Marketing by Design (1/4): How to stand out through contrast

Contrast in design and marketing

There comes a day in every parent’s life when they hear their first “I want a pet!”. And under the umbrella of teaching their offspring responsibility and taking care of another being, some will give in. A few pleasant weeks fly by. But once the novelty fades, the whole experience turns into constant battle to remind them of their promise–or the parents just suck it up and take over.

There was a third option, for a brief period in 1997. Back then, children would want to raise a Tamagotchi instead. They’d have to be fed, cleaned and played with much like a regular pet, with just one major difference: they weren’t real, but little computer “pets”.

It was the stark contrast to their flesh-and-bone counterparts that made these virtual pets such a hit across the globe. A contrast you can apply to your own products as well if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Applying design principles to your marketing

Contrast is originally a design principle. Over the course of the next articles we look at four of these principles, and how you can apply them to your marketing message. But let’s start at the beginning: Contrast.

  1. Contrast in design
  2. Contrast in marketing: Unique Selling Proposition
  3. How to apply Contrast in your own marketing

1. Contrast in design

In design, contrast lives off difference. Bright & dark, thick and thin, orderly and chaotic. It’s the difference that creates tension that draws the reader to the page. Then it helps to put the information into perspective. The stronger the contrast the more pronounced this effect.

If the difference between the elements is not strong enough, contrast turns into conflict. If there isn’t a clear background color and sufficiently contrasting text color, the eye has difficulty telling them apart and strains. In marketing, you use contrast to set your product apart from the rest.

2. Contrast in marketing: Unique Selling Proposition

The most important difference your product can make lies in its proposition. How it’s different from competing products will be the first thing a prospect looks for when trying to make a decision in your product category.

If you cannot present it in a sufficiently different light, your prospect becomes conflicted. In rare cases will she scour the internet or read the fine print to really understand which one is the best choice. Unless she has a compelling reason, she will lump you together with the rest and keep looking for a third option that offers this difference. How then can you avoid conflict and create contrast for in your own marketing message instead?

3. How to apply Contrast in your marketing

As Contrast depends on two opposites, you cannot look at your product in isolation. Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) has to take the whole category in account, including your competition. These three questions will guide you towards your USP.

The most obvious differences you could possibly find lies in the What. If the answer is different enough from the rest, you got what you need. But in our saturated markets the end result of products is often the same. Then you need to dig deeper with the How. A different process can be enough of a reason to choose your product even when the result isn’t. And you take this even further by asking Why. Especially with a multitude of available options, the Why often becomes the final reason. An example to illustrate:

What: my product mows the lawn (not unique)
How: it does so without the use of chemicals, fuel or power (still a few options)
Why: We are committed to saving the environment which is why we use sheep

It works out decently in this example but what if your product isn’t that unique?

What if your product isn’t that different

If your product isn’t the different, then you’re in trouble. At least in the long run. For now you might have customers that buy from you because they know you or they are long-time customers. That’s contrast to the no-name competitors already.

But to continue to win new customers, you have to go back to the drawing board and create something with a difference. It’s just a matter of time until your margins will melt in the light of the growing competition.

Contrast is your ally in the battle for the prospect

Originally a design principle, contrast can be used in your marketing message as well. At its core, contrast is about the difference between elements–in this case your products and that of your competition. The stronger the contrast becomes, the easier your prospects can decide.

Asking the What, How and Why will help you carve out a difference if it’s not obvious. Once you have that difference, creating a Unique Selling Proposition for your product will be almost as easy as raising a Tamagotchi–with the push of some buttons.

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