In music, comparisons can be the bane of your existence. Every artist wants to find their true voice that resonates with his/her fans. My former band Third Day recorded what would be our first national release during my senior year of high school in 1994. The tracks first showed up on an independent CD called Contagious. The songs next appeared on an independent record company release in 1995. Finally, we were introduced to the larger world on a major-label release in 1996. (Don't hold the inconsistent fonts and color pallets against me when we talk about visual identity in the next blog. I was just a teenager.)

Something happened in music in between the releases, a little phenomenon called Hootie and the Blowfish. Their 1994 Album, Cracked Rear View, sold over 10 million albums in 12 months. They were the biggest success story in music that year, and Hootie mania swept the globe. 

Both Third Day and Hootie and the Blowfish were fronted by deepthroated southern gentlemen surrounded by groups of musicians who grew up with the same record collections. Consequently, both groups were drawing from the same wells of inspiration. When our album was released to critical review, the similarities in our sound to Hootie's were quite often described as derivative in nature. I was a Hootie fan. So, it never bothered me that much. But, I would defensively try to point to the fact that we had recorded the album long before we had ever even heard of Hootie and the Blowfish. That being said, the reviews stung, and we couldn't seem to shake the label: "The Christian version of Hootie and The Blowfish." They were the market leaders and we were perceived as a calculated copycat (at least by some critics.) Fortunately, we had a dynamic frontman, had put in our 10,000 hours cultivating our live performance, and were driven by a deeper purpose than critical response. Enough people were connecting with our songs, and specifically the lyrics of our songs, to overshadow the lack of perceived originality in our sound. 

Our response to the critics was an attempt to chase after a more alternative sound on our follow-up record. We were going to out-rock Hootie! We were like a restaurant changing its menu in response to a bad Yelp review. Our singer died his hair blond. We raided thrift stores for clothing. We tried to be something we were not. There were some good songs on the recording, but they were masked in a more aggressive sound than really suited the band, and our southern influences were totally sterilized from the recording.  My mom's response to the music and album imagery, "Why are you guys so sad?" (If you know me at all, I'm an ENFP, the life of the party. I'm not the morose brooder pensively staring at his pocket watch in the picture below.)

Subsequently, that recording was our least successful recording project we ever released. We were operating outside of our true identity, which I discussed in the first blog of this series. Fortunately, despite virtually no significant airplay, we were still given the chance to make another record. We had a great team at our record company that believed in our potential, our brief identity crisis notwithstanding. We decided to embrace our uniqueness. We were ready to stop worrying about the Hootie comparisons and just be ourselves! 

We wanted to make music that we enjoyed, that expressed who we were and that we knew our audience would enjoy. The resulting album "Time" was our first gold record. The first song "I've Always Loved You" is still one of my favorite Third Day songs, and was our first Adult Contemporary #1 single. Ironically, once we just embraced our authentic self, we didn't receive any more Hootie comparisons. Our first album also went on to become a gold record. 

I asked Sarah Lee, Syrup's Brand Strategist, how we help brands find their uniqueness.

We’ll often fill up a whiteboard with a list of our clients’ competitors and ask our client why someone would choose a specific competitor over them. Once we talk about why, I ask ‘If I were your target audience and I was thinking about going to one of your competitors, why would you tell me I should work with you instead?’ Often, putting themselves in the shoes of their audience and thinking through their options is the key to discovering the differentiators of their brand.
— Sarah Lee, Brand Strategist, Syrup Marketing

There's another component to your uniqueness that shouldn't be overlooked, your company culture. If we return to Simon Sinek's Start With the Whymethodology, this is the "How."  We've identified the who, we've established the why, now it's time to think about how we can intentionally define and broadcast our company culture. What's it like to work for your organization? How do you want to interact as a team? How do you want to treat your customers? What are unique ways that you can delight your customers? How do you want customers to feel when they walk into your office or storefront or visit your website? What are the ways that your company can leverage its resources to make your community a better place? What are the traditions, practices and ways that you can be your true self? When you're operating from the inside out, your culture will define your brand, good or bad.

How do you do it?

Embrace your uniqueness. Third Day found it when we stopped trying to be something we were not; when we focused on our fans more than our critics. Maybe your company is trying to be something it isn't. Be who you are. Your uniqueness is what gives your purpose power.

PART 4 OF THIS SERIES IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE.

 

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