What sets you apart from the competition?

Escaping the Competitive Herd — An ‘inside-out’ approach to positioning a brand.

Why do you always frequent this tired old Italian restaurant when there’s a hip new Italian right around the corner?

Why do you go broke to buy that brand’s latest phone when you know there are cheaper phones out there that do everything your ridiculously pricey phone can do?

Why do you avidly share the ideas of that blogger when there are better informed and more popular bloggers to follow?

Here’s the answer:

Even though we consider ourselves to be rational and open to choice, we don‘t make rational purchases or lifestyle decisions and we don’t want choice.

And the brands that inspire our often irrational love and often uncritical loyalty appeal to us at an emotional level.

They talk directly to the part of our brain that controls behaviour where our gut decisions are made.

Sure, other brands (and our friends) can give us all the facts and figures in the world, overkill features and benefits, but we often still say:

“Yeah, but it just doesn’t feel right.”


Again, because of biology.

Because the part of our brain that controls our decision-making doesn’t control language.

So as a brand, how do you go for the gut?

Let’s find your ‘Why’ ..

We are all competing.

Italian restaurant versus Italian restaurant.

Phone versus phone.

Blog post versus blog post.

What is it the secret magical gut-punching ingredient that gives one brand a shot at the title over another?

Because their ‘Why’, is expressed in things like:

  1. Beliefs
  2. Values

Are our why too.

Because their ‘Why’, is expressed in things like:

  1. Passions
  2. World views

Can be shared.

Because their ‘Why’, is expressed in things like:

  1. Hopes
  2. Dreams

They hit us squarely in the gut and enables us to feel that we are buying more than just a product or service.

Put simply and in big bold flashing lights:

We buy into brands that buy into us.

So what is your ‘Why’?

More specifically:

  1. Why did you decide to do this?
  2. What passions and obsessions and interests drove you here?
  3. Where did the game-changing idea come from?
  4. Who are the people (or books or ideas) that inspired you?
  5. What personal or professional event set you on this new journey?
  6. What is the one thing that differentiates your why from everyone else’s?
  7. Why should I care as passionately about your why as you do?
  8. Why should I want it to feel part of making it happen?

We all started somewhere.

We all have a backstory.

But be specific. Add as much real life warts-and-all dramatic detail as you can.


Because for people to buy into your dream they need more than ‘I had a dream’.

And this means putting a face to a ‘Why’ too.

Now let’s give your why a face.

Think Virgin, think Branson.

Think Apple, Jobs.

I know, easy one.

But even if you fancy a vegetarian sausage sarnie for supper, you still might make the mental leap to Linda McCartney.

You might not go on to imagine what she looked like but you will probably know something about her values and her personal story and when coupled with the story of her brand this is often the difference you are looking to capitalise on with your own brand story.

And this isn’t rocket science.

Brands are people.

And particularly in the gig economy, people buy people.

So if you and your brand story can be entwined with your corporate story, don’t shy away from making that leap easy.

Remember too that your why isn’t just aimed at your customers.

It is also one of the best ways to connect emotionally with employees.

Even if your brand will only ever employ a handful of people or makes less than inspirational products or services, your employees will feel more attracted to and stay more loyal to a brand with an inspirational leader they can buy into.

And the best way of inspiring them is by articulating your ‘Why’ story.

Now it’s time to turn your ‘Why’ into a how and a what.

Your ‘Why’ is the starting point for articulating the what and how and when and where.

Simon Sinek[4] created a neat model called The Golden Circle to illustrate this.

Why, How, What

Here he placed the why in the centre, arguing that how you do what you do to realise your why should come next, with what you do the end result.

Brand positioning

What he is rightly arguing here is that how your business operates and interacts with customers, employees, even society as a whole, stem from the values and goals expressed in your ‘Why’.

Equally, by nailing the why everything else including the look and feel of the design, the tone-of-voice and style of the content, even the typeface you chose as the ‘face’ of your brand should follow naturally from the reason for being expressed by your ‘Why’.

Let’s see some examples.

The first is by Apple:


Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently.


The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.


We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

Apple knows that a lot of people will buy into a brand who deliberately tries to change and disrupt things.

They know that we like to back brands (and people) who are willing to do things we are too afraid or simply unable to do.

They know that this separates them out from the rest of the field.

If the end result also happens to be a great offer, this is a win-win-win.

And I hold my hand up.

I’m the proud owner of an Apple desktop, Iphone, Ipad and a laptop.

But crucially – and this is the point here — I’ve also actively followed the rollercoaster Apple story as closely as I’ve monitored the release dates of their latest products.

What Apple does and how they do it are one story.

But ‘Why’ they do it is why I follow that story and why I want it to have a happy ending.

To end this post, here’s a link to my Why, How & What:

So go find your ‘Why’, and use that as the basis of describing how you operate and what you sell.

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A “bad” marketing strategy will fail at all the above, rapidly burn through your marketing budget, and provide little return on investment.

A "good" marketing strategy will help you find new clients, help them see the world through a “better” lens, then quickly turn those prospects into new appointments.
Stephen Shaw. Founder of An Artful Science.
I Believe


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