Settle for so-so or battle for brilliance?

business armyOh, the wonder of beautifully crafted taglines. Those few strategically selected words that sum up everything your business stands for and what you want your target audience to know about you. They’ve made companies fortunes by telling people what makes them standout in the sea of sameness. Consider FedEx’s brilliant “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Nine simple words that tell FedEx buyers precisely what they’re going to get, while simultaneously informing all of its employees what their mission is. What if FedEx’s slogan was “We ship things!”?  Would Nike be as successful if it allowed an executive committee to red-pencil “Just do it” into “When you need great shoes”? How would BMW’s vision change if “The Ultimate Driving Machine” became “Our cars are fun to drive!” My point is that these companies didn’t settle for weak platitudes or vague, generalized statements that could have applied to their competitors.  Nope, they decided that they weren’t going to settle. Instead standing out and differentiating themselves was business-critical. Can the same be said for your company and its marketing?  Do you have a themeline or slogan that makes you stand out?  Is it unique and memorable? Or is it mediocre because somewhere down the line, people settled?

Let’s face it, we have a tendency to settle. It’s almost human nature. We settle for something that’s not just quite right, an outfit that isn’t our best look, a job that doesn’t maximize our talents or an ad or website page that’s okay or just “good enough.” While the act of compromise in life, relationships and particularly conflict is an admirable trait, compromise or “settling for” in marketing is a death knell.

You see, the whole point of your marketing activities is to get noticed; get engaged with your audience; and have your work be acted upon to bring in the business.  Alternatively, anonymity, swimming in the center of a school of other fish, may be a good survival tactic if you are an anchovy, but it is not a good survival tactic for business.  So you have to wonder why so much marketing – and so many marketers – feel the need to play “follow the leader” with respect to marketing trends.

The logic is that if others have done something successfully, you just need to do the same thing. Well, maybe. And then again, maybe not.  As we all know, breakthrough products and breakthrough marketing campaigns are not achieved through conformity. Note the word “break” in breakthrough.  These are the products and campaigns that break the rules.  These are the products and campaigns that use insight, intuition, experience, sensitivity to the marketplace – and arguably the most important thing….courage – to do things differently. To break away from the status quo.

It is certainly true that most companies don’t have that innate insight and courage to be successfully different.  We can’t all be like Steve Jobs. But for those are willing to do things differently and well, for those who want their companies to stand out, then the only rule that matters is:  You cannot achieve exceptional success through conformity.

To that end, you can have your brand and product/service stand out if you’re willing to take a risk. For starters, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What’s can you say about your company that’s seen as a unique or fresh alternative to your competitors? This can range from the product or service you offer to the way you do business to that of sharing your wisdom. Think beyond the obvious. Dig deeper. Ask yourself a bunch of “So what does that mean?” and “Why would our customer care?” with each answer that’s given.

2. What medium makes the most sense for your brand?  The goal is to create a campaign that drives conversation and ultimately revenue. So what imaginative or different ways (to what you’ve been doing) should be explored and implemented. Doing the same thing from one campaign to another, especially given all of the new technological and interesting messaging channels out there, is not only boring but could be seen by management as, well, not a great reflection on yourself.

3. How will you execute your campaign?  Don’t risk looking amateurish or wasting time by trying to save money. Engage yourself with people that can help you get to the BIG idea and then help you implement it in a way that you and your executive management team are proud of.  You’ll always remember the big successes, while you’ll forget how much money you saved or spent.

Clearly, whether it is investing in advertising, developing a little more creativity, spending the time to follow-up or making the effort to engage with your customers, you can easily elevate your marketing to where it needs to be. Anyways, what progressive marketer wants to settle for second best, or worse, be recognized as mediocre?  That doesn’t play well either at the current company or when you need to show your portfolio of work if switching jobs. Instead, risk being brilliant instead.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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