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June 19, 2009
Odd Fish Finish First
Imagine a big glass tank loaded up with hundreds of squirmy gray guppies. Pick the one you want and in seconds you’ve lost it because they all look alike. Suddenly, behind the coral tree, from within the school of many, emerges a slim, purple and orange fish wearing goggles. He quickly stands out from the group, his distinctiveness apparent. He swims around with a unique confidence and a bold identity; the others just seem to fade away.
Odd fish are memorable. Odd fish command a premium price. Odd fish exude added dimensions of value. Odd fish finish first.
In business, understanding this metaphor is the difference between drowning in a sea of sameness and being a great brand.
Jack Trout (speaking of smart fish) noted in his bestselling book Differentiate or Die that choosing among multiple options is always based on differences, implicit or explicit. Psychologists point out that vividly differentiated characteristics anchored to a product can enhance the public’s memory of it because they have added uniquely to the mind of the consumer, the product thus appreciating intellectually. In other words, if you are promoting a product or service, give the consumer a reason to choose it. This concept is so simple, yet many business leaders struggle with applying it to their brands.
The problem starts with defining what distinction truly is and is not. Distinction is not that you love or care for your customers more than your competition does. It’s not that you are a one-stop shop or even that your product or service is of the highest quality. Those are all vital attributes, but they are also likely touted by 90% of the competitive players in your category.
Distinction in branding is something that you do so well and often that it is truly different and that it becomes your property -- so much so that your competition would be unlikely to try to mimic your actions. It’s something that your buyers identify as really unusual and, as a result, award your brand extra space in their info-aged over-crowded minds.
Developing a platform of distinction requires courage by leadership. Doing things differently can draw out herds of critics, from customers to employers and industry players. That is to be expected, because new or different requires the adoption of new thinking and it’s human nature to resist it for some time. Have faith and believe in your oddness, believe in your brand.
There is no magic rule on a whether a brand needs one primary point of difference or a symphony of many. Whatever you decide to do, just do it consistently and execute it well.
Take the test: How distinct is your brand? Are you an odd fish that stands out or a lost guppy?

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Karen Post, aka The Branding Diva®, is an international branding expert, consultant, and speaker. She has been featured in a broad range of media outlets, including Bloomberg TV and radio, CBS's "The Early Show," The New York Times, The New York Post, NPR, Fast Company, and The Boston Globe. She is also the author of Brand Turnaround (McGraw-Hill) and Brain Tattoos: Creating Unique Brands That Stick in Your Customers' Minds (AMACOM).

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