When It Comes to Branding, Know Who You’re Not

December 12, 2018

To know who you are, know who you are NOT.

That’s a lot harder than you might think.

Recently, I had a B2B client contact me about updating their website copy. They worried it didn’t reflect who they are today.

And lead generation was sluggish. They feared they’d been leaving money on the table because the messaging didn’t speak to ALL potential customers.

Now, sometimes this is a valid concern.

Your customers have to recognize their own situation in the problems you claim to solve. They have to be able to imagine themselves using your services or products.

In this case, the more I spoke to the client, the more confused I became.

Why? Because I couldn’t figure out who WASN’T a customer.

I couldn’t figure out who they weren’t willing to sell to or what service they weren’t willing to say they could deliver in order to win the account.

“If I’m confused,” I thought, “customers must be too.” The root of their lead gen problem became clearer.

They didn’t need to make their messaging more inclusive, rather…

They needed to make the messaging more exclusive.

Why? Because exclusivity, or specificity, drives decision making.

The alternative—claiming to be everything to everyone— makes it terribly difficult for people to know what makes you better (for them) than the next company.

Notice I said “for them.”

That’s because every customer cares about one thing…

WIIFM — “What’s in it for me?”

Customers want to make the BEST choice for them—the one that makes their life easier or better. The one they won’t regret later.

How does exclusivity help them do that?

Imagine you own a 1957 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, which carries a wow-inducing 7-figure price tag. Out cruising one Sunday morning, a tree branch falls onto your hood, leaving a hefty dent and scratch.

Now you need to find a great body shop. You have two choices.

  1. A large body shop that works on all cars: vintage, modern, US-made, German, Italian, British, Japanese, Korean, etc.
  2. A body shop that specializes in vintage German cars

Both have great reviews but, let’s face it, we both know which one you’d hire.

Being willing to say no to a 1000 different things—knowing who you are NOT—helps you (and your customers) get clarity on who you really are.


The better customers understand who you are NOT, the easier it is for them to make a choice.

There are a number of exercises I take clients through to help them discover who they are NOT.

One of the simplest is a fill-in-the-blank statement. Ask a few of your stakeholders to finish this sentence for you:

If you’re looking for ____________, then [COMPANY NAME] is not for you, because ____________.

Alternatively, walk people through a brainstorming exercise where you make a running list of attributes using the following prompts:

These are the types of customers we don’t serve…

These are the services or products we don’t offer…

These are the things we don’t do…

This is the type of company we are not…

I’m still surprised, even after all this time, at how rarely companies think about who they are NOT.

Just by doing this simple exercise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much clearer you get on who you are—or maybe who you really want to be.

Know thyself and customers will reward you for it.

If your lead pipeline is sluggish…

If your sales people are struggling to differentiate your value…

If customers react with a “meh” instead of a yes…

Ask yourself whether your branding is exclusive enough. How many things is your company willing to say “No” to?

Because the more things you say “No” to, the more your best customers will say “Yes!”


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