Standing out in a crowded market

(September 30, 2019)

I was walking down a street with five cafes. The summer day was oppressively hot. I stood observing the first cafe under a spot of shade to escape the white and elliptical sun which hung in the sky as the solitary feature.

The cafe was incredibly busy. Every table was full. The venue was flooded with natural light. Indoor plants lay throughout. Soul and funk-inspired tunes played in the background.

Intrigued, I checked out the menu. The wine list had only boutique labels and the food championed farm-to-table philosophy by profiling each ingredient. The staff were charming, too, welcoming new customers, and greeting old regulars by first name.

“How were the Bahama Islands, Jerry?” I overheard a staff member say to a man wearing a white linen shirt and moccasins.  

10 minutes before, I didn’t feel like a coffee let alone slapping down a decent chunk of my weekly paycheck to fork into a filet mignon and swirl a Beaujolais Nouveau in the sun-filled space. But after walking past the cafe, I nearly put my name on the waiting list. And I don’t even like moccasins.

I resisted, though (or I should say my wallet resisted), and walked on past the second cafe which only had a few occupied tables. The same went for the two venues that came after. The last cafe, however, had as many patrons as a sauna would in the Sahara. Bloody no one.

Interestingly, the Sahara cafe provided a similar product—expensive cuts of meat and boutique wine.

So, why did one cafe have customers lining up for an hour for an expensive lunch, while the others struggled to bring in a customer?

The details count

The difference was that the quiet cafe also served burgers and chicken palmies, as well as cheap, cheap bottles of booze. Not only that, the interior was a cross between fine-dining and your local sports tavern. (TV screens playing football lined the walls.) And the staff, who looked as animated as a  stuffed animal, were scrolling on phones.

The Sahara cafe had tried to cater for roadhouse-pub-types and the dainty upper class, as well as a few stragglers in between. The cafe had tried to appeal to everyone and, in turn, appealed to no one—had attracted no specific group of people, no cult following, and therefore, had built no proper foundation to grow.

So, in a status-orientated food and drink culture, prospective patrons chose to go home having waited 2 hours to dine at the popular cafe than go to a non-prestigious one.

The busy cafe had created an identity with a particular customer in mind. And every detail was aligned with that identity to create a cohesive message that was strategically aimed for folk who want to align themselves with a tribe of people who wear white linen clothes, drink fancy European wine and eat decadent cuts of meat in the Mediterranean sun (you know the types).

The Sahara cafe’s identity, however, was diluted. The wine list wasn’t tailored to a particular type of person. And neither was the food, interior or the staff.

If you see your brand as a novel, then every (and I mean every) detail is a chapter that needs to work within the context of the larger story. So, if you write a chapter that doesn't fit in with the whole, then you run the risk of devaluing and diluting your greater message.

William Faulkner, a Nobel Prize-winning novelist, said, ‘In writing, you must kill your darlings’. What he is referring to is emitting parts of a piece which don’t serve the narrative. Even if you’re in love with a sentence, you better kill it if it doesn’t keep the story moving.

The same goes for the Sahara cafe’s wine list and your start-up or business.

After working with hordes of business owners and entrepreneurs, I began to notice that people tend to focus on particular parts of the brand, like a logo or interior or the words, and forget others. I often come across design studios who promise simplicity while using wild and verbose jargon. Or restaurant venues who spend aeons thoughtfully curating a wine list, or sourcing food, and then forget to put resources into training staff to tell those unique selling points to customers.

Killing your darlings isn’t relevant to businesses, but artists, too. At local bars, I’ve observed many a musician who tends to focus on the music but forget to engage the audience or work on their performance or outfit. You need to tell a story that goes beyond your primary offering. And to stand out in this world, the details do count.

That’s why I recommend creating a brand story guide when I work with a business who wants to build a brand or a start-up.  A brand story guide helps you dig deep and think deeply and seriously about your business and brand, so you can then tell a cohesive and meaningful story.

I’ve met so many business owners who are too darn superficial or arrogant to even think they need to think deeply about their own story and how that connects with their customers. And it always shows. The opportunity here is to catapult yourself above these people by digging deep.

When thinking about your brand, you can forget being a millionaire or taking over the world.

Instead, focus on unearthing who you are, as a person and, therefore, as a brand. If you’re like most of us, you’re probably unconscious to why you have certain beliefs and preferences. You can begin with the following:

Understand your backstory

Writing down your backstory can be the first step in understanding the underpinnings to why you are the way you are. And that clarity gives weight and certainty to the following.

Unearth your values and dig deep

Values shape you. Values also bring like-minded people together. By clarifying what you value and why that is so (you can refer to your backstory), you can begin to address areas in your brand which undermine those values. If you value sustainable horticulture, for example, then putting a mass-produced bottle of wine on your list ain’t gonna help you build a brand or reach the right people.

Write down your X-factors

These are the reasons why you’re the best option for your audience. But don’t get carried away. People tend to over-complicate this one. You don’t have to invent the most powerful Android phone in the world (although that will help your success) or be the next Rembrandt. An X-factor can be a simple as being the most welcoming cafe on the street. Or wearing batman clothes in your band. Or simply being reliable.

Writing down your backstory, values and key personality traits can be the first step in understanding the underpinnings to why you are the way you are. And only then, can you start creating a story that’s truly meaningful, authentic, distinct and cohesive.

As stated, if you do that well, you won’t have to worry about making millions, because the successful brands in this post-industrial era will not necessarily sell the best product, or be the most talented. The brands who tell a cohesive story that connects with people beyond the skin-deep world of marketing and advertising will be the ones who make the greatest impact. Think Nike, Aesop, Patagonia, and the cafe down your street that’s always full.

This is the first time in history that you—one person behind a screen—has the chance to tell your own story, a damn good one to an audience of billions, which can not only make your business successful but change the culture.

And if you’re getting stuck, I can help you create a brand story guide that makes your brand pop like rock candy.

Sent from iPhone (Not really.  My fingers are too chunky to type of those mini-screens.)

Brew Copy, a storytelling studio that helps you build your brand—with words. Contact me at Stay in touch on Instagram. Or on Linkedin.