By Liz van Zyl, founder of The Content Agency
The Content Agency was recently tasked with helping our tech-savvy future-focused client bring their app – set to revolutionise the way Africans interact with apps – to market. A brilliant idea! Also a fantastic team and a robust product. But they had the worst positioning ever! You see, their slogan (and core positioning) read: Moving Africa Forward.
“Hmm, that’s not so bad,” you think… “In fact, it has a familiar ring.” Yes! It has a familiar ring, alright – it’s Standard Bank’s slogan! (well, the “Moving Forward” part at least). And client presented it to us as their own. As if they had coined it. Of course, we quickly realised what’s at play here: Kleptomnesia – the act of accidentally remembering the ideas of others as our own.
In his vastly acclaimed book, Originals, Adam Grant admits that “nothing is completely original, in the sense that all our ideas are influenced by what we learn from the world around us. We are consistently borrowing thoughts, whether intentionally or inadvertently.”
So, how do you safeguard yourself from stealing someone else’s idea? What measures can you put in place to come up with your own ‘original’ ideas and positioning?
Take time for a brain-dump
Whether you’re trying to come up with your core positioning or simply brainstorming the name of a new product, start by just putting pen to paper. Write down everything that comes to mind. Every. Single. Thing. Don’t censor it. Don’t edit it. Just scribble it.
To help get the creative juices flowing, it may help to prompt your team with some questions. In the case of the slogan I mentioned above, you could ask questions like: “what do we want to be known for?” or “what makes this product great?”.
Nothing kills momentum like the word “but”. So remove it from your vocabulary completely for the duration of your brainstorming exercise. Instead, say “Yes, and?” to every single suggestion or idea. Create a safe space for creativity to flow, you can start evaluating ideas later on in the process. Right now, you really want to dig deep and truly engage with the problem or topic at hand – without that critical inner voice lurking over your shoulder.
Look at what your competitors are doing and saying (or not)
This step is contentious – and you can decide whether it will hurt or hinder you. I’ve learnt that this is a good step to include when the above two steps have not really helped our clients get into the meaty bits of what they want to convey. We’ll mostly use it to get clients talking and thinking; to invoke their passion.
For example, we’ll tell them that their biggest competitor says X and Y about their own products. Then we’ll ask client what makes their product different to that of their competitor. Or better yet, what makes it better. Why should customers buy from you and not your competitor? Or, why are your products more pricey (or cheaper) than that of the competitor?
While this step can prove helpful when your team are struggling to articulate themselves, it’s not a mandatory step. On the contrary… Many of us don’t want to be defined in relation to what our competitors are doing or saying (or not doing or saying). We want to break new ground. We want to stand apart. Maybe we even want to develop niche markets. In that case, skip this step.
Summarise, Distil, Articulate.
By now, you should have loads of information and ideas. Sure, not all of them are 100% viable, but there’s beauty and brilliance in each one. You just have to identify it. Take all your newfound information and classify it into different themes or categories – this will make it easier to filter and manage. Once you have a couple of high-level categories, construct sentences or messages around each category to encompass the ideas, themes and information enveloped in that category. At this point, you should have a couple of messages at your disposal. All you have to do now is put them in words in a way that resonate with you and includes everything you want to say. Play around with different words until you find something that works for you.
None of us want to be known as copy cats, as unoriginal or uninspiring. Following these simple steps will help you steer clear from accidentally borrowing someone else’s stuff. It’s an easy and foolproof way to create messaging that’s unique to your company, brand or product. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time either.
Liz van Zyl is the founder of The Content Agency in South Africa, a specialized content development and copywriting provider. Liz loves helping clients work out the best ways to get the word out and achieve their business goals. Over the last decade, she has crafted communications and marketing content and copy for prominent organisations and private individuals in Africa and Australia; and has also been published in a number of national publications and media channels.
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