Marketing Strategy Blog

Defining Who You’re NOT

Branding Strategy - Define Who You're Not

Have you ever seen the episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza decides to do the opposite? It’s a hilarious take on the idea of doing the opposite of what you have instinctively always done, in which George finds tremendous success in going against all of his normal instincts.

Whether you’re starting a business, launching a new product or rethinking your current marketing, the tendency is to focus on defining who you are as a brand. We suggest taking the time to also do the opposite and define what your brand is not.

Why do the opposite? Here are four important reasons you should define who you’re NOT after you think you’ve defined who you ARE.

Strategic Focus

The luxury car market is ultra-competitive with makers like BMW, Audi, Acura, Lexus, Volvo and Mercedes. All offer fantastically appointed vehicles that are leaders in performance, comfort, reliability and safety.

Is a BMW no less safe and reliable than a Volvo? No, but by eliminating comfort and high-performance as a defining characteristic of their brand, Volvo has differentiated itself in this market as the leader in safety and reliability. BMW on the other hand, is very safe and luxuriously comfortable, but its message of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” leans on its strength as a performance-driving vehicle.


Part of the process of creating a brand is uncovering what is truly unique about your product or service. As much as you set a brand vision, that isn’t always evident at the outset. For example, you can buy shoes at the mall or online from a wide array of retailers.

However, Zappos has built a $1 billion dollar footwear empire based on the premise of fantastic customer service and free returns. Early in their corporate life cycle Zappos decided that if they were going to be about customer service they couldn’t be like every other online shoe retailer in terms of returns. They eliminated drop shipping and gave their customers the ability to return shoes with their 365-day return policy. By taking the time to define what customer service is and isn’t, they uncovered their core belief, which separates them from most other online merchants.

Long-Term Relationships

Successful brands have enduring relationships with their consumers, because they’ve created a connection that both the brand and the consumer believe in. You can’t build a successful long-term relationship with customers if there are questions about what you stand for. Think about a brand such as Apple who has a diehard following. There are clearly comparable alternatives in the phone, PC and tablet marketplaces. However, once Apple decided to be, well, Apple, and focus on design and distinct usability, their brand transformed and has created some of the most diehard brand loyalists around.

Character and Personality

As individuals, we have a core set of values, attributes and beliefs that make up our character. We also have a personality that is reflected in how we talk, what we do and what our interests are. We also know exactly what we don’t like, as well.

Great brands take the time to define not only what they’re “into” but also what they’re not, and they reflect that in all of their messaging and marketing in the form of their brand personality. It gives them direction on how to communicate with their core customers.

For example, in the national coffee wars between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, their brand personalities reflect who they are, and in turn, who their core customer is. Dunkin’ Donuts does not market to the individual who wants to sit in a coffee shop for a while drinking a more complex type of coffee, listening to roots, jazz or worldly music. Hence, “America Runs on Dunkin” reflects the Dunkin’ experience and go, go, go nature of their consumer. Conversely, Starbucks has used the slogan “Starbucks Frappuccino. Work Can Wait” which is the exact opposite of the “run in, run out on the way to work” message that resonates with a Dunkin’ consumer.

In each instance, the marketing was informed by whom their best customers are with the aim to build long-term relationships that resonate with the character and personality of both the consumer and the brand. That can’t be done effectively if you don’t take the time to define what you’re not. Remember that next time you’re in Starbucks wondering why there’s no Katy Perry playing or why you can’t find a comfy couch at Dunkin Donuts.