When I worked as a brand consultant, the advice that I gave most people most often was:
“It is better to be different than it is to be better.”
This is true for brands. Consumers expect a certain level of quality of course. But beyond the delivery of important benefits – they value individuality and the ability to express themselves as individuals much, much more.
This is also amongst the best advice I have given myself, too. In life.
From time to time we all worry about not being good enough. And we shouldn’t really because, I’ll say it again, I think it’s better to be different than it is to be better.
And the best way we can be different is simply by being our unique selves.
Morrissey isn’t the best singer. Jarvis Cocker? Not really. Madonna’s first mainstream success was with ‘Holiday’ in early 1984 and whilst Madonna is a good singer, few would say she’s a great singer.
Better versus Different
I think it’s better to be different.
It’s more natural, because I see different as simply the most adventurous, authentic and brave version of who you already are.
We know these people already, too.
It’s not people like Lewis Hamilton. For him we might say:
Wow. I wish I was that good.
It’s people like Boy George maybe. A talent, of course. But an outlier too. For him we might say:
When I started Always Wear Red I spent over a year researching. I’m still researching of course. But in the early months it was pretty intense.
This is not like me. I am more right brain than left. I live in the world of the possible rather than the world of the probable. I don’t like research.
However on this occasion, with a lot at stake, I researched intensely. My sense of adventure was as honed as ever but I wanted a degree of surety. I wanted to learn from those that had gone before me.
Two small quotes from two big names stick in my memory.
One from Paul Smith, that made me feel a bit sick.
One from Tom Ford, that made me feel a bit scared.
Both quotes started with an absolute – ‘no one’.
Paul Smith is one of the most successful British fashion designers ever. He has a personal net worth of around £350 million. His business remains privately owned.
When I was researching Paul, I had just closed two multi-award winning creative businesses and I was buoyed by new possibilities. I was confident. I thought that if I can do it ‘there’ I can do it ‘here’ too.
Then I came across something that Paul Smith says quite a lot:
No one cares how good you used to be.
That was a bit of a shocker. Paul was talking about how he stays consistent and focused in a world that craves innovation and excellence constantly.
“Hmm,” I thought. “I’d better get ever better”.
Tom Ford was Creative Director at Gucci and YSL before setting up his own label. Tom is now worth $300 million. I am about to quote him but can’t find where I first read this.
Even if I imagined it it’s still useful:
No one ‘needs’ anything that we have ever created.
Explaining why something is better is a waste of time. Why someone ‘needs’ it. This is trying to prove how you fulfil a need better than the next woman or man. In the world of luxury clothing this doesn’t work.
No one gives a shit about ‘better’.
Tom Ford knows that and so do I. I am determined to change how a man feels about himself and the way he sees his world when he chooses to wear the AWR collections. I create confidence for them; in them.
I sometimes spend too much time over-explaining why we are a better product (we are). When I should be talking about the fact that AWR things make you a better you.
That, after all, is our purpose.
Paul and Tom
So, Paul reminded me that it is important to never rest on your laurels. And Tom taught me that your brand has to be valued and really loved, not just known.
Maybe there’s something for you there too?
Paul Smith Video (available at the 50odd.co.uk website):
Elle is the author of a great book entitled, ‘The Crossroads of Should and Must‘. It’s a book about finding and following your passion. A global best seller, I believe.
Elle was a big influence on me for a few reasons. She is very approachable. Elle’s really pleasant to be around. We were together for three days on-and-off in Wales.
In this time, Wales, and Elle were always sunny.
Elle is also very open about her own experiences. Some of them are quite quirky and unusual. But she talked to me about pivotal moments in her life as if I were an old friend. Elle is a very warm and engaging person to be with. Unworried about what I or anyone might think of her based on what she was sharing.
Elle was unafraid. She was just being herself. I wasn’t sure how Elle managed to be so calm.
Maybe it’s because she practices what she preaches? Elle does what she feels she Must instead of what society suggest she Should do.
Elle describes the first step towards doing what you Must do, here:
“If you want to live the fullness of your life—if you want to be free—you must understand, first, why you are not free, what keeps you from being free. The word prison comes from the Latin praehendere, meaning to seize, grasp, capture. A prison doesn’t have to be a physical place; it can be anything your mind creates. What has taken ahold of you? The natural process of socialization requires that the individual be influenced by Shoulds in order to function as a part of society. However, as you grow up, it is healthy to be self-aware about the Shoulds you inherited. You might value and keep some Shoulds, while others you might choose to discard. If you want to know Must, get to know Should. This is hard work. Really hard work. We unconsciously imprison ourselves to avoid our most primal fears. We choose Should because choosing Must is terrifying, incomprehensible. Our prison is constructed from a lifetime of Shoulds, the world of choices we’ve unwittingly agreed to, the walls that alienate us from our truest, most authentic selves. Should is the doorkeeper to Must. And just as you create your prison, you can set yourself free.”
I am grateful to Elle for introducing this idea to me – the idea that we’re all empowered to free ourselves from the prison of Shoulds – because we created the prison in the first instance.
And all I could introduced Elle to was a flat cap. Albeit very nice flat caps, though.