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AVOID SAMENESS - Break Category Rules with Your Brand

Head for Blue Ocean with These Tips

Successfully implement blue ocean strategies, creating new market spaces and leaving the competition behind.

Entrepreneurs often refer to it as the "fire in the belly" – a combination of intuition, passion, and belief in their ability to bring something unique to the market. Identifying what the world needs and how to address those gaps with a new venture requires thorough research. This involves studying existing players in the market to identify opportunities and evaluating the unmet consumer demand and market failures. Once a clear vision of the opportunity is established, it becomes crucial to look inward for innovative solutions. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs find themselves stuck in a cycle of following existing categories, resulting in variations of similarity rather than something truly original and exciting.

Too often I see entrepreneurs stuck in category contagion leading to some variation of sameness.

Social media has had a significant impact over the past decade. For example, when a trendy café in a popular location gains attention on Instagram, similar versions start appearing in cities worldwide. This trend has led to a flattening of culture, resulting in fewer unique local expressions and making emerging neighborhoods feel more like shopping malls than vibrant centers of local creativity.

When we set out to develop Tender Greens, fast casual had yet to be defined.

That helped us define ourselves in a blue ocean manner - trend setting, out in front, creating a new category ourselves.

Focusing too much on what others have done before can confine a brand and its founders. This often leads to mediocrity and a lack of originality, resulting in a dull and predictable outcome.

How do you break a category’s mold so that your brand is not boxed in?

  • Start with values and intuition: A better way of approaching one’s idea is to ask - “what feels right?” How will our choices, no matter how small, connect back to our core beliefs? By anchoring in a core belief system, we can decide whether an external model, behavior, or campaign by someone we admire might inspire our unique version.

  • Consider your customer: The next step in this process is to think of your audience. Will this idea connect with them? Is the user experience aligned with our brand promises? Can we create moments of surprise and delight? How can we make key brand experiences uniquely ownable to us?

  • Lean on unique experiences: When a business can manifest their values through brand experiences that resonate with their guests in a profound way, it is gold. Replicating others, believing consumers will notice your version in a sea of sameness, is a sure path to mediocrity.

A personal example - When developing Tender Greens, we tested various table settings that needed to align with our earth sensitivity and fine dining standards, while also being practical for high volume operations. Instead of settling for common options used in fast casual restaurants, we chose Hepp flatware, steelite plates, and stemless Reidel glasses, aligning our values with our customer promise and setting ourselves apart from the competition.

This process of defining a brand through its many details, guided by values and customer experience, led us to years of category dominance.

If you are an entrepreneur seeking to create something unique, look inside yourself first, then find inspiration from those around you. Find and fill the gaps in the market in order to differentiate your brand from the field. Then, execute better than anyone else.