Quick, name a car insurance company. If the first thing you thought of was a certain company whose mascot is a computer-animated talking gecko, you’re probably not crazy.
Why? Two reasons: (1) Unusual images tend to stick in the brain. Talking geckos definitely qualify as a little out there. (2) The word “gecko” is very similar to the name of the company. This second part is key—lots of advertisers do plenty of weird, memorable advertising, but the audience forgets what’s being advertised. They remember the ad, but not the product. But in this case, simple word association is what makes it work. If you can remember a talking lizard, then you probably remember that it’s called a “gecko,” and then it’s a half-step to the company name, and the next thing you know, you’re dialing their 1-800 number. And somewhere, an advertising exec made a dump truck of money for thinking that up.
In case you haven’t noticed, advertising has gotten real weird over the last few years, as companies have struggled to stand out from one another. Repeated one-upmanship has created an arms race for the minds and memories of potential customers.
That’s the whole point: to be remembered. Marketing is memory.
Think back. Who are the people who stand out in your memory? The ones who you could pick out of a crowd and call by name, even decades later? Chances are, there’s some particular characteristic that makes them really stand out. Really funny, really smart, really tall, really attractive, or maybe they were just plain strange and only ate things that were orange-colored. But something made them stick out from the rest of the crowd.
So now turn the microscope on yourself. What makes you stick out? If a customer is shopping their business dollars around to a number of companies, when they meet you face to face, what is it about you that will distinguish you from everybody else?
To create a cult of personality, first you’ve got to cultivate your personality. A good salesman doesn’t necessarily have a slick sale. It may just be that they’re good at selling themselves. If they make you laugh, or impress you, or just have that aura of trustworthiness or competence that sucks you in, then you’ll buy whatever it is they’re selling.
Sometimes, the thing that makes you stand out is just being right. Say you’re getting a tune up on your car and your mechanic tells you, “Hey, it’s not a big problem now, but in six months your car is gonna start losing power when you’re accelerating, and the engine’ll sputter at high speed, and that’s because your fuel pump is on its way out.” Six months down the line, when your car starts doing exactly what he said it would, are you going to take your car to him, or to another mechanic? Survey sayyyyyyssss… probably the guy who called it right ahead of time.
We’ve gotten a lot of business simply by forecasting the bad weather a prospective client was going to run into. From what they described, we could tell that they were eventually going to run into a very specific, much larger problem. But maybe the necessary fix was a little too expensive, or they had other priorities at the moment. We didn’t do a hard sell or put pressure on them to open their wallets. We simply described what the issue would look like in detail, how the problem would play out, and wished them well and made ourselves available if they needed more help. And a few weeks or months later, we get a phone call.
Branding and advertising and getting the word out, all of it is simply about being remembered. Being on the tip of somebody’s tongue. Maybe you do that by looking like Dennis Rodman, or having a talking gecko as a spokeslizard, or only eating orange-colored foods, or simply by being right six months ahead of time.
Being good at what you do isn’t enough. What makes you—your business, and you yourself—memorable? If you can figure that out, and emphasize it, that’ll put you head and shoulders above the competition.