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Brand 101: Standing Out In The Crowd

Today I attended the Top Chef tryouts and had a great time chatting with some of the chefs who were auditioning for Season 9 of Bravo TV’s hot reality show. I’ll be guest blogging about it for Table Talk Radio and will post a link when it’s up.

Even though a lot of the chefs described some delicious and mouth-watering dishes, the descriptions of seared tuna dishes are all a bit of a blur. (Tuna was a popular choice for the culinary interpretation of the color blue.) It was a great reminder about the need to create ways to stand out from the crowd.

Bravo is conducting auditions in 9 cities across the country. Clearly, it’s a given that there will be many extremely talented chefs applying. So I was surprised that when I asked ‘what makes you stand out’ that many of them answered in what I would call ‘ante-in’ terms: ‘I’m passionate about culinary arts’ or ‘I have great cooking skills’ or ‘I’m creative.’ Really? That might be what gets your foot in the door but it’s not what will make you stand out.

My guess is that when the casting director sits down to review all the applicants, she’ll remember the chef who included a clip of his break dancing routine in his audition tape or the one whose culinary interpretation of Five Gold Rings (from the song Twelve Days of Christmas) talked about how his antipasto plate was designed to evoke the spirit of Christmas and the warm feeling of singing Christmas carols around the table with his family. Or the chef whose interpretation of the color blue was a Cookie Monster cake in honor of his new niece.

Image copyright Robert J. Pennington

The same is true for businesses. No matter what you’re selling, you have competitors with products or services that also have similar features and benefits. That’s a given just like it was a given that talented chefs would turn up to today’s casting call. It’s not enough to sell on that alone. Too often when helpinbg companies with their brand strategy I’ll ask managememt and employees what sets them apart and the answers are so overused or generic to be meaningless. “We’re known for our quality.” “We value our customers.” Or the hospital executive who once told me their differentiator was the quality of their surgeons. To which a consumer replied, ‘well I wouldn’t even consider going there in the first place if I didn’t think they had good doctors.’

So today was a great branding 101 reminder. What makes for a strong brand is a clearly defined brand promise and a distinct brand personality. Add to that some great brand stories, not just a list of bells and whistles. We’ll remember (and tell others) the stories long after we’ve forgotten the other details. Just as I can remember the face of the chef who told me about his 3 year old daughter, but not the one who talked about using nothing but the freshest ingredients, sourced locally.

Needless to say, I’ll be eagerly awaiting Season 10 of Top Chef to see if any of the chefs I spoke to today made the cut!

P.S. Gorgeous fig photo courtesy Rhizome Images, a boutique stock photography site.

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Filed under: Branding