Does Your Marketing Dazzle Like A Zebra?

by Paul Simister on September 6, 2011

If your marketing dazzles like a zebra, then potentially you’ve got a big problem.

Let me explain.

On its own, a zebra is a beautiful creature unlike anything else. You can think of it as a stripy horse but smaller.

I took this photo on a safari holiday in Botswana a few years ago and I think it makes the point well.

Just like your marketing, a zebra looks good on its own.

But zebras normally hang around in groups or small herds. In fact the collective name for a zebra is a “dazzle” for one very good reason.

When in a group, it’s difficult to see where one zebra ends and another begins.

In fact it is a challenge to even count up how many zebras are in the photo because of the angles and the way the stripes confuse the eyes.

This trick works very well for the zebras because it helps to protect them from predators like lions. Apart from a powerful kick, the zebra doesn’t have any defence but if a lion can’t single out one animal from the dazzle, it won’t attack.

Not standing out from the crowd is good for zebras but it’s a killer for your business.

Just like zebras tend to congregate together, your customers are looking at your business along with your competitors.

It’s the way Yellow Pages always worked by bring you and your competitors together and forcing a difficult selection decision.

With the on-tap power of the Internet to give your customers access to the information they want, when they want it, traditional outreach marketing – which lets your business be the equivalent of the single zebra – is less effective. There is no point wasting time on things hat turn up when they are not relevant when you can go to Google and find everything.

This puts the emphasis on your business to be different, to look different, to feel different in some way that matters to the customer.

Or your customer will decide that you and your competitors are much the same.

Which gives you a problem.

Because your customer will decide that the only difference that matters is price and the lowest price wins the customer’s preference.

That’s bad for you, bad for your profit margins and bad for the customer who may actually have special needs which aren’t being catered for – see Is Your Marketing Hitting The Bullseye?

How Your Marketing Becomes Zebra Marketing

It is very easy to fall into the zebra marketing trap.

You look at how your more successful competitors are marketing and you borrow phrases and ideas which you think will appeal to your customers.

In fact you’re probably right to do so.

There will be some things that really matter and you should cover them in your marketing – see key success factors.

But you don’t want to find yourself playing marketing bingo where a customer will look at five competitors and see the same “you must buy from me” reasons from each of them.

Stop Being A Normal Zebra

You need to find a way to make your marketing stand out. If Seth Godin can have a Purple Cow, I can haveĀ  Pink Zebra.

Your marketing needs to emphasise your unique selling point or your key factors of difference if you have more than one. It’s much better that these differences are genuine and not a case of “jazzing up your marketing to look different” when the underlying product or service is the same – see You Want Deep Not Shallow Differentiation. This isn’t a case where you want to “razzle dazzle them” as Billy Flynn in the musical, Chicago would try.

You need to give your business a chance to attract attention and to create preference with buyers. It’s true that not everyone wants a pink zebra but some will if you make sure your differences are important to your target group of customers – see How Important Is Your Difference?

What If You’re Guilty Of Giraffe Marketing?

Did you notice the giraffe in the photograph of the zebras?

You don’t have any difficulty telling a giraffe and a zebra apart – a zebra is like a horse with black and white stripes, a giraffe is a creamy yellow with brown spots… oh yes and it has a very long neck and very long legs.

A giraffe shouldn’t have any trouble standing out from the crowd of zebras.

But this one does.

It seems to be hiding, putting itself in the background and making itself look small.

That can happen with a business and its marketing too.

You can have genuine differences that existing customers recognise and value. They can be the reasons why repeat customers keep coming back to buy again and again.

But what if your marketing doesn’t recognise them and explain them to the other people you want as customers?

What if you don’t recognise what it is that does make your business unique and special?

“It can’t happen” you might be thinking.

But it does.

We grow used to things and accept them as normal.

It’s just the way things are.

So you hide rather than shout about the things that will make your business stand out from the crowd.

It’s an important reason why it is so useful to work with someone from the outside who looks at things with fresh eyes and can be amazed.

Just like you want your customers to be.

Paul Simister is a business strategy coach who helps business owners to differentiate their businesses and develop winning strategies. Get your free copy of the ebook The Six Steps Profit Formula.

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