As a brand, you can do everything right: employ the smartest people, use the most reliable tech, deliver the greatest value to customers. But if you're just trying to be better at what everyone else is doing, will your company really stand out?

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Author and speaker Sally Hogshead doesn't think so.

"Better is the approval of other people according to a metric that they have established...Better means you weren't good enough to begin with," she explains in the latest episode of Marketing Smarts. "Better means that there is something wrong that you have to fix or optimize."

Unless you have the budget, resources, motivation, and network to compete, your best is never going to be good enough. There will always be someone better than you—a winner to your loser, a company making more money or getting more awards. It can be quite a slog.

What you need to create momentum, Sally insists, is to focus on what makes you unique.

"Identify a quality about yourself...that you know is absolutely true and is polarizing. That quality might be being meticulous, being emotional, being highly motivated. It could be being impractical or spending too much. Whatever the quality is, then think in what way is that an advantage. Then begin to do it on purpose."

This first part of a two-episode series featuring Sally will speak to the weird kid in you who was always told to stop being different. Turns out you can build a brand around it.

Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcript: Different is Better Than Better, Part 1

George Thomas: The greatest value you can add is to become more of yourself. Drawing upon her branding expertise, Sally Hogshead created a method to identify how each person is able to captivate their listeners. The Fascination Advantage is the first communication assessment that measures how others perceive you. After reaching over 1,000,000 professionals, her algorithm can pinpoint your most valuable differentiating traits. The science of Fascination is based on Sally's decade of research with dozens of Fortune 500 teams, hundreds of small businesses, and over 1,000 C-level executives.

Her two most recent books, Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist and How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination, were both New York Times bestsellers. Sally writes a weekly online column for Inc on issues around personal and corporate branding. She's a member of the Speaker's Hall of Fame and Word of Mouth Marketing Association's WOMMA Hall of Fame. Named a top brand guru, her particular marketing system now lives inside organizations such as IBM, Twitter, the YMCA, as well as thousands of small businesses.

Early in her advertising career, Sally skyrocketed to the top of becoming the most awarded junior copywriter in the US by age 24. Her campaigns for brands such as Mini Cooper, Nike, Godiva, and Coca-Cola have fascinated millions of consumers. At age 27, she opened her first ad agency. Her work is on exhibit at The Smithsonian Museum of American History. She frequently appears in national media, including NBC's Today and The New York Times.

Ladies and gentlemen, this interview is fire. Let's just say this, it actually is a two-part series. This week you get to hear part one, next week part two. Buckle up, get your notepads, your iPads, the chalk, the wall, your desk, get ready, this is filled with so many great nuggets for B-to-B marketers, and honestly, just humans.

Listeners, you know I always start with the one word, the E word, excited, because I am excited. Today is going to be different. There is a pun intended right there because we're talking to Sally Hogshead. Obviously, you heard the bio before. I want to dive right into some good stuff. That is the background to why we're doing this interview.

Sally, just so the listeners know, you recently spoke at B2B Forum. You were talking about different is better than better. It was amazing. I was riveted the entire time. I was jotting down notes. I was like I have all these questions that I want to ask Sally, so I'm super excited that we get to dive into this.

There was one thing where, other than seeing you and Ann Handley in Nacho Libre masks, that blew my mind. That was just that you had created this teaser. I do want to play it for the audio listeners, but then also we'll probably show it on the YouTube Live channel as we bring this out to that audience as well. Maybe set up the background of how in the heck did we end up in this position of what they're about to hear.

Sally Hogshead: When Ann invited me to be the keynote for the B2B Forum, I said to her, "We're talking to a bunch of marketers who have done it all, they've seen it all, they're jaded, they're cynical. In order for me to do something that is genuinely different, you have to give me full permission to do as different as far into the fringe as I want to, as long as it makes the point of why is different better than better and how do we apply this." So, I came back to her with what you're about to share with them.

Audio: [event music] Get ready for the Brand Smackdown. Who will be the winner? Introducing The Different. In the other corner, The Better Beast. The B-to-B Brand Battle Royale for Supremacy. I'm Sally Hogshead, and I'll see you on April 7th with MarketingProfs. We're going to have the epic brand blowout battle. It's Different versus Better. Be there.

George: I don't know about you, but I can't listen to that without headbanging.

Sally: We had so much fun picking the stock. It was like no, it's too good, you have to get worse. We've had all clients at times in marketing where we need to do something to enhance the brand that needed to be aspirational. The client falls in love with Coldplay, so you're trying to find something that's like Coldplay.

This was one of those times where we knew that we were doing something that was genuinely different. We actually had the studio set up so that I could have sound effects like monster trucks and flames on the screen, and we decided that was getting just a little bit over the top. If you'd like me to, I can bring us back to why are we wearing Nacho Libre masks and wrestling it out.

George: Yes. Here's the thing. Marketing Smarts listeners, if you're like, "I have to see this," trust me, head over and subscribe to the YouTube channel, wait for the live show, because there will be clips. I will make sure that is one of the clips that makes it in there so you can get the visual of that. But yes, I want to dive into the good stuff. In your opinion, why is now more than ever the time to embrace our difference versus slogging away and solely being focused on being better to captivate the customers that we need to serve?

Sally: Let me ask you. Were you ever told when you were growing up that there was something about you that was different?

George: In a good way, and probably a bad way, but yes, absolutely, I have my differences.

Sally: One of the beautiful things about evaluating people according to better is that better is a scorecard. It's really easy to show incremental improvement. Everybody wants to stand straighter in the line. They want to get not just the A, but they want to get the A+. They want to incrementally improve. The same with brands. Brands get into a trap where they look at the competition and think, "If I could be just a little bit cheaper, a little bit fancier."

The problem is that the world has started to improve to a point that it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive to outspend your competition. If you don't have the biggest budget and the greatest awareness, there's no way you can win in a marketplace in which you're being evaluated according to better.

The good news is that if you don't have the biggest budget, you don't have the greatest awareness, if you as an individual are not the most famous with the most awards and the greatest resume and network, that's not a disadvantage. That's an advantage because it allows you to focus on attributes that your competition isn't.

I'll give you an example. There are a lot of qualities when you were growing up that you were probably told they were flaws, they were imperfections. We evaluate children according to strengths and, what's the opposite of strengths, weaknesses. In a world of strengths, there's only one winner, and that person is the best, everybody else is an also. It's just a matter of where you are standing in line behind the person who is best.

If we take a cue from something that we know about marketing, we have to differentiate. If we take that to the extreme and see we will never be able to outdo somebody else at their own game, I can't out-George you, I can't out-Seth-Godin Seth Godin. In the same way, if we can identify what exactly are those qualities that are different not just for the sake of being different, btu they're different because they're intensely valuable to a specific target audience.

Let's take a team example during COVID. People who had a great sense of humor sitting around the status room table pre-COVID had a competitive advantage in that they could engage and they could people to remember through humor. Then when we had to quarantine, humor had a completely different role. It wasn't enough just to be funny. You have to be able to take that attribute about yourself and pivot it. With humor, a way to pivot that is you can see something from a different perspective. Humor is about irony and friction.

If you're able to take a look at a situation and bring a fresh perspective on it, that's a way that you can take a quality that makes you different and valuable in one circumstance that becomes a completely different attribute in a different circumstance for a different target audience.

George: I love this conversation that we're having. To be honest with you, it's funny because you asked me the question has somebody has ever said. What's funny is I giggle almost on a daily basis to my ninth grade math teacher who said, "Quit being a class clown." In the representation of now I get on stage, now I do podcasts, now I do videos, and what people love is the fact that I'm the "class clown," I love to entertain while I'm educating.

I do want to drive into one area of this. I've battled with this over my life of trying to be the best. The question is why is there a breakdown when we focus on just being better or just being the best?

Sally: Just being the best is demoralizing because it's automatically putting the control in somebody outside of you because you're the best as evaluated by them. That's why it's so brittle. You come up with a shiny technology, I'll come up with a shinier one. You come up with a price cut, I'm going to price cut you lower. It's always on a straight linear line going up and down. Think of it like, it's a ladder going up. Different, on the other hand, is not as predictable. It's a curvy horizontal line, if you can imagine. Your success is not guaranteed, but no longer is your success guaranteed with better.

When we go on this journey of different and we begin looking at ourselves and we think what are the most strategically polarizing things about ourselves... For me, I have a huge competitive disadvantage; my last name is Hogshead. Think about what that was like growing up on the playground. Nobody would ask for that. As my mom told me, it's the thing about our name that makes it different that will one day make you love it. And it's true. There are certain things about having a polarizing brand like the last name Hogshead that even when I got married, I kept my last name. Like many things that are highly differentiated, it's memorable, it's ownable, and it's easy to build an identity around that.

George: I on the other side am like, my name is boring, I wish I had a cool name. We are who we are, we're given what we are given. That's what we're talking about today is how to take what you're given, what makes you different, and just amplify it to be different and better.

One of the things that I like to do is simplify the complex, and usually that's by laying some type of foundation. The foundation here, before we get into some of these other questions, is just level set. When we're talking about these words, better and different, what is the difference between different and better in this conversation?

Sally: An easy way to think about it is no kid ever came home crying from school saying, "Mommy, the kids are teasing me, they say I'm better." Better is the approval of other people according to a metric that they have established. It's like the most improved award. Better means you weren't good enough to begin with. Better means that there is something wrong that you have to fix or optimize. Different, on the other hand, gives you an open-ended opportunity to explore the different options. Instead of having this mine-slogging, ditch-digging, gradual improvement, you have quantum leaps.

This is why different is a risk. You can't be different just to be different. You have to identify what's the situation, a target audience, a purpose or an unfulfilled need that you can solve with your point of difference. For example, let's borrow something from branding. When electricity was invented and people stopped using their coal stoves, there was a product that was in danger of becoming irrelevant.

The product cleans the soot off of the walls, and it had a very distinctive scent. When there was no more soot on the walls, there was no more of this product. The product pivoted and reinvented with a totally different target audience without changing the product. That product became Play-Doh. Play-Doh started as a household cleaning agent. They kept the scent the exact same. When their market opportunity dried up because nobody had soot, then positioning it as a child's toy, which ironically gets stuck in the carpets, is one way of saying don't change who you are.

You don't have to change who you are. You have to become more of who you are. There are steps to doing this. The first part is to identify a difference that is highly differentiated and polarizing in certain situations that you may have been told growing up that it was something that you needed to fix.

Second, identify how that is an advantage. For a lot of people in marketing, like me, I'm intensely creative. That means I'm able to come up with ideas really quickly, but I have difficulty with structure, I have difficulty with intricate directions, and staying on task over time. It's up to me to know as a creative thinker, I shouldn't put myself in situations in which I'm going to be evaluated according to my ability to simply replicate and crank out the same thing, identical, over and over again. I could do it, but it would be exhausting, it would feel like quicksand. Instead, what I need to do is to find what are the situations and people in which creativity is not only a benefit but is absolutely essential. Then I have to take that creativity and make sure that I am responsible for over delivering in that one area, because that's how I'm going to give value.

Coming back to this outrageous thing that Ann and I did at the beginning, when I decided that I was going to do MarketingProfs B2B Forum, that I said it can't just be another keynote, it has to be something that could be totally over the top and it could be a huge fail, but let's do it. We're going to have these wrestlers going at it, then Ann wore a mask and I wore a mask, and Ann had a cape. After the event, we sent out a PDF that looked like wrestling posters that you would see all over town around the wrestling areas. You could cut out your face with the mask of your choice, take a picture of that, post it on Instagram, and that became a way of branding the keynote.

If we were to take that keynote, here's what it would have looked like for me to focus on being better: Memorize the script. Make sure that my clothes are picked out and ironed the night before. Do a lot of background research on who is going to be on the audience. Make sure that the lighting was absolutely perfect.

For a lot of people, that would be their advantage. A highly polished perfectionistic type of speaker or marketer or communicator, that would be authentic for them, they would have an advantage. I, on the other hand, don't have that advantage.

Here are the steps again. Identify a quality about yourself, just like you would a brand, that you know is absolutely true and is polarizing. That quality might be being meticulous, being emotional, being highly motivated. It could be being impractical or spending too much. Whatever the quality is, then think in what way is that an advantage. Then you begin to do it on purpose.

In my research with over a million professionals, what I learned when we studied the high performers, high performers do two things differently. First thing is they deliver a specific benefit. In my case, creativity. In your case, laughter and giggling, being able to be social. In somebody else's case, detail orientation and meticulous follow through.

If that's your brand, if that you're highly differentiated difference, don't just kind of do it. You have to find the situations, clients, projects, deliverables, that you can do it on purpose and push it as far as you possibly can. Then protect yourself from the ways in which you're being told that you're not good enough, that you need to get better, that you need to fix yourself.

The second thing high performers do differently is they take this and turn it into a specialty, so they build their entire brand, their persona, their schedule, their team around that point of difference. In the same way that a brand is right for some people and not right for others, and the name Hogshead is right for some people and not others, that's why it's so crucial today as competition rises, being the best is not enough. There are already too many of the bests, you can't outdo somebody else's best. But there is always room for highly differentiated niche people, personalities, and brands.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, you know what I'm going to say. It is time for the rewind. That section was a little bit of therapy couch / motivational speaking talk. There was so much in there.

One of the things that really punched me in the face was when you were explaining the keynote was this, but it could have been this. In my brain, I literally heard myself go, "Oh snap. Sometimes better can equal boring." The thing that I really want to pull out that you said that I was like this is a tweetable moment, open-ended opportunity. Listeners, I have to ask you, what is your open-ended opportunity? Where should you be going?

Sally, this is amazing. In your keynote, you mentioned that we live in a world that is commoditized, distracted, overwhelmed. You also said different is better than being better. Unpack that for the Marketing Smarts listeners just a little bit more, because I feel like we're at the tip of the iceberg. I feel like there is a second level that we can get to with this. Unpack it a little bit more as we move forward.

Sally: Think about it like this. Visualize, better is the straight up and down line of an axis. It's vertical. Think of a ladder. You're improving a little bit, you weren't good enough, but now you're good enough. Oh wait, somebody else is better, so now you have to climb higher, faster, struggle, spend, overhead, people, higher, trying to get better.

Now I want you to imagine different as the horizontal line. Unlike a ladder of better, different allows you to have the schedule, the budget, the outcome, and room to explore. I want you to imagine the different being horizontal.

Stepping it up one level further. I'm going to send you this visual, George, so that you have it for YouTube. We all want to be better and different, but there are actually four different areas of this quadrant. Imagine this to yourself. Better is vertical, different is horizontal. There's better and different. There's better but not different. There's not different, not better. Then where the opportunity is, different but not better yet. I'll describe what I mean by that.

Every brand wants to be different and better, of course. It's the Holy Grail. It's the Hall of Fame. That's Oprah, Tesla, Rolling Stone, Disney. We can all look at brands that are different and better as having a massive competitive advantage because they have a place in the market that nobody else does and they're doing it with excellence. The problem is that although we may all want to be there, where most of us end up going is better but not different.

This is one of the greatest mistakes that brands make, they focus on improving without continuing to stand out in the marketplace. These are brands like Burberry and Toyota. Brands that focus on their claim to fame as awareness, depth of audience size, but they're very quickly getting overtaken by their competitors.

The bottom quadrant, not different, not better, just think of the outlet mall. Do you remember Ed Hardy? It was a fashion brand that was kind of roses with a wave of tattoos. Ed Hardy used to be a hit at the whiskey bar, like Johnny Depp would wear him. Remember the days back when Johnny Depp was Johnny Depp instead of trial politics? These shirts were about $100. Now you can buy them at Macy's outlet mall for 82% off because they aren't better and they aren't different, they got overtaken.

The magic quadrant area where growth happens, where excitement happens, this is what brainstorming looks like and feels like, it's where creativity lives, it's where breakthroughs live, it's the quadrant of different, not better. You can't live forever in different, not better. Eventually, you have to continue to invest in improvement. The problem is that if you don't make these variations, if you don't give yourself space to do experiments, to try, fail, try, succeed before people start copying you, you'll never be able to live in the different and better quadrant.

Now, I have to admit launching a book is terrifying to me. I've launched several books, and book launch time is sort of like when you were a little kid and you had a birthday party and you didn't know if anybody was going to come. You put the book out there, and it feels very naked, and it's really hard to just sit back and watch Amazon reviews roll in. I decided with this book, because different is better, we're doing something completely different.

We're releasing the book in micro editions. There could be a MarketingProfs micro edition that would be targeted just to MarketingProfs. We could do another edition that is just for entrepreneurs. Before we do the main launch where it goes out in bookstores, airports, etcetera, we're going to do these micro editions to be able to get the feedback, to use it as a beta phase, a test phase.

George, do you want to become part of the test phase?

George: You know I do.

Sally: I'm going to give you a URL to go to where you can download a chapter of the book. Does that sound cool?

George: That sounds amazing.

Sally: It will be When you go, you're going to be able to download sample content that isn't just why to be different, but how to be different, how to start applying this. You'll see that the design is decidedly untraditional. The next time you see another micro edition of the book, it could be 100% different. We're giving ourselves tons of room to explore and play, which is really at the heart of any great big idea.

George: Play, explore, test. It's almost like you're on a marketing podcast with the words you're using.

Sally: Almost.

George: It's absolutely amazing. Speaking of that, one of the things that I love to do, because just at my core I'm kind of a tactical actionable guy, I like to do those things. My brain always goes to this is amazing, this is great information, people need to run with this, but what's the how? More importantly, in your B2B Forum talk, you mentioned these words which for me are a trigger of a bolt onto your brand, whether it's professional or personal. The question that I want to ask you is how can you stand out, how can you be different in an authentic way that doesn't feel like you're bolting it onto your brand, that just truly is this is your difference, your differentiator, and it just feels natural?

Sally: Look back over the course of your life, those times when you accelerated, when you just kicked ass. Maybe it was in a social environment. Maybe it was in a sports context. Maybe it was a college class or maybe a kindergarten class. A time when you can look back and be incredibly proud of the result that you achieved. What was that internal quality that you already have? Who were you being? What were you doing? Why did it matter?

When I was growing up, not only saddled with the last name Hogshead, I was kind of a weird little kid. My parents traveled a lot, so I would go to school in the stuff from the dress-up closet, like the Easter hats and old pocketbooks. For me, it was very fulfilling and authentic, but my teachers pulled me aside and tell me I had to tone it down.

We've all been told this. You can be passionate, but don't be too passionate. Be confident, but don't be too confident because then you're an asshole. Be a good listener, but don't be too quiet because then you're an introvert. What were those qualities that then translated to being your greatest successes? For me, wearing my crazy tutu on my head in the fifth grade, and continually getting points taken off my grades for it, ultimately when I started studying what makes people different, I had a deep understanding of what it means to be silenced, what it means to be made wrong, to be told that you're broken, that there's a certain way that you're expressing yourself that you shouldn't, that you should be awkward and embarrassed.

I had that experience. I think on some level we all have. It's when we didn't make the team. It's when we got broken up with, we got our heart stomped on. It's when we worked on a project and we still failed. In those moments, we take the qualities within ourselves that are the single most defining qualities, it's who we are at our essence that when we're a little kid flourishes.

In those moments when we are made wrong by being told we're not the best, we take that and we put it into a box, and we put the lid on the box, and we put the box on the shelf, and we close the closet door and we walk away, and we learn how to become boring. We dedicate our lives to not being different and instead to being better. We try to improve. The more we try to improve, the more we're wrong for being exactly who we are.

The how is think of those personality characteristics. When you go back and you look at your heritage, when you go back and you look at your past, what are the times when you were exceptional? By exceptional, I do mean the exception. Think what are parts of your internal culture, your human being culture, the celebrations you have, the traditions, the times when you look back, who are you living and breathing, and how are you doing it in a way that matters, that isn't right for everybody but is perfect for somebody?

You don't have to be perfect at everything, but you have to be extraordinary in certain areas. It's our responsibility to find out what those areas are because the world needs it now more than ever. When we tell kids, "You're not good enough. You have to be better," or, "You're too different. You have to stop being different and fit in," we are crushing ourselves of the potential that they can deliver in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our relationships.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Remember, this is part one of a two-part series. Make sure you reach out and let us know either in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B what's your one thing.

I know for me it was pretty much the entire episode. This idea of figuring out historically what you are exceptional about, meaning you were the exception, and diving into that, and your heritage, just the things that make you you, and becoming more of that, yes, please give me more of that.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or a friend, or in this case maybe even a family member. Until we meet in the next episode where again we talk with Sally Hogshead about some crazy other questions that I have pertaining to her B2B Forum keynote speech, I hope you do just a couple of things.

One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen to next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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