When Boring is Good

Mark Ballett is an ecommerce expert with more than 25 years’ experience helping retailers to grow and evolve. He was Supply Director of Cable & Wireless, and CEO of several telecoms companies at the beginning of the internet era, played a leading role in an £80M broadband start up, as well as leading Norweb Telecom's growth from £10M to £100m turnover.

“The problem with my business is that we just sell the same thing as our competitors. We don’t have a USP,” I am told quite often.

In response, I say they need to think two things: ‘niche’ and ‘brand’. We’ll save ‘niche’ for another blog but let’s look here at the tremendous differentiating potential of a brand.

I once ran a telecoms company during the telecoms revolution of the 1990s. We had been around for a while and had a pretty boring brand. New entrants were springing up all around us creating rather exotic brands to get attention and to demonstrate they were in touch with the zeitgeist.

We did, in fact, think of copying them but quickly realised that being boring was an advantage with our customer group, most professional firms, who valued security and dependability rather than novelty. They thought being boring was a strength not a weakness.

Brands are important because they allow you to differentiate emotionally. All brands have both a functional and an emotional component. The functional bit is what you sell and, yes, it can be a very similar product or service to what your competitor sells, buy how you sell it and what the customer thinks of you is all a question of emotion.

Virgin, Jamie Oliver, the ex-bank manager I know who styles himself as ‘The Gentleman Plumber,’ all have brands that rely more on emotion than function to differentiate themselves and, just like my telecoms company, they all do it rather well.

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It doesn’t matter how ‘ordinary’ you think you are, if you are or have been successful, then there is almost certainly a group of potential customers who disagree.

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