Why Brand Differentiation Matters More Than Ever: Peep Laja

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In an ultra-competitive marketplace, brand differentiation can be the difference between attracting customers and going out of business.

In this episode of Marketing Spark, Peep Laja talks about why brand differentiation matters and why companies are afraid to stand apart from the crowd.

He also looks at the growing attraction of outsourcing marketing, something Peep describes as "vendor management". 

You're listening to marketing spark, the podcast that delivers insight, tools and tips from marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches in twenty minutes or less. I've known PEP Liya for about a decade, back to when I was organizing a marketing conference in Toronto cap as the founder and principle of cxl in Austin, Texas. Welcome to marketing spark, PAP, but hey, thanks for having me. Let's start with CXL. Since we've known each other, the company has evolved and change and become a multi faceted organization. I'll put you on the spot. What's the elevator pitch for cxl? It stands for two things right now, but we're spending one of these things out, so my pitch were six. So Institute is that this is where you come learn from the world class practitioners on how to do data driven marketing. And what about the other parts of the organization? Well, we also have a conversion optimization agency, CXL agency. We're spinning it off as its own separate brand because it's very hard to beat two things in somebody's mind. So we're going to just down spin it off, but CXL agency is is the company actually started the conversion optimization agency, where we work with meet to large enterprises, helping them to convert more customers. You spend a lot of time on linkedin and twitter, like a lot of us do these days. is as someone who's been involved in the marketing landscape for many years, what's your taken a how brands are approaching marketing, given the fact that many of them can't meet facetoface? There's no conferences, there's no meetups. What do you think they're doing these days? Are they doing? Is there anything new and interesting, or are they just going back to the fundamentals? I think for the most part companies are doing what they been doing for a long time. You know, s Seo and content marketing still works for us at cxl it's ninety five percent of money...

...is all inboard marketing, mainly, mainly through content. Of course, is content with we've written over the past ten years. It's not like it's something we need last week. So I think that's still working. Paper Click is still working for some companies. Not Us actually, because you know, cost per click is is getting higher and higher, and and so also it's some products are better fit than otters. I think the marketing fundamentals is still as they are, but there is one thing that is happening, I think, which is that brand as a differentiation is becoming more and more important, and mainly because the market saturation and nudge to sheer number of competition. You know, like name a company and they have like one hundred other companies doing the exact same thing and often there's no, you know, actual functional difference. It's all about a brand, brand difference. And you know, you brought up twitter and Linkedin and for for bdb brands, that's increasingly we're brand building is happening, and not not through not through the like the official handle of the company, but through the people who work at the companies. You know, I've been talking about brand positioning and differentiation and storytelling for the last few years. At times it feels like a don keyhote kind of exercise tilted against windmills, because I understand the value of differentiation and brand positioning, but many companies have sort of took it for granted and they focus more on tactical execution. How many posts can we create, how many videos can we make? Do you think this is a the pendulum miss swinging back to differentiation and brand positioning because of the current marketing landscape? I do think it's having a moment. It's having a moment, you know, like we have many, many Niche de Liberties popping up, like April Dunford with her excellent book compositioning like...

...she's making making rounds. The message is getting increasingly heard, companies are increasingly thinking about it, and also the fact that, you know, let's let's look at the marketing technology of landscape. In eight years it has grown like fivezero percent in there more than like Eightzero more tech tools out there. So if you're an email marketing software maybe you know startup, just getting getting studied. Now you just cannot win by doing the same things, by like Oh, let's write a couple of block posts on like well the right good subject lines and we'll run some PPC ads. You just doesn't work. You know, you just people don't. People have very limited consideration sets and so if you want to get into their considerations set, differentiation is kind of a must have. So the question is, how do companies differentiate themselves? Like I have said for many years that your competitors. They talk like you, they walk like you, they have the same benefits and features and probably the same pricing. So it's slightly different versions of a flavor of ice cream. How do you stand apart? How do you differentiate your brand when you've got dozens of, not hundreds, of competitors who walk the same and talk the same? Yeah, well, I think you're absolutely right. And then the why that is is it's because real differentiation is hard, because it's not enough just to be just a little different, be another flavor. I mean differentiation needs to be in big enough to tell the decision in your in your favor. So and and then it's the radical part of a differentiation that's hard for most, and I think a lot of it is. It's because it's scary to be different. You know, it's tempting to be a safe and boring company, and you say safe and boring stuff because it's indefensive and thus nobody will...

...call you out, you won't get criticized, you won't get hit, you just lick everybody else. But of course the problem is that nobody will care either. So it's a double edited sword. So how do you differentiation? And it's difficult. You know, there's the old classic differentiate or die, which is now like thirty years old or something. So I think a lot of the things that were saved thirty years ago are still valid today, like things like, you know, be first, or attribute leadership, like you focus in on just one particular aspect, like when WP engined, the hosting company, launched, like they were like speed, you know, like attributely. We're all about speed. Now they're of course, you know, so many clones for WP engine that I using the exact same argument. Where the fast wordpress hosting? Now the WP engine is, of course, large enough. Often they have big market share. It's listening. Differentiation is much less important to them because, you know, market penetration, market share, is by far the most important thing. If people know you, it's much easier for you. So differentiation is first and foremost important for smaller companies that don't have big, big market share. And I think every everyone should invest in a customer experience as a differentiate share, because it's just easy to do easy to be different through customer experience. Most companies are doing the bare minimum and to brand. And by brand, of course it means that you have certain set of values that you stand for. You know, you attract a group of people and at the same time you repel another group quensciously, and that means that you need to be polarizing. In people feel uncomfortable polarizing people. I like the idea that you mentioned, the fact that it's easy to be safe and boring, because I think there's an analogy that if a herd decides to run over the side of a cliff, everybody decides that that's the best thing to do as well. So we all jump over the side of the cliff. At the end of the day that's not such a good thing.

But I'm curious about why marketers and companies are afraid to be different, to think out of the box, to really stand out in a way that maybe strike people as offensive or strikingly different. Is that just because of a lack of confidence, or there it's just the way that things have always been done? So that's the first part of the question. The second would be is it a necessary evil these days? And it maybe the evils the wrong word, but is it something that's necessary to differentiate and carve out of a competitive edge? I think one of the hardest thing to do is to be original. You know, very few of us are legit authentic original thinkers. You know, copying is easy. Being originally start it's just much easier to to just, you know, you see something and then you all, let's take that, but like ad something, you know, like let's be a little bit better. It's just what most I think. So the creativity is one one. One big part of it is just most people are not just able to imagine something that they haven't seen before. So that's one. Two is that differentiation is not just marketing, you know, I guess it's not like a line of copy right, because it's the whole DNA of the business. So that means that also CEO or the the senior leadership as a whole needs to be bought at. And you know, if the company is big enough and there's, you know, maybe a legal department than whose job is to you know, cover their ass, they'll be less interested in doing something more radical. If there are investors involved, doing something more radical might, you know, affect their finances, so they're, you know, more risk averse. So if you're if you're CEO, gets marketing and maybe it's bootstrapped or at least like a healthy confins full of money. Think you're more more likely to take some risks because ultimately it is it is a risk. Is Any strategy and differentiation is a strategy. Any strategy is a hypothesis. You know,...

...you might have good inputs, data inputs, a why the chosen path might work, but it's still a risk, it's still a gamble. It's an experiment and and and it's one that you need to play out over a long period of time, you know, maybe two years, two years of testing your your messaging. I think you're right, and I think I often tell clients that marketing in general as an experiment or hypothesis. You've got used the data, you use your market research, doct your customers, but at the end of the day you're putting something out there that you believe will work. But the only way to find out is actually to do it and see kind of see what kind of response you get, what kind of traction you get, what kind of conversions you get. I mean there's no certainty in marketing, and certainly so sure of the in sales. Curious about your take on how companies can take a better or different approach to marketing. Things like outsourcing and using consultants and agencies, because what I've seen post covid is a lot of brands have scale back on their internal marketing resources and now they've discovered that they still got to do marketing. You still got to make things happen. What's your take on using third party suppliers? HMM, in general, of my mindset has become more and more that the new game companies need to play is is a vendor management, you know, becoming a really good at vendor management, because if you think about what is it that you do as a company so and what's uniquely different? Where about your company where you have some competitive age, and that's mainly only about ten percent of what you do, because, like the content marketing style of writing articles and doing content ditribution, every company does that. Your Seo, every company does that. RUNNING PPC as, every company does that. You know, that's not you unique about you. So anything that is not unique about you is better outsourced.

Because I having employees is like is also a cost because like you need to manage them all their hand, make sure they're happy, think about their career goes. You know, like the whole talent management aspect of it. But then like if you, if you hire an agency, they are experts at that one thing. So maybe it's PPC, maybe it's content or, you know, messaging, whatever it is, they are doing that every single day. And then they take care of like upskilling and so on. And also the beautiful thing about agencies is that they work on so many diverse use cases and they've seen it all. You know, and I know because you know nine years of running a crow agency. Any company that comes in with their optimization challenge is like, we've seen it and we have a look library of like what works for this use case? You know this guy kind of company. So agencies, you know, obviously they're bad ones out there, but if you if you pick the right partner, I think that's it's the way to go. Also in these economically, let's say, turble and times, nobody likes to lay off people if times get tough, but it's getting rid of or pausing agencies is easy. It's not emotional, you know, it's like, okay, we just need to put this budget on on hold for an hour and with maybe we'll pick it up and things get better. So I'm all for it. As a consultant that conversation that we don't need you any more is painful, but it is a reality of the work that we do. If that's the case, then what kind of marketing resources should companies have internally? How do you have a team that is high value that it's not something you can that you necessarily want to get from a third party? You, I think, as a company, if you outsource bits off your marketing like, as I said, vendor management as a skill. So you, as I would say the marketing coordinator, hit a marketing at a company. You know the strategicals. You know like you know the customer the best, like who you're selling to, which you know main point you're addressing, and so on and so forth that the ages just don't know. So you you know the customer, you know your company, you know the competition and...

...where you fit in and you know the threat strategy off your company, how you're trying to compete, which game you playing and how you're going to win this game. Your Joel as an in house marketer is to then physically you're a you're like a capital allocator, you know, like every every employees a capital allocator, and same with agencies. So your job is ahead of marketing. Maybe is then to allocate the company's capital money budget also time, to the highest potential return. And so that's you. You coordinate all this third party expert I mean you can also obviously have in house people as well. I'm not saying don't hire anybody at I think it's just in many cases it's your better served by outsourcing activity. So vender management as a skill, ability to select and manage vendors, you know, like if if the in the past the skill was to ability to recruit, manage, retain and grow talent, marketing talent. Maybe you know. So now it's the same. What with Wunder management? One final question. As hard as it is to imagine what the marketing landscape is going to look like going forward, any thoughts about what marketing will look like in two thousand and twenty one? What will the smart companies be focused on? Well, technology is still rapidly growing and you know, technology is an enabler and amplifier. So a lot of the things that people were still doing manually is just going to be taken over by a machine learning because it's just way better at it. You know, like things like predictive analytic analytics is is going to go mainstream. Predictive analytics for everybody like no code. Predictive analytics is already here. You know, things like squark and so on, where you can just you upload all your email list and the list of companies that have bought from you and then you enrich the data. Would like clear bit stuff that gives you like fifty tata points per email subscriber. The prediction will tell you who will buy what what you just...

...sell them next at, we which price points. It will make this very accurate predict actions and then that is a data, you know, for you as a marketer to make better decisions. You know, if you're still taking decisions like two thousand and eleven, you know you just falling behind learning how to work with these new technologies. And I'm not saying that you need to be writing any machine learning code, but you need to know how the Algorithms Work and how to leverage this technowledges to our advantage. So I think the marketers need to just become more more technical, and not that lot only a code writing way, but just to learn, learn how to utilize the evolving tech. This has been great insight. Pep I mean, we barely got into all the things that I wanted to talk about. So maybe I'll have you on marketing spark part two of a podcast, because there's a lot to talk about these days, thanks to the time, and good luck with the evolving cxl empire. is going to be exciting. Two Thousand and twenty one. Thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes or your favorite podcast APP. You should like what you're hurt. Please rate it. For show notes of today's conversation and information about pep, visit marketing spark DOC SLA blog. If you have questions, feedback, would like to suggest a guess or want to learn more about how I help MEDB companies as a fractional CMO consulting advisor, send an email to market a market marketing Sparkcom Talt you next time.

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