4 Creative Ways to Rise Above the Competition

Each September, my husband and I enjoy attend­ing the Colorado Balloon Classic, where mass ascensions of hot air balloons fill the sky against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
We spend all our time looking up and marveling at the colors, the shapes and the way the entire sky becomes a vibrant playground. Each balloon has its own person­ality. There are many that make us smile and some that simply take our breath away.

Like all the companies that compete for our atten­tion, some brands simply rise above the rest. They lift themselves above the crowd and not only make us smile, but make us think of them first when it comes to pur­chasing decisions. They get our share of time, of heart, of wallet.

It’s a new year and a potentially new start for your brand. What will you and your team do to lift your com­pany above your competitors to make your customer experience exceptional in a crowded, multichannel world?

Here are a few branding lessons we can learn from our colleagues:

1. Leverage your iconic products.
Luxury marketer Coach has done a brilliant job of making women feel they need its latest “IT” bag, while at the same time positioning all its leather goods as sound invest­ments—no small task in the ever-changing fashion world. For Coach’s latest launch of the “Willis Bag,” the company provides a playful video on its website (coach.com/online/hand­bags) reminding customers that this classic really got its start in 1968 as the “Musette Bag.” After taking you down a musical memory lane showing how this bag has been a “must have” across the decades, Coach ends with a large product-enticement shot showcasing this bag’s notable and specific features. It’s an excellent and fully sensory way for Coach to leverage its iconic products.

What product stories can you share with your cus­tomers that will compel them to order from you? How can creative storyselling lift your brand above the rest?

2. Involve customers in all you do.
Duluth Trading is a seriously playful brand about seri­ously hardworking clothes for the trades. But what impresses me the most about this company, and what lifts it above others in its arena, is its serious commit­ment to involving customers in product creation and testing. Its innovative approach is a key element in enhancing its brand authenticity. Whether it’s Duluth Trading’s “Notes from the Field,” in which the company hears from customers about how it does or does not ful­fill its brand promises, or Duluth’s “Real Men and Real Women Trades Panels,” who test which products can or can’t cut it in the field, this company gains a competitive edge by letting its customers speak freely and fiercely.

What type of forum does your brand provide for customer expression? Are you confident that you are doing all you can to engage your customers in product creation and testing?

3. Build all your branding efforts around a specific core message.
For The Company Store, it’s simple. It has one main mes­sage, and everything it does as a brand builder rallies around this one story: “We’re all about comfort.” Brands that lift themselves above their competition focus relent­lessly. They are purpose-driven in all they do. And, of equal importance, they pare away anything that does not reinforce that positioning.

When The Company Store gives back, it ties its comfort mission straight to its charitable program. In its “Buy One, Give One” program, every time a customer buys a comforter, the multichanneler donates one to a homeless child. It’s a campaign very focused around its mission of comfort.

Make a list of your top-five brand initiatives for this year. Which one is most aligned with your core mission? How can you strengthen each one to reinforce your brand stance? What might you have to let go of?

4. Tether your customers to your employees.
Customers love to do business with businesses that “get” them—with brands that exude customer love in all they do, with brand ambassadors who treat them as friends. Gardener’s Supply wants its avid gardening cus­tomers to know that there are equally avid gardeners behind the company doors and website and catalog pages. With its Gardener-to-Gardener pro­gram, this brand tethers its customers to its employees (this even includes the company president!) in ways that are meaningful, helpful and enriching. Whether it’s how-to articles or prob­lem-solving information on weeds or bugs, the folks inside Gardener’s Supply roll up their sleeves and get down in the dirt with their customers.

How can you better tether your customers to your employees? In this regard, every brand has to let its per­sonality shine in ways that are true to its industry. Here’s another example:

The smart brand builders at fash­ion multichanneler Boston Proper know that its customers love learning all about the latest trends and how to wear them. In a “Live Chat” ses­sion, two of the company’s merchants provided advice on “How to make waves this season,” showcasing the five hot new bathing suit trends and answering customers’ questions about them. This very personal approach resonates with Boston Proper’s focus to help its customers “Wear it like no one else.”

If you are in a niche business that caters to enthusiasts, how are you letting your custom­ers know that they are doing business with like-minded enthusiasts in a way that lifts your brand above the rest?
This year, continue to look up and out and around to find ways to continually lift your brand above the rest. Stay buoyant, stay vibrant and let your colors shine!

Andrea Syverson is president of strategic consulting company IER Partners.