I’ve always had a penchant for independent thinkers and doers. I learn from them. I support them, and I try to emulate them. And I encourage my clients to do the same. Whether you are a real estate agent, a manufacturer, an insurance agent, a sole proprietor or a manager of a team within a large organization, flexing your independent muscle can be good for your brand’s soul.
Too many brands still look to their immediate rights and lefts and offer something to their customers that looks slightly “in between” what the competitive playing field already offers. In my strategic work with clients, I encourage brands to look up and outside of their industries to see what they can learn and apply from other fields. From companies as varied as the Sundance Film Festival to micro-lender Kiva to independent record labels to the hundreds of moms and pops in every category imaginable (electricians, churches, hair salons, farmer’s markets), I’ve observed that brands that wave their own flags of independence have the courage to do three things differently. They go against the industry grain, maintain a laser-like focus and strategically engage the customer in all they all do.
1. Go Against the Grain
Rhonda Brennan is a very successful independent Realtor in Colorado. As owner of Mountain Desert Realty, she has waved her flag of independence in this oversaturated real estate market for more than a decade. Up against such national heavyweights as Century 21, RE/MAX and Coldwell Banker, Brennan believes that going against the grain and overdelivering on client service are the secrets to her brand’s uniqueness.
“One of the best things I offer each of my clients is a housewarming party after closing,” she explains. “I do it all: prepare and mail invitations, even catering and hosting the party. My clients love ‘showing off’ their new home and having their family and friends share the celebration with them. I take photos during the party and share them with my clients and their guests (when I send them a thank-you for attending and helping my client celebrate such a wonderful occasion). These personal touch parties are a huge success. I get a rave ‘review’ each and every time I do this. It is so much fun for everyone … and a great way to create new relationships for my business.”
2. Intentional Focus
Writers know just how cutthroat the publishing world can be. The best-seller lists are dominated by three or four famous last names all guaranteeing their publishers millions of sales (both in dollars and units). Promising new authors can barely get a publisher’s attention, and if they are indeed lucky enough to land publishing contracts, they then must fight for very limited advertising dollars and promotional help.
One publishing company’s imprint plays the game differently by adopting a distinct, laser-like focus. TWELVE, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group, aims to publish only one book a month, for a total of 12 each year. Upon selecting each title “by authors who have a unique perspective and compelling authority,” TWELVE decides the book will receive a month-long launch and a national publicity campaign, as well as be promoted even as a paperback.
According to TWELVE’s Web site, of the 30 hardcover books the imprint has published, 15 have gone on to become New York Times best-sellers.
3. Strategic Customer Engagement
Deb Downing is the creator and manufacturer of gourmet specialty food company Gotta’ Love It Inc. Downing’s passion for connecting customers with her products is contagious and what sets her apart from others in another saturated product category.
Andrea Syverson is the founder and president of creative branding and merchandising consultancy IER Partners. For 20+ years, Andrea’s joy has been inspiring clients with innovative approaches to branding, product development and creative messaging. She’s the author of two books about brand building and creating customer-centric products that enhance brands: BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants and ThinkAbout: 77 Creative Prompts for Innovators. You may reach her at email@example.com.