In Style or standing Out

As Flea took the stage at the FedExForum last week, wearing an outfit undoubtedly stitched together from the scraps of seven or eight other outfits, I couldn’t help but think about his unique fashion sensibilities. He was followed by a shirtless Anthony Kiedis, who wore colorful leggings and cutoff Dickies pants, and by Chad Smith, who was wearing a tank top/tracksuit onesie (at least that’s how it appeared from my vantage point).

These three guys make up the historical core of Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band that has always stood out — for their music, their antics and the way they look. Seriously, look up pictures of Kiedis’s hair over the years. It’s ridiculous.

People pay a lot of money to go to Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts because they know they’re going to experience something completely different from what they could experience anywhere else, from the lights and visuals to the music and dancing. It’s all weird. It’s all different. It’s all incredibly memorable.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers break all of our traditional ideas about style. If society deems something acceptable, the Chili Peppers defy it. It’s the reason they’re so universally unmistakable and successful.

Style is something we start to think about as early as pre-adolescence. From ages 10 to 14, we are trying to find our identity and jockey for a position within the groups at the top of the social ladder.

As pre-adolescents develop, they experience a changing body (which terrifies them and destroys their confidence), a desire to fit into society and learn their role (which drives them to seek out the opinions of their peers), and an increase in their ability to use logic and deductive reasoning.

This awkward combination leads to thoughts like, “I want to be a part of this group, but since I’m not very cool I’ll just talk and dress in their style. If I don’t stand out, no one will notice, and they’ll let me stick around.”

Middle school kids don’t want to rock the boat because they are too invested in the opinions of those around them, which is why most middle school kids look the same.

I’m sure you can think of at least one time in your life when you purchased an article of clothing on the weekend, and spent the next couple of days ready to show it off — only to be ridiculed because sixth-grade society wasn’t ready for your new tastes. Or maybe that was only me.

A client recently purchased an ad in a college football magazine, and he told me he really wanted it to stand out. My team put together an ad that couldn’t be compared to anything else in that particular magazine’s pages, all while staying true to the client’s brand and image. The client came back saying it wasn’t the same “style” as the rest of the magazine.

“Yeah!” I said proudly.

“It needs to be the same style,” the client insisted.

I was confused.

The client continued, “It’s a football magazine. It needs to look like a tailgate or a day in The Grove.”

The client pointed out other ads from previous magazines.

“It’s this style,” he said, indicating a field of homogenous ads.

Being in style and standing out are polar opposites.

Style essentially means “the same.” I think of style like the middle range on the fashion spectrum. When something is cool and exciting, it stands out. Then, the fashionable masses adopt this new thing, followed by everyone else. Eventually, through this process, it becomes the norm. Think back to middle school.

Bucking the trend and flying in the face of conventional style is terrifying if it’s not something you do regularly, but it’s something we must do as business owners and marketers. We must admit we are afraid to stand out, not because we don’t want to be identified as different, but because it feels we’re less likely to fail when everyone else is doing the same thing.

I regularly preach that the first step in a successful marketing campaign is awareness.

The second is separation — standing out from the competitors.

You cannot do this when you’re a carbon copy with slightly better/worse prices, slightly better/worse selection or slightly better/worse quality.

The truth, though, is that if you don’t stand out, you might not fail, but you’re probably not going to succeed, either. It’s far better to try something innovative and have it not meet your expectations than to simply be lukewarm.

If your desire is to fit in, why advertise at all? If your goal is to be flush with a competitor, what are you even trying to do?

I think the urge to fit in, in the marketing world, is a sign that you don’t believe in the ability of your product/service/business to stand out on its own.

The boldest among us are the trendsetters because they aren’t afraid to stand out, in a way that’s good or bad. In the present, fashion icons often look absurd to the layman, but wait five years, and you’ll see parts of that icon’s style proliferate throughout society.

While most serious artists were producing lofty and inaccessible works to inspire change or comment on society, Andy Warhol began a campaign of simply painting the things he loved — soup, money and celebrities. He stood out, and society thought he was weird until, one by one, they began to adopt his style as their own.

Now you can get a “pop art” filter on most free photo editing mobile apps.

Standing out even wears out over time.

If you can only define your business by comparing it to others, then you’re not realizing a greater potential.

The Microsoft of small-town bakeries…

The Uber of this…

The Kickstarter of that…

Why not be the YOU of YOU?