How To Be Unremarkable

It’s doubtful that any small business owner sits down to compose his or her Business Plan, and starts the list with a #1 priority such as this:

Get lost in the crowd

Yet, it would almost seem that many, when naming their companies or coming up with a tagline, actually adopt that as a goal! Therefore, here are the Top Five Rules for those who would prefer not to stand out – who’d like to be undistinguished, unremarkable, and easily ignored…

1. Come up with a business name that means nothing. Ah, yes, Global Business Solutionsthat tells me a whole lot about what you do! Or, how about A & B Associates – catchy, definitive, truly memorable! Or, to memorialize the two partners who so brilliantly launched the enterprise, let’s go with Froghammer and Smith! That’ll tell the world what’s being offered! Remember – the goal is to keep the audience guessing – we wouldn’t want those pesky potential clients to immediately understand what the business stands for, would we?

2. Describe your business in the most generic way possible, so everyone will think they need you. “We supply business improvement products and services to the Fortune 5,000.” Hmmm…that’s unique. “We’re striving to improve healthcare around the world.” Wonderful – you and 50,000 other companies. “Our business is going about the business of helping your business gain more business.” Got it – you’ve just defined your niche neatly into the circular file.

3. Weave a less-than-meaningful tagline into your identity. OK, I made up the companies and phrases in 1. and 2. above (any resemblance to existing companies is strictly coincidental!). But now, let’s turn to some real examples. Pass by any UPS delivery truck and see this fog-inducing phrase: Worldwide Services. Well, that clears that up! Here’s a brilliant law firm tagline: Commitment to Excellence. Why, I’d rather have attorneys committed to mediocrity myself! Hilton is now rolling out a campaign under the ineffectual banner, Travel Should Take You Places (duh!). And how many companies have you seen adopting this ridiculously obvious and over-used phrase: We Mean Business! Now there’s an original and unique thought! Finally here’s a company with both a name and a tagline that truly embody the How to be Unremarkable rules: TIAA-CREF.

4. Look at what all your competitors are offering and saying, and mimic them. Be sure that when potential clients are looking for something, you pro-actively blend in with the crowd, and thereby be considered on equal terms. If Company A is talking about offering “complete end-to-end enterprise solutions to enhance supply chain productivity,” be certain that you adopt that message also, so that you can stand out along with the rest of the lemmings. Never lead – too dangerous. Follow!

5. Try to please everyone. Hey, it’s a complicated world, and lots of people get in on decision-making. So craft your message so that there isn’t a chance that a single person could possibly be offended, or (heaven forbid!) conclude that you have a different focus than what they’re looking for. Remember, all business is good business, so you don’t want to miss a single opportunity by narrowing your message to your unique core competencies!

Here’s a recent article taking Sears to task for introducing a new “say nothing” tagline. Companies and agencies both small and large can be guilty of applying the Top Five Rules!

On rare occasions, I forthrightly recommend that people not take my advice. This is one such occasion!

Image credit: Flickr

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  1. Excellent post, what attracted me was the counter intuitive post.

    Here’s another one, always use a stock photo of someone answering the phone on your site.

  2. What a great article Steve! How many entrepreneurs give little thought to their brand, their very identity in the marketplace? Too many.

    Your approach here is quite creative and hopefully will impact many people who are operating on auto-pilot, with no current standout strategy in place. Kudos!

  3. Great article. Unfortunately too many of us (me included) start our businesses worrying that we’ll miss out on work if we’re too specific. We think we need to be a jack of all trades, when really we need to focus on a well defined niche.

  4. Funny and true. I really wish I had started out with more about branding in mind when I started my first few sites. If it wasn’t for the ability to fuse a quirky personality into a business brand, I might never have become successful….

  5. Here is another one.

    Have impossible customer service. Make it a minimum of 20 minute wait to just get the receptionist. I mean having auto recorded phone system makes you important. Even though there is only one phone rep for it.

  6. Your article is so funny! Unfortunately, I’m guilty on each and every point that your listed. I’m totally on the same boat with John, we don’t want to miss out on anything so much that we get too general and end up missing the most. What a paradox! 🙂

  7. Thanks for the great comments! It never ceases to amaze me that even very large companies can do an amazingly bad job of branding themselves. As for trying to be “all things for all people”; we should be regularly turning down work that doesn’t fit our core skills and strategy, and built up a network of referral suppliers that can add value for our clients. Customers find that kind of honesty and readiness to help THEM find the best solution quite refreshing – and it brings them back to us as a preferred supplier.

  8. Just saw a post on Seth Godin’s blog that pretty much sums up Rule #5:

  9. Great points, Steve.
    In a world where “PC” has multiple meanings, it is amazing how the ‘courage to create’ is lost.


  10. Well said. I think a lot of these problems begin with #5–trying to please everybody. The worst part is, the “everybody” often turns out to be the internal staff, not the customer.