What happens when everyone follows "best practices"

What happens when everyone follows "best practices"

Quick, which furniture store is having a this-week-only sale with no payments for six months? Which tire store is selling four tires for the price of three? Which personal injury attorney will fight for you against insurance companies?

All of them. And that’s why you can’t tell them apart.

“Best Practices” = same practices

That’s because all of them are following the advertising “Best Practices” for their product categories. Best Practices are officially defined as “the most efficient and effective way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.”

In short, conventional wisdom.

The problem with Best Practices is the key phrase, “repeatable procedures.” Because the same procuedures are repeatable, everybody and his brother repeats them. In advertising, that repetition, regardless of brand, leads to sameness – and sameness is the enemy of effectiveness and results.

Differentiation trumps familiarity

For decades, global advertising agency Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator database has been tracking the rise and fall of 40,000 brands among 500,000 consumers in over 40 countries. They’ve identified four main characteristics of a brand:

  1. Knowledge – how well consumers feel they know the brand
  2. Relevance – how relevant they think the brand is to them
  3. Esteem – how well they think of the brand
  4. Differentiation – how unique they think the brand is.

They then correlate these characteristics with consumer attitudes towards the brand, ranging from Fatigue and Indifference to Curiosity and Irresistibility.

As you go through brand after brand, one conclusion becomes inescapable: With rare exceptions, Differentiation correlates amazingly strongly to Irresistibility. How different a brand appears to consumers is more important than how much they know about it.

That’s counterintuitive, but not that surprising when you think about it.

Much too much information

Every American – man, woman and child – is exposed to some 1,800 sales messages a day. Assuming 16 waking hours, that’s one sales message every 32 seconds, on the average. In addition to all those sales messages, there’s a tsunami of information overload – information that needs to be severely edited. This editing, according to Thomas Washington, writing in the Washington Post

…[is] about proficiency in tossing stuff out. By necessity, we spend more time quickly scanning manuals, king-size novels, the blogosphere and poems in the New Yorker than we do scrutinizing their contents for deeper meaning.”

Practicing what’s best beats Best Practices

So if you want to make your brand irresistible to its target audience, you must first make it different. You need to abandon the same Best Practices that the furniture and tire stores and everyone else in your category all so slavishly follow and create your own message – one that’s different not only in how it looks and sounds but, even more important, in what it says about your product or service and what that difference means to consumers.

Do it well, and your brand will be so successful, it’ll become the basis of a new Best Practice.