Are You The Wind or The Flag?
True story: back in the day, I worked for a client who was going to revolutionize computer diagnostics and repair via the Internet. There were only a handful of companies offering this service at the time and our client had been the first to market. Among their many other marketing goals, they wanted to establish their leadership, highlight their cutting-edge technology and portray themselves as innovative and entrepreneurial. They offered an exciting product and service, and it was a great opportunity for them to stand out in the industry. However, every idea and design we presented to them was killled—not because they weren't good, but because no one else they knew was doing it. It was simply too different. After three rounds of creative, they e-mailed us links to technology service websites that they liked—including one of their competitors—to help provide an idea of what they wanted to look like. When we pointed out that none of the sites they sent us particularly stood out, the answer we got was, "We don't want to stand out. We want to be competitive." For them, being competitive meant looking exactly like their competitors. So much for being leaders, cutting-edge and innovative.
In marketing, you are either the wind or the flag. What it means is that you are either the one strongly setting the direction, or you are flapping along and following it. Market and industry leaders with established brands are often the wind, both in terms of their products/services and the way that they market them. But not always. Upstarts who want to get noticed and those who aspire to be market leaders often play the role of the wind, as well—especially these days. But regardless of whether they are a long-established brand or are fresh off the branding turnip truck, what "wind-makers" share is a desire to take things in new directions. They are unafraid to cause a stir. They walk the talk by being innovative and cutting-edge instead of simply saying they are.
In the professional services marketing world, there are far more flags than wind-makers. But those few who venture to be the wind really stand out. Leaders, visionaries, innovators, trendsetters... they're unafraid to stand out, to do things differently. They are confident in their actions and their message. They set the course that everyone else follows. In professional services, if you establish yourself as a leader, then you must lead in every aspect of your business—including marketing. So the question to ask is: Are you willing to be the wind or are you just the flag?