It's no secret there are a lot of people out there doing what you do. It's harder than ever to differentiate yourself from the competition.
As owner of a marketing agency, Kan Huang works every day with his clients to help them stand out from the crowd. In this episode, he and James discuss what works, what's passe, and how you can make yourself seen in a saturated market.
01:36 – Keeping up with change. In a constantly shifting environment, innovation is key to success.
04:04 – The features versus benefits/brand argument. It’s not the features that make a product stand out.
06:16 – Where story really makes an impact. An attention grabbing narrative builds interest in the brand.
08:16 – The mistake of feature-dumping. Do this and you lose your audience.
09:21 – The guys who win at storytelling. Some people know the power of a good story.
11:10 – It’s about building affinity. These brands wouldn’t have stood out otherwise.
14:45 – Suppose you’re not a huge company? The little guys still have a chance.
16:53 – Can you create an epiphany? Take a page out of Russel Brunson’s book.
19:58 – When you don’t want to go on camera. Is there hope for the shy guy?
21:56 – What if you are the brand? Consider the possibilities of personality branding.
25:01 – Why there’s nothing better now than marketing videos. Kill several birds with one stone.
27:29 – Closing thoughts on standing out. Here are some things worth taking away.
With so many options out there, and with the internet bringing them all to the threshold of our awareness, the age-old challenge of differentiation has become even more challenging. How can you hope to stand out amidst the sea of competition?
Kan Huang runs a marketing agency and deals with this question on a regular basis. His clients count on him to get them noticed. More people are coming to the party that is online business, and as James puts it, we can’t just be part of the noise anymore.
Keeping up with change
When James started podcasting a decade ago, the medium was new and not many were doing it. He easily got into the top 10.
As he kept doing it, many others came and went. He had to upgrade – better sound, better backdrops, better guests, better questions. It was a constantly changing landscape he had to navigate.
“Running your businesses comes down to two things – marketing and innovation.”
When James quit his job, he’d made a commitment to himself based on something Peter Drucker said. And that was, the way you run your business is going to come down to two things – marketing and innovation.
This episode is about both. Kan has his agency, and James is a marketer. And as their environment has shifted, they’ve had to adjust. So they have insights to offer on staying visible in a field that never stops changing.
The features versus benefits/brand argument
Kan starts off with the features versus benefits argument, which is that a lot of business owners and marketers are mainly focused on marketing their features. These are the things like, Oh, we’ve had decades of experience, or we’re certified, or we’re qualified in this aspect, or we’re insured.
The problem with this is that most things don’t remain static. Sooner or later a challenger may arrive who’s new and innovative, doing things differently and better.
Now suppose you were to focus on branding, storytelling, building your reputation, your character and your personality. Human civilization was built on storytelling – people would tell stories around the campfire and build a following that way. And that hasn’t changed. It’s just the platforms we use that are forever changing. It used to be TV and radio; now it’s, obviously, social media, YouTube, maybe TikTok.
Differentiating around a story, about the reason you do business, says Kan, is something harder to compete with. It’s a moat. And it’s steering away from the sea of cookie cutter sameness in which it’s hard to stick out.
Where story really makes an impact
Coming from Mercedes-Benz, James recalls having to compete with the people a 10-minute drive away who could sell the exact same product. So they had develop the history of how they became a dealer, and what it meant to be a client of their business versus the other dealers. They had to use stories a lot.
Fortunately, the brand had an interesting backstory, about two men inventing combustion engine vehicles and Karl Jellinek who imported them into America, and whose daughter was named Mercedes.
And James thinks, when people buy a Mercedes-Benz, there’s definitely a narrative in their mind about what that means at their juncture in life.
The mistake of feature-dumping
Early in his career, James listened to audio cassettes on selling. And as early as then, they warned about the danger of feature-dumping.
A lot of people do this when they sell physical products – It does this, it does that. What they miss is the point of why someone would want it, and what result they’re looking for.
If you want examples in the online world, you can look at many software companies, says Kan. They’re well-known for pushing the seamless API integrations, the SSL certification that makes them super secure – stuff people don’t really care about.
Hardware companies too, adds James. All those gigabytes and hertz and processors.
The guys who win at storytelling
Now who does storytelling? Apple immediately springs to mind.
Kan is a big fan of YouTubers. Ryan Serhant is one, and considered the most well-known real estate agent in the world. He does a daily or weekly vlog, taking about his philosophy and hw he runs businesses. He does walkthroughs of luxurious properties in and around the US. He’s basically a personality, and off the back of that, with his personal branding and storytelling, been able to monetize it in very different ways.
He has an online selling course, Sell It Like Serhant. There’s obviously his real estate brokerage, which is where he actually transacts property, and a range of other income sources. No doubt he monetizes his YouTube channel as well.
It sounds like Grant Cardone, says James. He uses stories around his jet and his luxury vehicles. And he’s built a very strong tribe, which puts James in mind of the campfire Kan mentioned. He’d been talking to a client who was torn between hiring an intern or getting someone full time.
With interns, James said, it’s like having to teach them a song every time they come to the fire. Full timers know the song by heart. You can have them singing Kumbaya in a heartbeat.
It’s about building affinity
Now what if your brand isn’t special, asks James? What if you don’t have an interesting story? Should you splurge on a logo?
For someone who spends a lot of time discussing brand with people, Kan doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on name. With his own company, Social Wave, he says they spent maybe 20 minutes deciding what to call it, and another 10 minutes designing the logo.
It’s less about the brand itself and more about affinity. Apple or Google wouldn’t mean anything if they weren’t household names. What’s really important is build that following and to create content and to tell stories, so that people have an affinity with the brand.
The name is arbitrary, says Kan. The design is arbitrary. That can evolve. How many times have you seen big businesses rebrand themselves, come up with new logos?
It’s true, James says. He remembers hearing Seth Godin talk about some of those short brandable names. They’re harder to get off the ground, but once they’re going, everyone knows them. Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Google – these are brand names that mean nothing unless you know the story and have context.
“When your name becomes a verb you know you’ve made it.”
Even Uber, puts in Kan. And in Silicon Valley, the big thing is, when your name becomes a verb, that’s when you know you’ve made it.
Suppose you’re not a huge company?
James and Kan have been naming some big corporate multinationals. And Kan knows James has a lot of budget-conscious listeners, with finite resources to invest into building a brand. If they were to compete with the giants and overlap on features, they’d lose. The big guys would outspend them, or if they were a real threat, simply buy them out.
Wouldn’t that be ideal? quips James. Get it up in their grill so they’ll have to buy you to get rid of you.
Yes, he’s talked about design and branding and storytelling on the show many times, and people are getting the hang of it. But he gets Kan’s message: don’t drive onto the freeway and stare down a semi-trailer, because they’ll flatten you. You’ve got to find your own lane to play in, where you won’t get squashed. But you can still travel.
That’s right, says Kan. It’s like taking on a sumo wrestler. He may be slow, but eventually he’ll corner you.
So play in the kind of agile space; take advantage of speed, and nimbleness to compete. That’s where smaller operators tend to win.
And Kan always says to his clients, it’s not so much about the tactics, like, which platform should I be on? How frequently should I post? What time is the best time to post?
Instead, he talks about three pillars or themes of content or storytelling you should be considering:
Can you create an epiphany?
Those three things, done with a storytelling manner, can help you differentiate big time in your strategy. And someone who does this really well is Russell Brunson from ClickFunnels. He’s almost templatized this, and actually teaches people how to do it, what he calls his epiphany bridge.
“With every lesson or every value or story that you tell, you’ve got to have an epiphany.”
He says that with every lesson or every value or story that you tell, you’ve got to have an epiphany, like a moment, a drop of the hat, something that you realized as context to be able to make a conclusion.
If you follow that methodology in your content creation and your marketing, you will be able to press the right buttons with your audience and get them do what you want them to do, whether it’s to buy your course, sign up for your services, or buy your product.
Who does this well? Besides Russell, YouTubers like Ryan Serhant. Guys like Gary Vee.
One of Gary Vee’s things, says James, is he just documents. Share your journey, he urges. Never mind the place or the quality of your gear. Just document, and people will follow you on that journey.
Big time, says Kan. A lot of influencers are accidental businesses that started out just documenting and having fun with the camera.
So he thinks the common theme is, don’t worry too much about having a perfect image. When you have the opportunity, capture what you can, and in turn, turn that into content, because part of it is people enjoying the voyeuristic nature of consuming content. And they feel like they connect with you, and they know you. So when they actually switch from non-buying mode to buying mode, you’ll be front of mind.
When you don’t want to go on camera
What about the camera-shy? The people who want to operate their business from the background?
Kan is frank: most businesses these days rely on a personal brand first, before the company. People want to actually connect with people on a personal level. So if you’re shy or don’t want to do it, you can’t expect necessarily that you’ll be able to market properly.
We’re at a point where it’s crucial now to have a level of transparency. Not that you need to tell everything that happens to you, but there needs to be some snippet or bite-sized piece of your life or your business that you can share for people to actually connect with you.
You don’t have to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets. But you are required to a certain degree to share, whether it’s your expertise, whether it’s your opinion about something, something that adds value to your audience as well. And if you’re not comfortable with it, perhaps you have a team member who might be more at ease.
Of course, if that team member moves on to somewhere else, they take the brand with them. So it’s super important to understand where the pros and cons are, says Kan, because he doesn’t think there’s a perfect solution. You have to have the self-awareness to understand what’s good for you and what you’re willing to take on.
What if you are the brand?
Now James and Kan are in similar positions. James has SuperFastBusiness; Kan has Social Wave. How do they dial the mix between the person and the brand?
From a front-end marketing perspective, both have their own podcasts and appear on other people’s shows. They both do their own kind of PR work, much like Steve Jobs, who in a lot of ways was synonymous with Apple.
And Pixar, says James.
As to a certain degree, Jeff Bezos is Amazon and Elon Musk is Tesla.
James thinks he’s underplayed his personal brand, though. One of his clients sent him a video telling him he was the greatest secret ever. He does great stuff, gets amazing results, helps people. But he’s still very underground.
An option on the table is maybe, one day, building more of the personal brand and not the business brand, and transferring that value of building sellable assets through to his partners, at least, with their brands.
Even a business coach like James, so far down the track, is constantly reviewing and assessing the changing landscape. He’s seen quite a few people build personal brands much, much bigger than he has, in much less time than he’s been around. And it does make him at least ponder the possibilities.
But on the other hand, he has a relatively private life and does his own thing in the background. So you get to dial that mix. But it sounds like Kan is saying, if you’re up for it, roll up the sleeves and get more personal with your brand, even if it’s a business name.
It goes back to self-awareness, says Kan. You’ve got to understand what it is you want. What’s the end in mind? What sort of lifestyle? How many hours do you want to work? Do you want the brand tethered to you? Are you planning on selling the business at a certain stage? Those are the things to understand.
Why there’s nothing better now than video
For listeners who want to focus on differentiating themselves and what they do, Kan doesn’t think anything right now can beat video. And he is biased, because he does a video marketing strategy and a video marketing agency.
with a video, you can share your experiences once you get your messaging all dialed in. And the repurposing potential of video to get your message across all the platforms is highly leveraged. You could rip out the audio, turn it into a podcast; you could do graphics and quote cards out of that; you could write an article, repurpose that into show notes for your podcast as well.
It’s just about tweaking and figuring out what works best and which channels tend to work best for you. And ultimately, if your messaging is correct, and you’ve got the system and the engine built and the backend to produce this content on a regular basis, you will naturally win with marketing.
How an agency like Social Wave can help
So if you want to stand out against your competitors and win in a saturated environment, you just get Social Wave to do all your video marketing stuff, says James.
“It’s really difficult to read the label from the inside of the jar.”
You could, says Kan. That’s what they basically do. A lot of their clients are time-poor. And they also strategically need someone to give them guidance and clarity. As business owners, he and James understand that sometimes it’s difficult to read the label from the inside of the jar.
But when you have someone third party come in, who can answer some of the basic questions and first principles, they can actually diagnose what it is you need to do to differentiate yourself.
Once Kan and his team have established the need and the strategy, it’s a matter of whether the client would like them to handle the content production as well. Some people, of course, have their own internal teams who can do that.
Closing thoughts on standing out
So in summary:
Definitely. The biggest variable of success, which he’s seeing now across the data, across 30 or 40 clients they’re servicing, is actually the messaging, it’s the storytelling. It’s not so much about the production quality anymore.
It’s no longer about creating that Super Bowl commercial, that big, 30-minute TV spot. And it’s more about a consistency and a volume game at a decent quality.
And he thinks marketing is made out to be a lot more complex than it is. It’s actually quite simple. It’s an inherent understanding, or having a really deep level of empathy, of understanding how people actually make decisions. And if you’re selling something, how they actually buy what you have to sell.
So if you understand where they go first, what areas they go to to find and research information, what their pain points are, what are the things they need to know, and what are the things they are always asking themselves and people to help them with, and if you map your content to do that, you will be able to differentiate.
So super important is to have a real obsession with your customers. That’s fundamental when it comes to marketing.
Kan will be back – if you have questions you’d like addressed on future episodes, just reply to any of James’s emails. And if you’d like help with your marketing, look up Kan at socialwave.com.au.
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