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Sally Hogshead: It is good to be better, but it is better to be different


Making your brand just better is not enough. It is good to be better, but it is better to be different, as Sally Hogshead argues. For brands the key word is fascination and there is a science behind it. How can companies make their brands more fascinating?

"Brands get into a trap where they look at the competition and think: 'If I could be just a little bit cheaper, a little bit fancier.' The problem is that the world has changed to a point that it is extraordinary difficult and expensive to outspend your competition. There is no way you can win in a marketplace in which you are being evaluated according to better." Sally Hogshead is best-selling author of the book 'Fascinate: how to make your brand impossible to resist'. Drawing on her branding expertise, she developed a method to identify how each person is able to captivate listeners, and how they can work as a team. The Fascinate system analyzes your most valuable differentiating treats. Her approach is based on years of research with Fortune 500 teams, small businesses and C-level executives.

In a short video she elaborates on the importance of fascination. "How many of your decisions are being driven by this ancient force of fascination whether you realize it or not? Fascination is an intense neurological state of focus. It is literally your brains' most powerful force of attraction for attracting other people or being attracted to them. It is that state of focus when you are energized on just one thing. So, I am applying this in a business context, so that you can grow a stronger team and ultimately a stronger brand."

In her book she describes the mechanisms, behavioral motivators, or triggers that evoke fascination. "These triggers are instruments. If you can activate them, you immediately earn the attention." The model she developed doesn't work only for brands, but also for personalities. "In 2006 I started studying why one brand is more fascinating than others and people came up to me saying: what about me, what makes me fascinating? So, we took the research we had and started shifting it over to people," she explains in a video on her website. In the model she uses seven fascination advantages: innovation (the language of creativity), passion (the language of relationship), power (confidence), prestige (excellence), trust (stability), mystique (listening), alert (the language of details). An assessment calculates which of the two advantages (for instance passion and innovation) you are more likely to use when you are adding value. The assessment is not based on psychology, it is based on branding. As traditional tests indicate your strength, the fascinate test helps you stand out: it tells you in which ways you are different.

Being the best is not enough
In the Marketing Smarts podcast, Hogshead explains the problem of striving to be the best. "There are already too many of the bests. So being the best is not enough. But there is always room for highly differentiated niche people, personalities, and brands." She understands that every brand wants to be different and better. "Of course. That is Oprah, Tesla, Rolling Stones, Disney. They are having competitive advantage because they have a place in the market that nobody else does. The problem is that although we may all want to be there, where most of us end up is going better, not different. It is one of the greatest mistakes brands make: they focus on improving without continuing to stand out in the marketplace." In the podcast she visualizes better versus different. "Better is the straight up and down line of an axis. It is vertical, think of a ladder. Someone else is better, so you have to climb higher, faster, struggle, spend, trying to get better. Now, imagine different as the horizontal line. Unlike a ladder of better, different allows you to have room to explore. I want you to imagine the different being horizontal."

Modern marketing: consistency or radical change
Marketing has changed rapidly in the past years and it has become more complicated to get results. "It used to be enough to advertise and to market. As long as people knew your logo, and maybe your tagline, and they could find you on the grocery store shelf, you were fine. That's the world of better. Today, the model is completely flipped. There are two ways of succeeding right now: one is consistency and the other one is radical change," she says in another episode of the Marketing Smarts podcast. She tells a personal story to show how consistency works. Her father, an orthopedic surgeon, did surgery on a man who fell from a ladder when he climbed up a pecan tree. He was told he would never walk again, but after the surgery the man made a full recovery. "Every year at Christmastime, we receive a box with fresh pecans, but there is not a return address. For fifty years, every year we have a pecan pie, and we celebrate my dad saving this man's life. That's radical consistency."

Radical change is the opposite and it works in a different way. One of the examples is Elon Musk. Customers of Tesla find him fascinating. "He took all of the guts out of what we assume is a car and turned it into a Tesla. It's taking the problem and reimagining it in a way that doesn't take anything for granted about how to make a car better, but rather how to reinvent what transportation means."

How do high performers operate?
Sally Hogshead challenges people and companies to find new perspectives and make brands fascinating. "What I propose is that we have to flip the flaw. Ask yourself: what is your comfort level with being different? There are many types of difference. Different can mean fresh, it can mean original or novel. Even slight differences can become significant, as long as they are meaningful to the person that you are communicating with or selling to. On the other hand, you could be audacious. Audacity is totally different from just a little bit novel. Decide how different are you comfortable being."

When Hogshead started her research, the results were surprising. "I wanted to know why do we follow certain leaders and not others, why do we experience certain brands as more fascinating than others, and spend much more on certain brands than we do on others? I started measuring the high performers. What were they doing differently? I thought it was going to come down to something like skill set, education or network. Actually, it was not. It was two things what the high performers did: they delivered a specific benefit, a benefit in the eyes of other people. The second thing was that they turned this into a specialty to add value. They oriented everything they did around that. What the high performers were doing differently is that they focused on what made them different. (…) Remember: it is good to be better, but it is better to be different."

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