Challenging thinking series – article 5

Independent thinking died when we began to form tribes and migrate in groups.

Herd mentality took over.

Skip forward to the advent of marketing, and savvy marketers started to tap into this behaviour. Marketing became shooting sheep in a barrel. Influence the few and the many will follow.

But somewhere along the way, the narrative took an unsuspected twist – the marketers fell into a similar barrel.

Companies’ messages were blurring. Brands and their marketers began to huddle together in the grassy field of marketing, bleating out the agreed party lines of the industry.

All of a sudden, marketing sounded the same.

The fluffy rebellion

The good thing about conformity is that there will always be people looking to rebel against the norm.

Herd mentality gave us the black sheep.

Those people who question the tried and tested and don’t care for norms and trends.

Thankfully, some of those black sheep have ventured into business to challenge the market conventions. And it should be no surprise that a brand with black sheep thinking doesn’t bow to marketing habits.

A drive to do things differently

Let’s look at headline-grabbing inventor Elon Musk. The 21st most powerful person in the world according to Forbes. How did he get to such lofty, persuasive heights?

In part, by giving his ideas away. In 2014, Musk wrote a blog post on Tesla’s website. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

He realised that other major manufacturers’ electric car programs accounted for less than 1% of their total sales. Great. The market belonged to Tesla.

But Musk’s priority isn’t the lion’s share, it’s a greener future. And so he went against business lesson number one and told the competition his secrets.

Countless articles were written about the brand’s decision, and years later the brand continues to be seen as the driving force in electric vehicles.

Playing games with marketing

Perhaps you’ve played Cards Against Humanity, the self-proclaimed ‘party game for horrible people’.

On Black Friday in 2013, the brand not only challenged conventions of their market, but consumerism as a whole. How? They put their prices up. For one day only, the card game was $5 more.

The stunt was the top post on Reddit and Cards Against Humanity was the best-selling toy or game on Amazon that weekend.

In a more (very) recent example, the brand stopped being a brand (well, not really) and launched Prongles in a bid to ‘dominate the global snack food industry with a revolutionary potato chip’.

Scattered subtly across the garish Prongles website were references to Cards Against Humanity – ‘we don’t do that kind of stuff anymore’, and ‘that’s why we’ve retired our popular comedy card game’.

The irreverent stunt took over Twitter. Sales of Cards Against Humanity probably went up. Sales of Prongles definitely went up – they sold out.

The reason it works is because Cards Against Humanity’s marketing approach mirrors the tone and value of the brand, not the marketing behaviours of traditional games companies.

Rip it up and don’t start again

You’d think a clothing company’s main aim would be something along the lines of ‘sell as many clothes as possible’. But what happens when your ideologies and values clash with that thinking?

Patagonia’s brand values, and subsequent marketing, have always set the brand apart from the sportswear clothing crowd.

Rather than marketing its products, the brand markets its ethics and the manner in which its products are made. It champions durability and responsibility over over-consumption.

At some point (I’m not sure exactly when), the brand launched Worn Wear, an online shop for second-hand Patagonia products. People can send in their old Patagonia clothes in return for vouchers for new Patagonia products, and someone else can buy the old item.

A brand that wears its values on its stitched-up sleeves and encourages people not to buy its products unnecessarily should be in a terrible financial state – yet its estimated revenue for 2017 was $209 million.

That’s the power of challenging your market’s conventions.

What type of sheep are you?

Once you start applying this type of thinking to your marketing, the only limit is your imagination (or perhaps budget).

Look at the platforms you’re using to reach your audience – do your social media pages cut through the noise? Ask a bigger question – are you even using the right channels and formats?

What about WhatsApp? What about portrait video? There’s two article topics in two sentences.

There’s a warmth and comfort to the herd, but there’s a rich hunting ground waiting out there when you start exercising independent thought and listening to your instincts.

Ask questions like ‘what if…?’, ‘why not…?’ and ‘why don’t we…?’.

And remember – you can spot the black sheep in a flock of white brands a mile off.