Is Your Brand Voted "Most Likely to Succeed?"

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  • People like to categorize things: including organizations.

  • Your organization’s brand should have the same level of commitment and consistency as the Class Clown or the kid voted Most Likely to Succeed. 

  • If your employees aren’t clear about what your brand stands for, your prospective clients aren’t likely to have clarity on your brand positioning either.

  • When positioning is unclear, marketing and sales strategies tend to be disconnected or spaghetti on the wall. 

  • Effective brand positioning is key to growth, because it differentiates your organization from others in specific ways that are valuable to your target audience.

To understand how your organization’s marketing and overall brand positioning directly impact your business results, we have to return to … high school. 

High school was where we learned things: algebra, foreign languages, world history … along with who was popular, who was unpopular, and where we fit in. High school was where we learned about being “on brand.” You could spot the jocks, comic book nerds and band kids from a mile away. 

Then there was the high school yearbook. The high school yearbook furthered our early understanding of effective branding, because the yearbook published who won the most votes for any number of superlatives, including “Class Clown” and “Most Likely to Succeed.” 

When we consult with people on their organization’s marketing and branding strategies at Wythe Ave, we like to use the high school yearbook superlatives metaphor. Even though we’re all unique and shouldn’t be pigeonholed, human beings like to categorize things, including people and organizations.

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If you asked your customers to describe your brand, what would they say? 

If you’re unsure, you’re not alone. Most brands aren’t well-defined. For every Apple or Amazon, there are thousands and thousands of other brands that hold no distinction in our minds. If you looked at your organization closely, you might say, “We’re really good at delivering X, Y, and Z.” But is this remarkable in your industry? Is your organization so well known for that specific thing that you’d get the most votes if we created a yearbook of all the businesses and organizations you compete against?

We’re not picking on your organization. It’s just that most companies profess to be great at everything … and as a result, they’re not known for anything

Back in high school, the kid voted “Class Clown” was generally the funniest, and liked to cause mischief. The kid voted “Most Likely to Succeed” tended to earn straight A’s, took on extracurricular activities and knew the answers to every question the teachers asked in class. 

In other words, the winners of the yearbook voting were consistent. Class Clowns and Most Likely to Succeed “owned” their unique positions in high school. And it was unlikely that the same individual would win both awards.

How is your organization known in the marketplace? And ...  is this helping your organization to grow?

One of the things that we do with clients is to bring stakeholders from different departments together and ask them to describe their organization: its strengths and unique value proposition. You’d think we’d hear the same responses from everyone. After all, we’re talking about the same organization! But we most often hear different answers—quite frequently, vastly different answers

That’s a problem: because if the people who work at the organization have different views on what the organization represents, just imagine the confusion in the marketplace! 

Before we can help our clients to align a brand positioning and marketing strategy that is clear and effective to grow market share, we often have to help our clients first identify why their brand is so diluted. Most often, it’s because the organization grew organically: adding services as the marketplace asked for those services. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, for many organizations, it’s the playbook that’s led to growth. But this approach to growing business may have negative long-term consequences for predictable and repeatable sales. For example,  your organization may begin relying too heavily on word of mouth referrals to drive new business. (See our Spaghetti Report on the consequences of relying too heavily on word of mouth to drive sales.) 

We often see our clients compensating for offering too many services by having different elevator speeches and talking points, or trying to cram multiple messages into an ad or website home page. 

That’s when brand dilution really becomes detrimental to growing the business. 

When the positioning is unclear, marketing and sales strategies are unclear. You can’t hit a moving target. That’s why so many salespeople think they need to “show up and throw up.” In other words, keep saying things until something resonates with the prospect. We see this pattern when we review our clients’ marketing campaigns: too many messages, too many bullet points, every possible feature and benefit crammed into the advertising copy to avoid “missing” an opportunity to win over a prospective client.

Let’s return to the yearbook metaphor for a moment. 

Kids who were voted for categories like “Class Clown” or “Most Likely to Succeed” were consistent. Class clowns consistently cut up in class. Kids who were voted “Most likely to succeed” came prepared every day to learn.

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What consistent practices should your organization put in place to stand out and outpace the competition?

One of the exercises we like to do with our clients is to identify all their organization’s brand attributes: the services they offer, how they are different versus the competition. Then we ask our clients to imagine they are their ideal customers: how would their ideal customers rank the importance of these attributes? Those attributes that are both unique and highly valued are the areas we help my clients to hone their focus.

This is easier said than done! Because it means saying no to certain things. 

The class clown said no to being buttoned up in class, because the class clown’s brand is to be a jokester. The kid voted “Most likely to succeed” said no to daydreaming in class, because she decided she was going to make Honor Roll again. 

In business, what are the things we often have to say no to in order to say yes to growing market share and becoming the destination for ideal customers?

Organizations often have to say no to:

  • Lines of business that aren’t profitable or don’t fit. Providing these services forces the organization to divert focus from other lines of business that could be even more profitable.

  • Clients who represent where the organization was—not where it’s going. Sometimes the clients who got you to this point aren’t the clients who can help your organization get to the next level.

  • Being everything to everyone. (Enough said!)

NOT being everything to everyone might be the toughest thing organizations and its leaders have to address if they want the brand and marketing to resonate. 

Derek Sivers famously said, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no.” Every decision you make either brings your brand positioning into further clarity or dilutes your positioning. Brand dilution is often a gradual process; it’s generally hard to spot at first. But one of two outcomes is happening in your organization every day, with every decision you make: brand clarity or dilution of your positioning. 

Class clowns and the kids voted “Most likely to succeed” figured this out back in high school. It worked for them well enough to get other kids—who typically agree on nothing else—to vote for them accordingly.

Your organization’s brand should have the same level of commitment and consistency as the Class Clown or the kid voted Most Likely to Succeed.

The results are worth the cost of consistency even when you believe your brand isn’t “the best” yet, or haven’t achieved the positioning you would like. Let me share an example from my pharma sales days. I represented a drug that helped kids with asthma. The medication did its job well. Our competition, however, found a way to link a keyword with their rival medication: “Safe.” Safety is of the utmost importance to pediatricians and parents. My company had a more complex positioning: our drug was effective, easy to use, covered by insurance...and safe. Over time, the competition’s rival drug grew market share among pediatricians because the brand stayed focused on one powerful brand attribute: “Safety.” 

How does this story relate to high school, class clowns and your brand’s positioning?

  • Humans like to categorize things, including your brand. The “Safe” brand positioning message stuck with the pediatrician audience. It was simple, clear, and powerful. 

  • If your audience voted on your brand today, what category would you win? 

  • And would you be happy with how your customers and prospects perceive your brand? 

Wythe Ave Consulting is a Richmond, Virginia-based marketing consultancy that gives clients Fortune 500 insights without the Fortune 500 price tag. Learn more at