I get irrationally frustrated by billboards and back-of-bus ads that promote realtors, law firms, and accountants.
Because the vast, vast majority of them don’t market themselves, they accidentally market their competition.
Here’s how it works:
If a realtor’s marketing is all about why you should have a realtor, that marketing primarily benefits the current leader in the field.
It benefits the firm people automatically think of—the logo that appears in their mental vision—whenever someone says “realtor.”
If you’re an accountant, telling people accountants are important helps the leading accounting firms, but not yours.
Unless yours is the brand that pops into mind when someone says “accounting firm,” marketing the concept of accounting doesn’t market you.
Unless you’re the default, go-to option for your category (like Coke, Walmart, Google, Amazon, Kleenex, Tide, Disney, PwC, McKinsey, etc.) telling people that your category is valuable doesn’t add any value to your business.
No, the rest of us have to focus on demonstrating what makes us unique, occasionally even in opposition to the leader, to stand out.
As Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, “The customer believes that marketing is a battle of products. It's this kind of thinking that keeps the two brands on top: ‘They must be the best, they're the leaders.’”
So when someone sees an advertisement for a new firm offering the same old services, they don’t think, “Oh, I should buy from them.” They think, “Oh, I should buy that thing,” and they buy it from their default supplier.
Similarly, a new retail store can’t just advertise the products it sells (which might also be available on Amazon or at my usual grocery store), they have to advertise the unique advantages of shopping with them.
And unless we’re offering the exact same thing as the leader, our marketing should be different.
Because if it’s not—if we’re not—we’re not really creating value. We’re coasting on someone else’s.
So don’t market your category. Market yourself.
Because your best customers don’t need more of the same.
They need more of your differences.