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Defining Your Foe Helps Find Your Friends


Sometimes companies get stuck. Or they are embattled by an untiring competitor.

In the 1990s, Dell computers led a price-slashing program to gain market share. As personal computer prices went lower and lower, Apple computer maintained its higher price.

Counter to common wisdom at the time, Steve Jobs decided they were not going to lower their price. He called price-cutting “a race to the bottom.” History shows that Jobs was right, and Apple Computer became one of the strongest companies in the world.

Defining who you don’t want to be, or never want to become, is often a good way to define who you are.

Just identifying the people or companies you don’t want to be like is an easy way to decide who you are. Or what you want to become.

And if you let the crowd know, people attracted to your values and brand beliefs can ‘opt in,’ and signal their decision to buy (thumbs up).

Understanding branding or ‘how to brand’ has always been like molding fog. But no longer.

Today, consumers are your BFFs and chief collaborators. To understand them, all you have to do is ask. Conduct online forums. From the makers of ‘Halo’ to Lolly Wolly Doodle, companies are making real money just by asking their brand zealots which game actions or which dress patterns (respectively) they prefer. Your brand posse can help you design, build, promote, and sometimes even distribute the products and services that they desire, and which you provide. 

Unlike ‘Madmen,’ it’s no longer about the big campaign. It’s about the big conversation: how to engage others who share your beliefs. Sometimes you can do that just by talking to them and letting them talk back.

Part of that conversation is establishing what you are not and never want to become. Whether it’s not wanting to participate in a price war, or not wanting to be a gas-guzzling SUV, these double-negatives become a positive.

You can attract a public that shares your beliefs, engage in that community, and build your brand, your company, and your own success story.

And that’s what it’s all about.


Last updated: Aug 1, 2014


Patrick Hanlon is CEO and founder of Thinktopia, a company specializing in community innovation and integrated brand development. He is the author of Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company and Your Future. Thinktopia’s staff of social anthropologists, cultural ethnographers, trend spotters, research analysts, venture catalysts, graphic designers, urban planners, innovation experts, videographers, stylists, retail experientialists, cool hunters, forensic researchers helps leaders get unstuck, develop new markets, and re-define their futures.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of or Visa.

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