Where Have I Seen This Before?

Jon Ratliff

The New York Times has an excellent team blog called “You’re the Boss,” which targets small-business owners. A recent post called “Why is so much marketing the same?” took on one of the biggest failings in modern marketing.

Blogger MP Mueller, founder of an Austin, Texas, advertising agency, described developing positioning materials for a new client. She noticed that virtually all of the client’s competitors used the same shade of blue in their marketing materials. Marketing messages were also similar, typically involving phrases such as “leading in innovation and excellence.”

We often see much of what Mueller describes: parity claims about products and services that virtually any company in the industry could make, along with a consistent style in advertising and a lack of corporate marketing deviation over a number of years.

Mueller says criticism on social media, striving for political correctness and a continued bunker mentality from the challenging economy are key reasons why marketing is often remarkably similar.

There’s something to the causes Mueller cites, but we see a more potent contributor to sameness: clients’ need to maintain a level of comfort.

Often, clients resist moving away from their comfort zone, even if it means the possibility of better outreach to customers and prospects. When we present marketing recommendations, we frequently receive a strong client agreement on the direction of messaging and strategy. As we move into the implementation phase, however, we often have to remind clients why the change is necessary.

Clients hire marketing firms to improve the way they promote products and services. They sense that things could be better. Clients rationally agree with the recommendations but struggle with the change, and over time, they slip back into what had become comfortable for them – their old tactics, their old messages and old processes – the very things they wanted to change in the first place.

Let’s face it, change is hard.

Change also means not being a follower. Marketing by competitors in an industry often looks the same because, over time, all of the top players have come to accept that their market behaves in a certain way and subsequently much of the marketing looks and sounds the same. It becomes the standard for how things are supposed to look, and everyone follows along.

It can be hard to be the industry contrarian. Standing by yourself can be daunting, but owning a singular message is exactly what you want, provided it’s relevant to customers and prospects.

Not only does going outside of the comfort zone require selling something a little more “out there” to the board of directors, but also requires the commitment of the staff. Being a little uncomfortable in marketing, though, can pay off in gaining customers. Differentiation is the key to marketing success, and sameness just doesn’t deliver.

— Jon Ratliff, Vice President and Account Group Director at TCG

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