Stand out – create your own category of one

A message that resonates with customers is a valuable investment 

Companies promise a lot of things. How often have you heard messages like, “We have great service,” “You’ll get quality printing with us,” or “We’re number one at [blank].” Of course, no one wants to advertise that they rank number three at something, but at least that would be refreshingly unique. 

What promises are you making to your customers? More importantly, what are you doing to make sure your promises don’t sound exactly like every other message they hear? You want your customers and prospects to remember you and not the competition. So, how do you find your unique voice? You create your own category: a category of one.

It’s a tough feat to yell in the midst of a crowd and be picked out. The reality is that your company’s voice will never be heard if you’re yelling the same things as everyone else. But, when you find your own voice and your own message, it will not only be heard, it will be grabbed onto because of the difference it offers. To create your category of one and make a promise no else can make, it all starts with your brand. As branding expert Brad VanAuken, in his book Brand Aid, states: “A brand is the source of a promise to the consumer.” 

VanAuken goes on to provide this simple template to help you in the process of creating your category of one: Only [brand] delivers [relevant differentiated benefit] to [target customer].

Consider Volvo. Its category-of-one promise might read like this: “Only Volvo delivers assurance of the safest ride to parents who are concerned about their children’s well-being.” When you think about safe cars, who are you going to think about? Volvo.

Here’s another one: “Only Harley-Davidson delivers the fantasy of complete freedom on the road and the comradeship of kindred spirits to avid cyclists.”

Volvo focuses on building safe cars for kids while Harley-Davidson promises freedom for bikers that love the open road. See the difference? You won’t mistake a Volvo for a Harley on the highway, and you won’t mistake a Volvo for a Harley in their marketing, either.

Start with “only” to find your niche

It’s important to start your category-of-one exercise with the word “only.” By doing so, it will keep you focused on the promise that only you can make and ensure that you stand alone in your category.

Next, focus on the relevant differentiated benefits you offer. “Only [your firm’s name] prints full-colour brochures.” Not quite there yet. How about, “Only [your firm] delivers an on-time-or-it’s-free guarantee for short-run, full-colour printing…”

The truth is, you probably have more in common with your competitors than you have differences. You may have to combine a few benefits—like the combination of a guarantee and a product in the example above—to create your own category of one for your branding message.

Wouldn’t it be nice to share your unique message with every single person on earth and encourage them to buy printing from you? Not to be the bearer of bad news, but, that’s not likely to happen. Instead, make sure your message is focused on a specific target audience that you cater to, like this: businesses in the tri-county area that have a need for speed, or something similar. 

When you put the word ‘only’ together with your firm’s name, your relevant differentiated benefit, and your target audience, you might end up with something like this: “Only Colourful Printers delivers an on-time-or-it’s-free guarantee for short-run, full-colour printing for businesses in the tri-county area that have a need for speed.”

The black-marker test

Once you’ve created your category of one, it’s time to test it out by putting it through the black-marker test. Take some advertising featuring your newly-created category-of-one message and run a black marker across your name, phone number, and anything else that identifies you. Next, grab some of your competitors’ advertising materials and do the same thing; run the black marker across their identifying information.

Now, take all the advertising pieces to someone who’s not from your printing firm and ask them if they can pick your message out of the crowd without seeing your company’s name. Did they positively identify you even though you blacked out your name and information? If not, then you’ll need to head back to the drawing board for some fine-tuning. However, if they did identify you, congratulations. You’ve successfully created your own category of one. 

Remember, ensuring that your message is heard and is worth hearing is one of the greatest investments you can make for the future of your company.