Embracing Your “Weird” Factor to Reinvent Your Brand

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The pandemic is forcing many companies to quickly retool and reinvent themselves.  Production lines are switching, and business models are changing. Marketers are turning their attention to their value proposition and focusing brand strategies on their strengths to stand out. But what would happen if you did the opposite? What if you focused on your weaknesses?

That’s the approach that Stan Phelps and David Rendall prescribe in their book “Pink Goldfish.”  In a recent virtual meet-up with AMA Toronto, the duo shared some insights into their unconventional approach, which they call FLAWSOM.

The FLAWSOM Approach

Brands define their competitive positioning in terms of what unique value they offer to their target customer.  The method that Stan and Dave outline ultimately achieves that goal but theirs results in a more targeted strategy and delivers a more relevant message to a specific customer segment.  The FLAWSOM approach is an acronym of seven strategies. It’s not for the faint of heart. But they show that it works.

“Your flaws make you unique, awesome. That’s what we believe.”
– Stan Phelps

Flaunting, Lopsiding and Antagonizing

One of best examples they provide is the tourism strategy adopted by the state of Nebraska. Ranked #50 as a destination in the U.S.A., Nebraska flaunted its weaknesses in a $5 million campaign by proclaiming, “Lucky for you, there’s nothing to do here.”  Another example is Canadian cough syrup Buckley’s, which is famous for “it tastes awful and it works.” The brand unapologetically leans into its biggest weakness to stand out.

Another example uses Lopsiding or doing more of what everyone else says you should do less of.  The “Thick Burger” was created by fast food chain Hardees in response to competitors adding healthier food options to their menus. By the time McDonalds and other QSR’s discovered their mistake, Hardees had already stolen market share.

A riskier step involves Antagonizing or polarizing your audience by increasing your appeal to a niche target, your “believers” and pushing the non-believers away. One American movie cinema, Alamo Drafthouse, differentiates itself by enforcing rules about no texting or talking during showtime. After kicking out a customer and a receiving a complaint, the theatre famously thanked them for not coming back.

“We cannot be great at everything. If we try to, it’s the biggest recipe for disaster.”
– Stan Phelps

Withholding and Swerving

When you talk about what you don’t have, you can focus on what matters most and save on resources. Alt Hotels in Canada promotes, “We do less” by failing to offer what some people want. They don’t have a mini bar, but they do have a hip lounge. They avoid spreading themselves too thin and deliberately push some people away.

Stan and Dave wisely advise that you can start small if you’re uncomfortable with doing the big. Marketers can “swerve” or try it out first with a division or small group of customers and see if it resonates.

“What makes us weird makes us wonderful.”
– Stan Phelps

Opposing and Micro-Weirding

To stand out using an Opposing strategy, you simply “zig” when everyone else is “zagging.” Not a new approach but an effective one if it’s attention you’re after.

Related to this approach is Micro Weirding or doing more of the things that make you weird or different. Stan and Dave gave a great example with Orlando’s Magic Castle Hotel, where you can place an order for a free popsicle using their poolside hotline. Best of all, it’s delivered to you on a silver tray complete with white glove service.

“When I was young, I was told to sit still, be quiet and do what I’m told. Now I get paid to stand up and talk,
and I run my own business.”

– David Rendall

How to Create Your Own Pink Goldfish

By applying their 4A framework – Awareness, Acceptance, Alignment and Amplification – the duo believe that anyone can create a Pink Goldfish, either professionally or personally. By identifying what makes you weird or weak and then accepting it, you can begin to align what others see, including your website, office or store. Stan says that you have to do more in order to stand out, which may mean turning the dial way up.

The Freak Factor

This isn’t about being weird for weird’s sake. Dave says he learned that one of the worst things about him was connected to the best things, which he wrote about in his book, The Freak Factor. He recommends starting with who you are, rather than with your customers and working inward. For every weakness, you have an opposing strength. What are the things you can be great at that your customers value the most? Turn down the dial on what your customers don’t value and save on resources.

Five Key Takeaways

  1. Weird Works. It’s easy to follow the crowd and blend in. It seems smart to do what other brands are doing. It feels safe but it’s not. Successful brands stick out.
  2. There Are Many Different Ways to Be Different. Who can you antagonize? How can you do the opposite?
  3. Be Unapologetic. Be proud of your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t apologize for your flaws or try to fix them. Instead, exploit your brand’s imperfections.
  4. To Please Some Customers, You Have to Displease Others. You can’t be good at everything and you can’t make everyone happy. Stan and Dave think you should go out of your way to make some people unhappy. Choose whom you will reject.
  5. Start Small. You don’t have to change your entire strategy all at once. Little things can have a big impact. Look for a way to be micro-weird and then try it out on a group of customers to see if it works.

Quite unconventional wisdom, indeed! As the moderator, Suzanne Roberts, Associate Partner at IBM iX, pointed out during the Q&A’s, starting out with who you are is quite the opposite to what modern Design Thinking methods call for, namely putting the customer at the centre of everything you do. When it comes to implementing the key takeaways from this session, marketers need to consider the implications of each perspective and then reconcile them. Whatever you decide, own it. Put it out there. In the end, it’s really all about trade-offs. 

Be sure to check out the talk by Phelps and Rendall by clicking on the hyperlinks included in our blog above!

Wendy Greenwood is a marketing consultant and freelance writer based in Toronto.

Additional Resources:

Purple GoldFish Think Tank
Discovering Uniqueness by Flaunting Weakness

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