Different is creating something that is truly unique compared to the existing market.

Often, a brand’s limitations make it different and appealing. Instead of packing on the features and benefits, brands that succeed are the ones that put all their focus on being different by embracing their unique abilities and characteristics.

Google is not the prettiest advertising platform online. In fact, they limit font color, character length and style in their ads yet Google became the biggest online advertising platform.
Google made limitations into something positive. While other search engines like Yahoo and AOL made it possible to have images, custom fonts and more, Google said “no” to these features and focused on being different. They gave customers only what was necessary and turned seemingly negative limitations into an advantage.

Twitter limited its users to 140 characters.

On the surface this limitation could be seen as negative, but the people that loved Twitter loved the character limit. It forced people to be more efficient in their communications.
Twitter was the only social network that put this limitation on updates and it became one of the brand’s trademark characteristics.

Different requires bravery. You’ll be alone in what you do, but it can lead to great success as you build an audience around your business just like the companies above.

How You Can Be Different

Many companies feel they are different, but in reality the differences are so small and unimportant that consumers don’t care.

You have to ask yourself that if you didn’t exist would your customers notice.

It’s a difficult question to ask, but if you want to take your company to the next level of success it’s necessary to figure out how to be different.

In most cases, brands can be different by narrowing the focus. It seems counterintuitive. When you limit what you do it can seem like you’re falling behind the competition.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

Mark’s Wearhouse is a Canadian wears company. They could have been just another wears company offering every type of wear to every type of consumer.

Instead, Mark’s limited the focus to a core target customer that was an industry professional. Mark’s only offered commercial grade wears for gardening, construction and related industries. Those target customers were satisfied with the high quality wears and the brand grew.

But something even bigger happened.

Mark’s started attracting leisure gardeners, handyman dads, DIY carpenters and others. These consumers started shopping at Mark’s because they wanted to work in professional gear. They believed that Mark’s gear would perform better and last longer because it’s what the professionals used.

I’m a golfer and this principle is very evident in the golf world.

Amateurs use the same equipment as the pros because they associate the products with success and happy memories of the pros winning.

Regular consumers that did work around their homes wanted the best and they looked to Mark’s to provide commercial grade work wear.

By narrowing the focus to industrial professionals, Mark’s became different from the competition.

Today, if Mark’s disappeared there would be a void in the market for high quality commercial wears.

To be different, you need to narrow the focus. You can even turn what might seem like a limitation or a negative aspect of your brand into the very thing that makes you different.

Bonus: The Freshmaker

Cheesy, but memorable – Mentos embraced the difference in this and other commercials.

About the author

Jeremy Choi

I’m a husband, father, entrepreneur, mentor, and an irredeemable golf addict. Possibly like you, my big hairy audacious goal (vision) is to make a positive dent in this world. I write about creating better leaders, workers, and people. I also write about my experiences in all aspects of my life. These ideas are my experiences living & learning through my own core values; integrity, authenticity, leadership, inspire, and health.

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