Clichés can drive away clients

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One of the most important things any business owner must do is define what makes their brand different from their competitors.

It sounds obvious, but a lot of companies fail to do much more than state the bleeding obvious. They tell us they offer ‘solutions’, deliver a ‘quality service’, and are ‘best-in-class’.

These empty phrases tell us nothing about what makes a business special or unique. And without a point of difference, a business is vulnerable to being substituted for a competitor, or simply ignored.

Advertising executive Rory Sutherland makes this point brilliantly: “When the renovated St Pancras station reopened, there was a very clever PR campaign which did not talk about trains at all: instead, it trumpeted that the station contained ‘the longest champagne bar in Europe.’ This seemingly irrelevant fact led to thousands of people visiting the station as a destination in itself. The V&A once promoted itself as ‘An ace caff (with quite a nice museum attached)’.”

I noticed something similar at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels. At check-in each guest is presented with a warm chocolate chip cookie.

The cost of a cookie is negligible when compared to the cost of a room. And when making a list of things that matter in hotels, “a free cookie” would be pretty far down anyone’s list. And yet people rave about it. It is the first thing many people mention on TripAdvisor.

The best examples of this approach are when businesses hone in on something very specific that they believe will entice or delight their customers.

As Bob Hoffman says of Apple’s launch of the original iPod: “They didn’t give it the vanilla, global ‘World Class MP3 Player’ treatment. They said ‘1,000 Songs In Your Pocket.’ They were specific.”

It worked, of course – the iPod became by far the most popular music player and paved the way for the iPhone.

These same tactics can be employed by even the smallest business.

On one freezing evening recently I drove past a tiny village pub with a handwritten sign outside that simply said: ‘Roaring log fire.’ I did a U-turn.

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design