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The Folly of Standing Out Before Standing Up

Authenticity and service-delivery are the gold standards by which brands are judged. The outdated premise of standing out first comes with a lot of baggage.

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I don’t mind telling you that the sentiment makes me a little crazy. I’ve heard it said so many times, often in the board rooms of venture capitalists and cubicles of aspiring entrepreneurs. Today, I read it in a tweet. It goes likes this:

“…Quality isn’t job 1. Standing out is job 1. Quality is important, but doesn’t matter if u are unnoticed.”

The tweet was from a “branding expert,” in response to a question about content in his book. Judging by the retweets and mentions, his audience loved it. Too bad it is dead wrong.

Here’s the Reality Check: the marketplace is littered with non-brands that have brilliant, beautiful, award-winning, stand-out identities. These gorgeous rock-stars of design attract consumers because they are damn sexy to look at. They seduce us into throwing them into our shopping cart, or driving them home, or subscribing to their service. But when we put them to use, and the quality we assumed because of the brand’s siren call fails to wow us, we feel completely duped. The practice of standing out for attention before being able to stand up to a promise is a dangerous gambit — especially in the age of social media. Quality matters now more than ever.

In a global study conducted last year by McCann Worldgroup, truth and authenticity were shown to be the most powerful arbiters of brand preference. Here’s a snippet directly from the study:

Just as young people nowadays seek truth and substance from their celebrities, they also seek it from the brands that populate their world. They reserve their most scathing attacks for brands that aren’t true to themselves or break promises.

The study went on to describe the leveling practices of this new “connected generation.” If they perceive that a brand has failed to live up to its promise, “a whopping 90% globally would make a point of telling their friends.”

The guru’s advice was half-right. It’s a cluttered brand world out there and differentiation is critically important. But with so many choices competing for a consumer’s attention, if your brand doesn’t deliver a compelling experience after the initial sale, you can forget a repeat sale … and you may find yourself on the defense when word spreads that you’re all sizzle and no steak.


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