Louis Grenier, founder of Everyone Hates Marketers, has always felt the desire to stand out.
From dyeing his hair bright red as a child to figuring out how to build a distinctive brand, differentiation has been the name of the game.
Today, Louis teaches workshops on differentiation - the act of standing out in a crowded market.
The product of years of study, Louis was disappointed by the way most books approached differentiation.
He likened it to the meme below - the books gave broad tips, but no specifics.
“When you start studying the topic, everyone will tell you, you need to stand out. You need to be different. You need to tell stories. You need to be controversial.
It's incredibly difficult. If not impossible at this stage to find actual resources, to teach you how to actually do it,” Louis said.
As a guest on Wynter Games, Louis shared his hard-won knowledge with us in the form of five steps to help your brand radically stand out.
Differentiating is more than a niche or a growth hack
First things first - many people assume that picking a small, defined niche is the same as differentiating. Louis made clear that is not the case.
“It's not exactly like creating a niche product because some niches are actually very busy. So you could be the same than anyone else in the niche,” said Louis.
“Yes, your market might be smaller, but you still compete in a very crowded market.”
Differentiating is also different from employing a variety of growth hacks and marketing stunts.
Sure, these tricks might get your audience to briefly notice you.
But if they dive deeper and don’t find a compelling product behind your marketing bravado, they will quickly lose interest.
Finally, don’t worry about competing on the scale of mass production.
“You have mass products that are both boring and the same,” Louis said. “And we just simply can't compete with mass products, because they don't pay in the same battlefield.”
To differentiate successfully, you need to be strategic. You can’t just aim to be different for the sake of being different.
Fitting in is overrated
Louis described a time in his life when he tried to fit in - and it failed miserably because it just wasn’t authentic.
“I created a marketing agency years ago and I bought this beautiful three piece suit,” Louis said.
“I took those very cheesy pictures in the city center of Dublin, Ireland, because I thought that that's what people expected of me to be a marketing consultant.
You need to wear a three-piece suit and you need to look boring and very serious. And that was a big mistake of mine.”
It was this epiphany that led Louis to try to stand out, even before the concept of differentiation was a hot topic.
He realized that just fitting in with the crowd wasn’t going to work for him. And he suspected that it wouldn’t work well for other small brands, too.
“Realizing my mistakes, I've done a few things, including launching a contrarian marketing podcast called Everyone Hates Marketers,” Louis said.
With no ads and over 1 million downloads, it’s clear that Louis is onto something good.
Without further ado, we’ll walk through the lessons Louis learned in five steps.
Step #1: Get rid of your self-limiting beliefs
The roadblocks to differentiating exist in your mind. It might sound a bit sci-fi, but our minds play tricks on us that prevent us from taking risks and standing out.
The voice in your head might caution you against standing out.
It’s too risky. It will go wrong. It will fail miserably.
But the truth is, you’ll have a greater chance of failing from a product marketing standpoint if you don’t differentiate.
“There's so much clutter online, so much going on. If you don't take some risk, it's going to be extremely risky for you. So standing out is not risky. Not standing out is risky,” said Louis.
You can’t let yourself fall into the trap of creating average products for average people, just because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Scientifically, Louis said that it goes back to our primal hunter-gatherer mindset.
Historically, people needed to stick together for safety. You didn’t want to be the caveperson that wandered out into the forest alone.
While that type of fear may be coded into our DNA, we can’t let it control us when it comes to modern day business decisions.
“If you want to be noticed, if you want to make sure that you sell your product or service, you're going to have to stick your head out and try new things,” Louis said.
“And so it's not about everyone else is doing it this way, and therefore we must follow them. It's everyone that says do it this way. Therefore, we must do something different.”
Another self-limiting belief that Louis sees people fall prey to keeping their focus too broad.
As humans, we worry that if we look in one direction, we’ll miss out in the opportunities coming from the other direction.
But in this case, some degree of focus is valuable.
From a marketing standpoint, trying to target everyone in the world, for any type of service, means that you’ll miss the value that comes from building expertise.
From a customer standpoint, too much choice and too little focus quickly leaves them overwhelmed.
“From the customer standpoint, the more choice available to them in front of them, the less happy they are going to be about their final choice,” Louis said.
“When people would have so many products to pick from in the same category and they're all the same, they're gonna feel less happy about the ultimate choice that they make.
And instead, if you are the only choice in that category, if you do this thing very well for this particular segment, they are going to feel happier.”
To sum up Step #1, when it comes to differentiating, it’s time to free your mind.
Step #2: Define your minimum viable market
In order to focus on the pursuit of market expertise and happy customers as discussed above, you must identify your minimum viable market.
While many brands hesitate to do this, Louis maintains that it’s necessary for success.
It goes back to the idea that the only thing to fear is fear itself.
“Oh, we might lose out on making more money. If you pick a very small market, we are not going to make ends meet,” Louis quotes brands as often saying.
“Minimum viable means it's small enough for you to really obsess over and to own, but it's big enough for you to make money out of.”
Identifying your minimum viable market doesn’t mean picking a small pond; it means making calculating choices about the perfectly sized lake you want to live in as a brand.
How people make decisions
Louis pointed to another part of our brain that influences these decisions: the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).
Simply put, it’s the part of our brain that assigns value based on our goals and rewards.
Ultimately, our behavior as humans is driven by the difference between our actual physical/mental state and our desired state.
As marketers, we need to help customers fight against their anxieties and existing habits in order to help them get where they want to go.
You can picture it like climbing up a hill, as pictured below.
“Your job as a marketer, as a creator, as an entrepreneur, is simply to make the move into that hill,” said Louis. “You want to make sure that you stand out.”
Louis recommends identifying customers based on four criteria. And no, the first criteria is not the amount of money those customers can potentially help you make.
The four criteria are:
First, joy: “How much are you hanging out with them? How much are you talking to them? How much [are] you participating in the same events as them?” Louis asked.
Next access: “Do you have access to them? This might sound like a silly question, but you actually have a way to reach out to them.”
Maybe you have friends or contacts in the industry you hope to break into, or other means of customer access.
Third, pain: “Do they have a big pain, the big pain you want to solve? A big pain that is waiting to do something about it?” asked Lous.
Finally, profit: “Do they make money for you? If you have current customers, are they able to pay?”
While many brands put profit first, Louis intentionally chooses to list it last.
Together, the answers to these questions should help you zero in on who your best customers are.
Talking to customers
Identifying your target customer is not enough. You need some on-the-ground research. In other words, you need to talk to them.
Louis gave the challenge of talking to three customers, the way a journalist would. “Talk to at the very least three of your customers, and to act like a journalist,” he said.
“Meaning I'm not trying to sell them anything. You're trying to just listen and hear their issues.”
What if you don’t have any customers yet?
Pick the brains of your competitors' customers.
Find brands offering alternative solutions to the one you are considering, in roughly the same market category.
Then, talk to their customers by asking questions like:
- What happened the day you thought “I need to solve X problem”?
- How did you go about researching solutions?
- What solutions did you consider?
- What made you confident in your choice, versus other options?
- What is the #1 thing you can do differently, now that you have the product?
- What is the #1 thing you hate the most about the industry/category?
- Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“It really helps you to engineer something that is different,” said Louis.
“Your goal is to go to the edge of the map, meaning you don't want to pick a segment that is just average. They don't really care. They don't really love you. They don't really know. You want to go to the edge of the map.”
Looking beyond demographics
Finding a target customer group doesn’t necessarily mean you decide to target a specific demographic.
Your audience may not be 2-40 year-olds in the United States. It means finding people who suffer from the same problem.
Whatever the problem may be, Louis says your ideal customer is thinking about it often.
“It means speaking to people who stay literally awake at night, staring at the ceiling because they suffer from the problem you solve,” said Louis.
“It means people who want to reach their goals so much, they want to go to the top of that hill so much, that they are begging almost for a solution like yours.”
Once your customer outreach gives you the confidence that you have found those people, stick with them. Stay the course, and don’t flip flop between markets.
Step #3: Identify your status quo to mobilize people
When your goal is to be radically different, you can frame the status quo as the “enemy.”
The status quo is something that is not working for people. And drawing attention to what is not working will soon draw attention to your solution.
Louis likened it to a conspiracy theory.
“Conspiracy theories and marketers and creators have something common. They seek a kind of an enemy outside in the world so that they understand the world in a better way, right?” he said.
“You want to give comfort to your customers by pointing at an enemy, a status quo that they can understand that causes the pain that they're feeling.”
When he worked for Hotjar, the status quo that Louis’ team identified was traditional web analytics tools.
While such tools help analyze traffic data, they don't tell you what users really do on your website.
Instead of framing the enemy as a competitor, which would have been difficult, Hotjar framed the enemy as the current status quo analytics solutions.
“Your status quo is rarely your direct competitor. It's the thing they do instead of using you.
When you don’t call out competitors by name, you also serve to make yourself less threatening.
As Louis said, you should organize your message so that you “hate the game, not the player.”
Step #4: Engineer your radical differentiation
Now that you have your target market, target customers, and target “enemy” identified, it’s time for the fun part - engineering your radical differentiation.
This comes in the form of creating a simple statement:
The only [category] that [provides value] for [market].
In other words, you need to come up with an elevator pitch for how you help solve a problem or achieve a goal for your specific minimum viable market.
“The intersection of the three things is what matters,” said Louis. “And when you change one, you change the rest.
When you change a category, you change the value you provide, you change potentially the market. So it's a cycle that you need to go through quite regularly.”
Keep it simple
While some brands focus on adding services and features constantly, Louis argues for radical differentiation to work, you need to keep things streamlined.
“We must remove anything that doesn't elevate what customers already love about you. We must relentlessly be removing stuff. We must remove stuff that people consider to be cliches that they hate.”
If you do add to your product, do so carefully. If those additions serve to further alleviate their biggest pain, it makes sense to do so.
If additions will obscure your focus on the customer pain, they should be ignored.
A real world example of radical differentiation comes from recent French politics.
Several years ago, a new candidate went from being completely unknown to being the current president of France.
He didn’t align himself with the right or the left. Instead, he removed all the career politicians from his party, and almost all of the corporate donors.
This strategy helped him to rise above the traditional “right versus left” debate and become the winning candidate.
Step #5: Jolt people into action
Now that you have your plan of attack, it’s time to use it to jolt people into action.
People are accustomed to making decisions based on existing habits or values. Your job is to help them break out of those patterns and see different options as desirable.
“We need as marketers, creatives, entrepreneurs, to chase people outside of their habits,” said Louis.
“Your job is really to fight against this habit inertia pulling them into where they currently are, and to fight against this anxiety that they are feeling right now about potentially trying a new solution.”
Louis offered three tips for breaking through customers’ existing decision-making processes.
- Radical clarity: use your customers’ words and simplify your message
- Radical generosity: share everything you know, for free
- Radical confidence: challenge the status quo with authority
While it takes courage to pursue a radically different path, it works.
If you take the time to figure out who your customers are, what they need, and present it in a compelling way, radical success is within your reach.
You can watch Louis's presentation about the topic here.