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Don’t Say “I Do” to Brand Comparison

This September I experienced one of the best nights of my life: My high school sweetheart proposed.

The outpour of love we received from our family and friends was overwhelming. We had so much fun calling our closest colleagues, enjoying celebratory dinner and drinks with friends, and receiving a plethora of cards full of well wishes.

But as we got deeper into the planning process, I started to lose my sense of elation. It was hard not to compare my ring to the other beautiful rocks (or in some cases boulders) popping up on friends’ Facebook feeds. And the more I flipped through bridal magazines and pinned images on Pinterest, the more I started to doubt my own vision: Were these the right colors for the bridesmaids’ dresses? Is six groomsmen too many?  Did I even wear the right dress the night of my proposal?

Basically, I became a victim of self comparison. And the more I compared my dream day to others, the more I refrained from making any decisions at all.

It wasn’t until recently that I came across this quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” President Roosevelt’s words truly resonated with me, and I realized that I was happier and more confident in my decision-making when I focused on what I truly wanted—instead of trying to constantly meet social media’s standards.  

With so much competition in today’s industry, it can be easy for marketers to feel the same pressure: What are their competitors doing? How can they top last year’s campaign? What are people saying about them?

Granted, it’s important for marketers to be aware of what consumers and competitors are doing in the marketplace; however, this shouldn’t fully determine their brand vision and goals. So even though I’m still fighting this battle myself, I thought that I’d share six pieces of advice for fighting self comparison.

1. Stay focused on your own mission. After my fiancé and I got engaged, we each wrote down three words that we wanted our wedding to encapsulate. Keeping these adjectives in mind has helped us narrow down what we want—and don’t want—from our venue and vendors.

Marketers can perform a similar exercise. Identify what the brand truly stands for and then identify if the team is delivering on those values. There are always going to be distractions, such as what other companies are doing. But straying away from brand values to simply follow the pack can make companies seem inauthentic and cause them to lose loyalty (remember the outcry sparked by New Coke?).

Clearly outlining company goals and values can help marketers determine whether they’re actually delivering on their promises. If they are, they must be doing something right. 

2. Let competitors inspire your work; not define it. When I see a center piece or décor element that I like from another wedding, I try to home in on what I like about it. Is it the color? The texture? Then, I try to take that idea and personalize it to fit my overall vision—instead of just copy it.

Marketers should do the same. Did one of your competitors have the campaign of the century? Pick it apart and try to identify what made it so successful. Then, see how those successful tactics could apply to your brand—or if it even makes sense to apply them to your brand. But don’t just dish out a secondhand version of your competitors’ campaign. Consumers can detect a poser a mile away.

3. Be realistic. It’s easy to gawk at the $15,000 wedding dresses on shows like Say Yes to the Dress. But truthfully, that’s just not in my budget—and I have to be OK with that reality.  So instead of sulking about how I’ll never have a dress dripping with Swarovski crystals or swan feathers, I look for attire that’s within my price range.

Likewise, marketers have to accept that their dollars might not stretch as far as their competitors’. But marketing isn’t a game of who spends more; it’s a game of who spends smarter. In today’s digital age, there’s a number of ways marketers can drive brand awareness or conversion for relatively little to no money. It’s just up to marketers to find those opportunities and execute on them fully.

4. Make people feel like their voices are being heard. When you start planning a wedding, everyone wants to give you their opinions. I’ve had people weigh in on what my hairstyle should be, why my dress shouldn’t be strapless, and where I should buy my centerpieces. Sometimes, this input can be a bit overwhelming—and that’s putting it kindly. However, I recognize that this day is a celebration for my friends and family, too. So, I try to make them feel like their voices are heard by inviting them to participate in certain activities—like venue shopping—and thanking them for their input (even if I don’t use it). But at the end of the day, I know that I have to ultimately go with what my fiancé and I want. And if I feel like I’m struggling with making a decision, I consult the people who I know truly understand my vision.

Consumers love to provide feedback, too. But that doesn’t mean that marketers should act on every suggestion or complaint made. Marketers do, however, have to make consumers feel like their opinions matter—such as by responding through social media or sending a thank you email after a consumer answers a survey. And marketers shouldn’t write off their feedback right away. Many times consumers can offer key insights into how marketers can enhance the brand experience.

Professionals from other departments can also be tempted to offer marketing their opinions. The key to evaluating feedback—whether it comes from consumers or internal staff—is to assess whether it aligns with the brands’ overall goals. Running these ideas past others who fully understand the company’s objectives is a good idea too. Sometimes, this involves pitching ideas to professionals in other departments, such as IT or customer service. Getting a broader perspective can not only help marketers determine whether the feedback is a good idea, but also whether it’s a feasible one.

5. Have a timeline that works for you. When my fiancé and I first got engaged, my mom encouraged us to start telling our friends and family the good news right away. However, I wanted time to soak in the moment. So, we waited an extra day to start calling people, and we didn’t post anything on social media for a full week—a near lifetime in today’s digital world.

Whether you’re planning a wedding or a campaign, you have to create a timeline that works for you. I think Uwe Ellinghaus, CMO of Cadillac, phrased it best in his Industry Spotlight column about Cadillac’s new marketing strategy: “We’re running a marathon, not a sprint,” he wrote. “It’s easy to get distracted by the day-to-day pressures in an industry that’s still driven primarily by a monthly sales target. We need to constantly remind ourselves not to just do something because ‘that’s how it was always done.’”

Don’t worry about how quickly others are pushing out campaigns or introducing new products. Focus on the quality of your offerings and set deadlines that you know your teams can meet. 

6. Know what truly matters. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what color my tablecloths are or whether I went with salmon or fillet as the main entree. What matters is that I’m marrying my best friend. As long as I do that, then the wedding is a success.

Marketers should reevaluate their success metrics, too. It’s easy to obsess over open rates and likes when marketers should really be focusing on whether they’re driving conversion. As long as they’re meeting their main benchmarks, they don’t need to sweat the small stuff.

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