Vanilla ice cream is a crowd-pleaser. Most people like it, and almost everyone will eat it. It’s easy, comfortable, and safe.
Far fewer people, on the other hand, like pistachio ice cream. It’s a distinct and polarizing choice. Yet the people who like pistachio usually love it. Re-e-e-a-lly love it. Crazylove it.
While fewer people buy pistachio, it has a competitive advantage: Rather than dumbing-down its flavor, it can focus on serving a tightly-defined core with a distinct point of difference.
The goal of pistachio isn’t to please everyone. It’s to engage a few people really, really well.
Are you vanilla? Or pistachio?
There’s nothing wrong with vanilla, of course. I keep vanilla in my freezer when my goal is to appeal to the maximum number of people with the minimum amount of whining.
Yet while vanilla might be an easy choice for the masses, it’s not necessarily the right choice for you.
Beware vanilla (unless you have the biggest marketing budget)
If you have the biggest marketing budget in your category, vanilla is probably a smart place to focus. You want the lowest common denominator. Your goal should be to avoid polarizing a substantial segment of the market, especially if your brand has an established, trusted presence among customers. Vanilla brands, such Wal-Mart and Kellogg’s, fascinate with the repetition and familiarity of the Trust trigger, often expanding market share with mass media (for instance, a SuperBowl spot rather than targeted social media).
But let’s say you don’t have the biggest budget. Let’s assume you need to compete fiercely without vast resources, or even without an established market presence.
In this case, my friends, you must highlight what makes you different. And that’s where pistachio comes in.
The smaller base of pistachio-loving customers has the potential to become intensely dedicated— even fanatical.
When I was creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in LA years ago, Alex Bogusky described CP+B as the “pistachio” of agencies when competing for new clients. Instead of trying to out-do other agencies at the usual pitching game, CP+B invented a new one. And won.
Not every brand or company should try to be pistachio. In fact, few have the courage and insight to ever be truly, distinctly unique. But I’ll bet you do. How can your company embrace its own version of pistachio?
How to embrace your pistachio:
1. Identify one thing about your company that makes it distinctly different
It should be something quirky or peculiar, something that might normally be assumed to be a negative attribute. It might even be downright off-putting to the majority of customers. The goal is to find where you and your product diverge from standard expectations.
2. Pinpoint the so-called weak spots of your company
For example, highlight the following:
- Perceived blemish in your company history (such as a bankruptcy or product launch failure)
- Lack of extensive customer service support
- Odd location (such as a store or office in an old strip mall, faceless office park, or inconvenient spot)
- Slow manufacturing process (causing customers to wait for your product or service)
- Lack of previous experience in a specific area
- A peculiar product (not conforming to industry norms)
- Inconsistent result (rather than standardized format)
- Unappealing company name (for example, um… “Hogshead”)
3. Identify how these so-called “flaws” can give your customers an unexpected benefit
These flaws are probably things that you’ve felt obliged to cover up, or compensate for. But hold on now. Not so fast.
Illustrate each quirk as a selling point. For instance, if you have an unusually long wait period on your manufacturing, could you use this time to build the customer’s anticipation and background knowledge of the product you will soon deliver?
4. Flaunt your quirks
Rather than thinking of them as a downside you’re stuck with, can you take them on as intentional strengths? Instead of covering up your flaws, how could you embrace them? Even heighten them?
Is there something your current customers appreciate, and even love, about these quirks? (If you don’t know, ask– you might be surprised at how they will champion the very things that you might think of as negatives.) Figure out what type of customer would actively appreciate your quirks. How can you target and pursue these people?
5. Activate the Rebellion trigger
Fascinate your customer with the Rebellion trigger, using creativity, irreverence, or surprise:
Vanilla lives in the comfort zone
As with any bell curve, most companies will always want to cluster smack-dab in the middle, where vanilla and chocolate and strawberry live: in the comfort zone.
But when you want to create fascinating experiences that elicit a strong and immediate response, well, you know which flavor to choose.
Be the pistachio. Refuse to be the vanilla.
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I’m curious to hear what you think. What brands do you think are doing a great job of refusing to be vanilla, and instead, embracing their inner pistachio?