A unique brand. Or is it?
Its 2015. Spring. Adelaide Hills. I’m at a quirky little venue converted from an old stone shed - magical. Now add a social media influencer, two marketing professionals and the word ‘Masterclass’. I was ready to learn!
The woman in front of me got a welcoming chorus of “OH HELLLLO”, followed by hugs (en mass). They all seemed to know each other - about twenty clones, I mean women, with the same shoes. I got the professional smile, and a “Welcome, go on through.”
While others mingled, I looked up. “Wow, check out those beams.” Then down. “Cool concrete floor.” That’s when I noticed a pair of ballet flats (with whiskers) and a pair of chucks. I was no longer alone.
Warning - Metaphors and idioms used excessively in the remaining paragraphs.
We learnt about building a brand that was unique. But the examples were…not. We were labelled ‘creatives’ and people wove “hustle” and “own it” into conversations.
In the group exercises, I was paired with Chuck - a shy one with a cool anti-social media start-up. She designed t-shirts and accessories made from organic materials with slogans such as ‘Get a real friend’. Her marketing consultant suggested she attend because to be successful she needed to ‘do' Facebook and Instagram (the marketer was also there).
"Ahh, so you are both here learn how to do a benign flat-lay with a strategically placed leaf and painted toes peeping into the shot?" I thought.
Nope, we photographed raw food treats and we all published them on our Instagram feeds. Then we ate them.
I suggested Chuck investigate more eclectic, specialised online platforms. And focus on personalised sales with witty hand written receipts. Her audience had walked away from social media. They weren’t people who loved a good Insta feed.
I almost groaned as the social influencer’s presentation contrasted her early European urban adventures with the current European urban adventures. Everyone woohooed and applauded. Did I miss something?
Then nice me whispered, “Pfft, stop ya groaning, you ain’t so special”.
I was thinking, “I don’t fit in. I wouldn’t buy that…or that. These are not my people.” But I wasn’t their target audience. So I used that feeling to apply or disregard their ideas for my business.
I knew that start-ups and small businesses all strive to appear unique - to offer something different and special. But none of us are truly unique. We just sit in different layers of the babushka (I’ve recently been to Poland).
The biggest difference is size. For some, size matters - Mainstream tastes and ideas mean a larger audience and seemingly more opportunities. But there will be more competition from bigger businesses with existing customers and an established brand. Their connections and networks are often far reaching so ‘local’ is about their physical location, not their community. Like Chuck, applying mainstream ideas to my business would be a mistake.
Niche ideas and services target a smaller audience - not unique or special but selective. It’s about finding an audience in your layer of the babushka and offering your product or service in a way that makes them think, Ah! FINALLY!
It requires effort because you must understand the intricacies of the audience - where they hang out, their specific consumer behaviours and what is happening in their world. ‘Local’ becomes more about community and that can be physical or virtual.
Social Animals is pretty deep in the babushka layers. In someways, we are the baby babushka with oh so much detail within a teeny tiny block of wood. But we know that and we know our community. It works! And the women at the masterclass? They were nice people with good business ideas trying to build something they could be proud of. They were motivated to learn. I just didn’t share their taste in shoes.
But what about Chuck? I tried to look her up online, but I lost the piece of paper with her name on it.