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Your differentiator

Being different is a by-product, not a goal.

When you treat it as the goal, “different” can easily become a trap. It deceives you to chase superficial changes like choosing quirky colors, strange slogans, or odd advertising gimmicks in hopes of being unique. Yet, these surface-level tweaks are often meaningless if they don’t tie back to something real and valuable for the customer.

This kind of different wants you to believe that by standing out in a crowd, you’ll capture attention and thrive. And you might. But there’s no guarantee that this attention will be in your favor.

The real magic happens when a business shifts its focus from “different” to “meaningful”.

When you zero in on a specific problem faced by a specific group of people and craft a solution specifically tailored to them, you’ll almost inevitably stand out for them. This customer-centric approach makes a world of difference. When no-one else provides a solution that fits so well for them, you’re obviously different. More importantly, by diving into the lives of the customers, understanding their needs, and crafting solutions that ease their pains, a business becomes a valuable asset to them. It’s about forming a connection that’s deeper than a flashy logo or a catchy tune.

Make no mistake, you might still end up using quirky colors or edgy slogans, packaging, and marketing.

But this time, it’s not just about standing out; it’s about standing out for the right reasons.

Where great ideas go to die

Recently, in a marketing brainstorming session with a table full of snacks and charts.

Chief Trend Officer (CTO): “Alright team, we’ve got the latest trend report right here. Fidget spinners are making a comeback! We need to integrate them into our campaign.”

Marketing Intern (tentatively): “But, um, isn’t our product a high-end coffee machine?”

CTO: “Precisely! Imagine: a coffee machine with a built-in fidget spinner. Every time you brew, you spin!”

CEO (trying not to laugh): “Or, maybe we could explore why people love coffee? The aroma, the morning ritual, the conversations over a cup? Dive into the shared experiences and emotions?”

CTO (with an enthusiastic grin): “Sure, all that deep stuff is great, but just imagine a GIF with someone sipping espresso while spinning a fidget spinner! Viral content!”

CEO: “Well, while we’re at it, why not add a whistle? Brew, sip, spin, and toot! We’ll revolutionize morning routines everywhere!”

CTO (pausing, thinking deeply, then with a eureka moment): “…Can we patent that?”

Truth shaping – the dark side of marketing

The dark side of marketing is what I call “truth shaping”.

It leads marketers to exaggerate the pros and hide the cons in order to shape a truth that fits into the marketing story.

Essentially, the dark side of marketing leads businesses to spend huge resources on inventing promises that sound irresistible for products that aren’t.

Which inevitably leads to frustration when the product doesn’t meet the buyer’s expectations. That, in turn, leads the dark side to make even bolder promises which leads to more frustration … which leads to … a vicious cycle …

Great marketers understand that it’s the other way around and that a virtuous cycle is possible.

The best products are those that customers love even more when they know the complete truth. Those that are not irresistible because the promise sounds irresistible but because it is irresistible.

Those that have been built with the customer in mind and that solve a specific problem they have.

These products might not be perfect. But that’s not the same as irresistible.

It basically reverses the shaping. Rather than build a product and then shape the truth so that the irresistible promise can somehow fit the product, you start with an irresistible promise and shape the product to fit into the promise.

If it eventually does, you’ll need to merely tell me a true story about your product in plain English.

Resonate stronger

When their brilliant idea loses to an inferior one that’s among the most frustrating experiences for any entrepreneur or leader.

Even more so when the others are playing it unfair by promising the blue from the skies and using all sorts of sneaky marketing and sales tricks.

But the solution is not to play by their rules and persuade even harder. It’s to change the rules and resonate stronger: understand your audience so well that you can craft messages that resonate so strongly that they become irresistible.

I imagine a world in which those of us who have an important story to tell, a story that has the potential to change the world, find the words to make that happen.

What’s your story?

What customers want

Many failed products are built on what the makers think people should want. Successful products deliver on what people actually want or need (if not both).

Meta’s virtual reality products are built around what they think people should want: an artificial metaverse that looks kind of childish and that enables experiences that no-one has asked for. They try to conquer the world by creating something entirely new in the hopes that people would want that.

On Monday, Apple has unveiled their take on headsets. They chose not to create something entirely new. They built an (arguably) better way to experience the things that people already know. At the core, their headset is a way superior display compared to any other display that we used before. On that display, we can do the things that we already do, browsing the web, watching movies, enjoying family photos or collaborating with colleagues; most of these things seem to work better than on traditional displays. Movies will be more immersive, screens for our work will feel bigger etc.

Instead of creating something entirely new, the Vision Pro looks like it is about doing the things that we already love to do with the apps we already love to use, but better. That’s literally their pitch: “So you can do the things you love in ways never before possible.”

Apple doesn’t make customers want something entirely new. It tries to sell customers on a better way to get what they already want.

A no-brainer

If customers knew everything that you know, it would be a no-brainer for them to buy from you, right? They would queue up in an instant.

Why then don’t they?

What’s the missing piece? What do they not see?

More importantly: how can you make them see it?

The dishonesty of paid speaking

Something’s wrong in the professional speaking world and it’s paying to speak.

There’s a significant number of large scale events where many of the speakers in the lineup pay to speak on the big stage.

In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with this. Businesses pay to get in front of people all the time. It’s basically an advertisement.

Like with other forms of hidden promotions, the problem is when it’s intransparent.

If you buy your speaking slot, say so. If you’re the organizer of such an event, say who paid to speak and who got paid by you to speak. If you’re sitting in the audience, demand transparency.

It’s a simple rule that applies to any kind of advertising.

Just be transparent!

Your marketing agency’s words

This week, I’m asking one simple but important question each day for you to ponder (on your own or with your team):

When you read out loud the words that your marketing agency came up with, how does it feel? How would you say it in your own words?

Would they still buy?

This week, I’m asking one simple but important question each day for you to ponder (on your own or with your team):

If you told your customers the full truth about your product, would they still buy? What do you need to change so that you can tell the full truth?

Ideas that spread

How many businesses have you seen fail because there was no easy way to tell your friends what they actually do? How many ideas have you seen die because there was no easy way to explain them? How many projects lost traction because no-one could clearly state what they were for?

Your audience is very unlikely to want to figure this out for you. If you want your idea to spread, your chances will dramatically increase if you yourself work out a way that makes it easy to spread.

So, what should spread for your idea? What should people think when they think about you? What should they say when they pass your message along to their friends?

Spread the Word

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz



Yes, I love talking to you. Call me at +49.2241.8997777
Or reach out at michael@michaelgerharz.com