Build a contrarian brand to stand out. Your superior product alone will not eliminate the competition. It is now easier than ever to create a product with little to no money and bootstrap a company. Big tech companies no longer command the monopoly they used to.
Furthermore, many venture capitalists and angel investors are willing to invest in a project that is little more than an idea. With enough funds, you can even build a product without hiring an engineering team. Simply subscribe to a white-label solution and you are good to go.
Suffice to say, with everyone building similar products, promoting your technology as “cheaper, faster and more reliable” will only lead your brand to be seen as “one of the rest”
While this is an overgeneralization as no two products are the same in reality, many companies use the same messaging and paid channels when marketing their product.
This leads to a dilution of their brand positioning and prospects not remembering their brands. Naturally, once these companies stop running paid ads or campaigns, new leads and sign-ups will dry up. Making it hard for the company to scale.
How can tech companies truly stand out and acquire users without throwing money at them?
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Using Branding As A Differentiator
I get it. You need to see results fast to raise the next round of funding. Or as a well-funded startup, you don’t mind spending lots of money to acquire a large user base and worry about your long-term marketing strategy later.
However, if you do not start thinking of a clear differentiator today, you will eventually be outcompeted by your competitors tomorrow. Deals will be harder to close and the cost of acquiring customers will only keep increasing, as prospects prefer to go with other companies that offer a unique value proposition in their minds.
Cliche, as it is, forming a unique value proposition is now the competitive advantage tech companies of all sizes should focus on building.
Having a clear brand positioning that customers care about gives you the following
- You build a loyal customer base who will stick with you
- Acquiring customers costs less when your team is clear on the target customers profile and the selling point to pitch to these customers
- Organic growth scales, as your loyal customers refer new customers to you without needing any monetary incentive
Common mistakes companies make when creating a brand
While creating a clear and compelling brand sounds good in theory, it is difficult to craft one in reality. Here are some mistakes tech companies make
Offer something that can be placed on a sliding scale
Many software, tech products and Blockchain applications are measured on a sliding scale, especially if they sell their product only based on the functions offered.
For example, a lead generation software may sell itself in terms of the massive number of contacts it can generate for you. This benefit of generating contacts can be placed on a sliding scale- either you have more contacts or fewer contacts.
In another example, tech companies often try to sell other generic benefits such as “security”, which can also place companies on a sliding scale, from the most secure to the least secure. Unless you are confident your software is the most secure (compared to your competitors) and that users actually view your product that way, you should not be selling “security” as part of your brand positioning.
Use the same selling points as everyone else
There will be pain points faced by customers that are obvious to everyone. This is why all companies usually sell the same benefits as everyone else.
However, if everyone is selling the same benefits, does that benefit seem very important now?
If a customer hears that they can receive the same benefit from your solution as 10 other solutions, these benefits start to seem less important. While your product may actually be better than your competitors, if you communicate the same selling points as your competitors, customers will view you in the same way.
Promoting your product as an “all-in-one” solution
It may seem attractive to offer one solution that covers multiple problems customers face. You can cater to more customers and they prefer your solution as it is more convenient for them.
Unless you are the Amazon or Microsoft of your industry, this approach seldom works. Firstly, customers will be confused with your offering and the unique selling point of your offering.
Secondly, offering an “all-in-one” solution may lead to contradictory branding. For example, you are a Cryptocurrency wallet that claims to offer an all-encompassing solution that is always up to date. You may promote the security of funds as a selling point.
However, to back your claim of being a comprehensive wallet solution, you constantly update the wallet with new features. That increases the likelihood of security vulnerabilities and contradicts your brand positioning.
Marketing your product as an all-encompassing solution confuses customers in terms of your unique selling point.
If you do offer different products to different groups of customers, start by promoting only one selling point for each product. Alternatively, create individual brands for each product and solution.
Stand out from the competition with Contrarian Branding
We have covered the importance of good branding for tech companies to differentiate themselves from the rest. Furthermore, we explored the reasons why companies fail at creating an effective and unique brand positioning.
The goal of creating a brand positioning is two-fold. Firstly, it is to camouflage your competitor’s brands by grouping them together under one category. Secondly, position your brand differently from the rest in a way that customers care about. In other words, there should only be two categories- your brand and “the rest”
Let’s find out how to create a contrarian brand in 1 hour or less!
Create Absolute Polarity Between You and The Competition
Photo by Jeffrey Czum from Pexels
The most straightforward way to create distance is to frame two options for users looking for a solution. Either they choose to work with you, or they can work with any other company. There are four different ways to create this framing.
By comparing yourself with your direct competitors, you find common selling points almost every competitor focuses on. Create the opposite of these selling points and package it as your brand positioning.
For example, if most car companies claim to be reliable, safe and affordable, you should be promoting the opposite. Some opposing traits would be to promote freshness, rebelliousness and being young.
While this approach makes it easy for you to stand out from the rest, it has a few drawbacks. Firstly, companies are likely to focus on a few common selling points because these are pain points customers have. If you sell the complete opposite, you risk targeting a group of users that is too niche.
Secondly, comparing your brand against your direct competitors may limit the uniqueness of your brand positioning. As more competitors try to stand out, they start to imitate your brand, diluting your brand contrast with the rest.
When you create a brand based on direct competition, you risk other brands copying you.
What solution will your customers use if your product type did not exist?
These are solutions outside of your industry competing against you. Internal contrast is where you use your direct competitors as a canvas and create a brand that is the opposite of that. Whereas exported contrast is when you highlight a difference between competitors outside your industry and your brand.
Using the car company example, if there are no more cars in the world, what will people use as a mode of transport? Bicycles, motorbikes, trains and airplanes come to mind.
Marketing the benefits of using a car to users of these other modes of transport is exported contrast. A car solves the problem that each user has- getting from one place to the other.
By marketing your product to customers from related industries, you stand out easily and create an absolute polarity between you and the external competition. Keep the concept of exported contrast in mind when crafting your message for a different market.
Instead of moving into a new market, you can bring the ideas of a new market into your current market. This means applying the brand positioning of companies in other industries to your own brand positioning.
For example, you are a car company looking for brand positioning ideas for a new car series. One way would be to take inspiration from the positioning and marketing message of motorbike companies. Most motorbike companies preach risk-taking, a sense of community and freedom.
Whereas mass-market car companies preach safety and the size of the car for comfort, you use the same messaging as motorbike companies. Positioning your car company as bold and adventurous, similar to the messaging from motorbike companies puts your positioning above other car companies.
Lastly, another method to create absolute polarity in your brand positioning is to “export” your brand to a different industry. In essence, you market to customers considering alternative solutions from another industry.
Instead of driving a car to work, some people take the train or bus. If they live near their workplace, they can cycle or walk to work. As a car company, this group of people can be a potential market to tap on.
In this scenario, the car company will position its brand as a credible alternative to taking the bus or cycling. Some selling points a car company has over other modes of transport would be safety and convenience. This will create polarity in the mind of people who are considering owning a car.
However, it is important to assess whether there is a big enough pool of people on the fence when it comes to buying a car! Because marketing to this group requires more time and resources to educate and onboard, as compared to people who are already comparing the type of car they are looking for.
If you find your market to be overly saturated with solutions, this approach may make sense.
Become a unique brand with bi-polarity and tri-polarity
We have covered how you can create a unique positioning in the market by manifesting a direct difference between your brand and the rest.
If that is simply not possible due to superior branding from your competitors or customers not caring enough about your new brand positioning, there is another way to stand out from the competition.
Simply offer solutions or benefits that directly contradict each other. I.e. when you have one benefit, you should not have the other
For example, when we see a product or service that is done fast, we typically assume it must be done poorly or it costs a lot more. In contrast, if a product or service performs above expectations, it requires more time and effort. If a product or service offers both, it is a unique offering in the market that stands out.
Combine two contradictions in your messaging
Include two contradictory points in every marketing message to create a brand positioning using bi-polarity. Some examples of bi-polarity used in branding are as follows
- The new old
- Beautiful functionality
- Collective decentralization
In the Blockchain industry, Blockchain protocols either sacrifice decentralization for low cost and faster speed or they sacrifice low cost to maintain a level of decentralization.
A blockchain protocol that preaches “Collective Decentralization” will be a first in the market, as decentralization is considered to be an absolute concept- you either have it or you don’t.
Note that while coming up with a unique brand positioning will help you get attention, other aspects of your company such as the product and pricing needs to match this brand promise.
Connecting one contradiction to another
Creating bi-polarity also can be done by connecting (not combining) one contradiction to another. Simply put, reaching point B using point A, where both point A and B are contradictions.
Some examples below
- Collectively creating a decentralized web (for Web3 companies)
- Creating beauty through superior functionality
If offering two contradictory benefits in a product is difficult or forceful, then connecting two contradictory points is a better alternative. The difference is subtle, but your brand will still stand out from the rest.
How to create a brand when your product has not launched
Many early stage companies only start their marketing efforts after their product is “complete”. They often cite reasons such as an incomplete product will create a bad first impression with users. They also claim that no user will care about their marketing efforts, as they have no product to market at that point.
This is a mistake.
Building a following since day one ensures that feedback from the market reaches your product team early. This is especially valuable in the early stages of building the product. By receiving feedback early in product development, companies achieve product-market fit much earlier. Features that are valued by users are built instead of redundant features.
Secondly, documenting the early days of the company is good marketing to attract early adopters of your product. Everyone loves a good origin story, especially if your product solves a pain point not met well enough by existing players.
Document all your progress in the early days of your company- who are the new team members, what challenges the team face, and your progress so far. If your story is compelling enough, people will start following you on social media and subscribe to your newsletter. Eventually, a segment of this following will become your customers.
Finalizing Your Brand Positioning
We have covered frameworks you can use to craft an effective brand positioning unique to your company. Ideally, you position your brand as “us or them” so as to camouflage your competitor’s brands.
So what practical steps can you take to create a compelling brand positioning?
Here are some general steps you should take to arrive at a brand positioning everyone can agree with. By everyone, I mean every colleague in your company and the market should at least be receptive to your brand positioning.
- Ask everyone in the company to brainstorm suitable brand positionings on their own using the frameworks above
- Note the common selling points mentioned by everyone and facilitate discussions in small groups
- Filter down to 2-3 unique brand positionings
- Test each brand positioning to see which one receives the most engagements from the market
- Create different landing pages and/or send out different brand positioning as ads. The landing page that receives the most leads is the most promising brand positioning
- Survey your community and ask which brand positioning gives the clearest message
- More importantly, how do they view your competitors in light of your new brand positioning? Is the difference between your brand and other brands wider now?
After arriving at a brand positioning that your company can rally behind, your work is not quite done yet! Now is the time to test your brand positioning on the market.
Do prospects and users find your brand positioning clear? Do your selling points resonate with them? More importantly, has your new brand positioning increased revenue in the long run?
Communicate your brand positioning to the world
Your brand positioning is not limited to your marketing efforts. It should encompass the entire company, from the product to how the company manages a crisis. Here are some ways in which the brand positioning is applied in different areas of the company
If you are a car company that preaches “freedom” and “youth” as brand values, the car features needs to reflect this. For example, the car should look lean and not have a big car boot. While having lots of storage space is great for a family car, it does not reflect your brand positioning.
This may seem obvious, but many companies often offer product features that are not aligned with their positioning. We see this happening in tech companies especially, where it is tempting to build new features requested by customers.
By building many decent features without a stand out feature, the company risks being known for nothing in particular. Always build product features that are in line with your brand positioning.
All marketing collaterals, content and advertisement need to reflect your brand positioning. For example, if you are a luxurious brand, you should never give discounts or offer “clearance sales”
Your brand positioning will shape your marketing channels and campaigns. For example, a tech company that touts security as a selling point may offer users a challenge to test its security, similar to a bug bounty. The user who manages to breach the company’s security receives a reward.
Another example is if you tout your product as the “most affordable in the market”. One marketing campaign may be to offer a full refund to the customer if they can find a cheaper offer in the market. We see many brands doing this already.
While few customers will actually look for a cheaper alternative, most customers will see you as the most affordable option, simply based on this promise.
Internal and external brand advocates
The people make the brand. What better way to communicate your brand positioning then your employees and customers? Constantly remind employees of the company’s mission, what problem everyone is solving and the solution the company is providing.
Promote employees and customers whose actions embody the company’s positioning. In turn, they will advocate for your company each time they are asked for an opinion on your company.
Measuring the effectiveness of your brand positioning
Creating an effective brand positioning is not something that you only do once. It changes together with the market. Whether consumer behaviors change or competitors rebrand to camouflage your brand, you need to consistently measure the effectiveness of your brand positioning.
Firstly, find out how users online view your brand compared to the competition. Use social monitoring tools to compile comments associated with your brand. Is the feedback in line with the brand positioning you created? If not, how do they compare you to your competitors?
If customers are clear on your selling points and more importantly, these selling points matter enough to them, then you have an effective brand positioning. As time passes, you will start to capture more market share, assuming all else stays the same.