Should an Upwardly Mobile Zebra Shed Its Stripes?

Zebra losing its stripes.

Zebra losing its stripes.

You’re a lion. It’s dawn on the Serengeti. The hunger pangs of three days without food are becoming impossible to ignore.

Off in the distance is a herd of zebra. You’re down wind. You can smell the herd but they can’t smell you. You crouch closely to the damp earth, stealthily moving through the tall grasses. Your padded feet don’t make a sound.

The zebra slowly mingle in the herd. The stripes of one blend seamlessly into the stripes of the next, creating a vermiculite tapestry of white and black. Your only hope of catching one is to single it out from the rest, but which? How do you focus on any individual when you can’t determine where one begins and the other ends?

Wait. What’s that?

One zebra is grazing apart from the others. You can see it’s nostrils contract with each inhale and expand as each warm breath leaves its body. You watch its tail idly swatting at flies as it slowly steps forward to reach the next succulent blade of grass.

You are now focused on the one, rather than being confused by the many.

And the many? They have taken advantage of the safety of the herd.

Our instincts are to hide from predators. Herd animals like zebra, or sheep, or even people protect themselves by looking and acting like every other herd animal.

Taking risks gets one noticed. It exposes vulnerabilities.

Taking risks is… risky.

And what’s the upside?

Is there an upside?

No banker has ever been fired for refusing to make a loan. No investment broker was ever fired for buying IBM. Not taking risks is instinctive.

So we do the things we’ve seen other businesses do. We recite the same messages, replicate the same images, and deliver them through the same media. We stick with what works. We choose the tried and true and smugly congratulate ourselves on not taking any risks.

What passes for most business strategy is simply a “me too” game of “We do what they do, but you should buy from us instead.”

Unfortunately, “we do what they do” makes your business blend back into the herd. You’ve made the very things that make you the best solution to your customers problems impossible for the lions (uh… the customers) to single out.

Brace yourself.

“Me too” as a strategy fails because you’ve hidden your strengths.

Successful marketing of your business requires behavior that’s not only risky, it runs counter to instinct.

Successful marketing requires you to step apart from the herd, and draw attention to yourself.

Successful marketing requires you to shed your stripes.

Or, in fishing terms, there’s no point in hiding the bait when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about standing out from the herd and drawing attention to your business? Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com. Or call him at 304-523-0163.

 

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2 Responses to Should an Upwardly Mobile Zebra Shed Its Stripes?

  1. Matt Whitworth says:

    Definitely agree. I see this more with small business owners who do their own marketing. They basically copy ads, bullets that they see their competition using and think this will get them business. It will to some extent – but nowhere near the effect of creating a compelling marketing message which demonstrates true competitive advantage and is 'hot button' loaded

  2. Sasha says:

    Great analogy. The article reminded me a bit of Seth Godin's books.

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