The Case against Not Being a Contrarian
Think this title is confusing? Try interacting with a company that’s going against the flow. When a brand takes a contrarian position, it can leave their audience confused and frustrated, not to mention turned off. So why do brands do it? Does taking a stand lead to success?
The truth is, contrarian brands are powerful, but risky. So before you decide to buck convention and march to the beat of a different drummer, consider what’s at stake.
Here are some of the pros and cons of being a contrarian brand:
Benefits of Being a Contrarian
Distinguishes Your Brand
There’s no faster way to get noticed than by being different from everybody else. It’s like the kid wearing a hot pink sweatshirt while everyone else is in uniforms. By being contrarian, you establish yourself as not like the other guys—this distinguishes your brand.
Makes You Memorable
Say you go to a new town and eat at five different restaurants, all of them offering a burger and fries except one. At the other place, everything’s gluten-free and vegetarian. Do you think you’d remember it? A basic law of branding is that being different makes you more memorable.
Gives You Competitive Advantage
In a Fast Company article about what distinguishes successful entrepreneurs, author Catherine Kaputa writes that some of the most important lessons are “not obvious to many business owners because they are counterintuitive. That’s why they are so important.” The fact is, the best way to beat the competition is to think of something they haven’t—that’s exactly what being contrarian is all about.
Cons of Being a Contrarian
Confuses Potential Clients
A lot of business mixups happen when brands decide to break the rules. If your home goods store uses a contrarian name like “Fried Chicken,” complete with the image of a rooster head to the right, customers could misunderstand. If you decide to be the one bank in town that doesn’t offer ATMs, a lot of your client pool could feel frustrated by what they’ve come to know. And when you disappoint customer expectations right away, you’re creating a first impression that’s confusing—not a great start to building loyal fans.
Takes Time to Build Brand
While, with enough time, brands can often change initial perceptions (think previous word connotations for stores like Apple or Pottery Barn), the fact is that these changes do take time—sometimes a lot of it. A clothing store that opens in the mall will have business on day one; a shop that sets up sales in a remote area will have to drum up business to bring it in. When you do something different, you have an uphill battle getting established.
Could Be Foolish
Bucking tradition just for the sake of being different is more than poor business—it’s foolish. Sometimes, everybody does things a certain way because that certain way works. So before you jump ship, make sure your contrarian viewpoint makes sense.
How This Affects You
What do the above considerations mean for you and your brand? Have you been pursuing a contrarian path or following in others’ footsteps? Realizing that choosing to be different has both positive and negative side effects, take a step back and see where you are. Could thinking outside the box set your brand apart? Or, on the other hand, could being too different be hurting your success?