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Strategies To Distinguish Yourself From Your Competitors

In Conversation with Sean Brown

For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser hosted Sean Brown, Founder and Managing Director of Digilari Media, a full-service Digital Marketing agency. Matt and Sean discuss the strategies for developing a unique selling proposition that transcends price differentiation, while recapitulating some of the best bits from top marketing books. Watch now to gain a competitive edge.

Look for ways to stand out from your competitors because if you don’t, it really just comes down to price and convenience.

Sean Brown
Founder and Managing Director of Digilari Media
Hello everyone. Welcome to this episode of Ecoffee with Experts. I'm your host, Matt Fraser, and on today's show, I have with me, Sean Brown. Sean is the Founder and Managing Director of Digilari Media, a full-service Digital Marketing agency headquartered in Sumner, Queensland, Australia. He has business and leadership experience in the Digital Media Advertising, Tourism and Leisure, and Real Estate sectors, covering all facets of business operations. He focused on sales and marketing alignment growth strategies, overall financial management, people, and culture while driving growth opportunities. Sean, thank you so much. A pleasure to have you here.

Thanks, Matt, glad to be here.

Yeah, it's good to have you. So, Sean, you've had an interesting journey in your career. I saw you've gone from a Group General Manager in the hospitality industry to working as a Strategic Solutions Executive in the retail industry. What motivated you to start your Digital Marketing agency? Could you tell me about the journey?

It’s interesting because if you go back a couple of steps, I was in the Direct Marketing game for many years, and then I was doing out-of-home advertising or marketing, bus shelters, billboards, etc. And then, I sidestepped into hospitality because a leading businessman in Queensland, one of the founders of Flight Center, and his wife have a couple of cattle properties, hotels, and luxury resorts. So I moved over to them for three and a half years, which seemed like a good idea then. It was an eye-opening experience, fantastic, and I learned a lot. The idea was to get in there and learn how someone built something like Flight Center and his philosophies in business. Then I wanted to go out and start looking at other ideas. I had some TV concept ideas, etc., which never panned out. So it put me back into corporate, that’s where the Retail Solutions Manager came in. It was back in Direct Marketing, calling on companies like Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, or any American or European retailers I wanted to catalog in Australia. So I was talking to a few of those guys. Then management changed, and I found myself on the wrong business side. So I got into a smaller Digital agency that was doing web development, and they were doing Digital Marketing, SEO, PPC, etc. They decided to close down the marketing side of the business and were going to cut a few clients out of the equation and leave it as web development. So that provides the opportunity to say, Okay, why don’t I start a company called Digilari, and I’ll look at some of the clients? So we got to talk with some of the clients, and not all of them wanted to come over with us, but we got a few. So it was a great way to start an agency with immediate cash flow from day one.

Oh, that's pretty interesting. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in starting?

Well, we had zero processes and didn’t have we didn’t have a website. It all happened within about two weeks, so we had to hit the ground. It was an open business, whether it was a Marketing agency or an accounting firm, you had an open business. So you had to set up policies and get team members. I had a minor partner come with me from the other agency, and he stayed with me for about a year and a half before realizing that running your own business is not a walk in the park and demands a lot of hours and commitment. He opted to go to safer waters, which I don’t hold against him. So for the last five and a half years, it’s been me at the helm. And one of the biggest challenges you always have for an agency, particularly if you’re a smaller type of agency. The bigger guys can and do offer better money or better packages. They’ve got better-appointed officers, so there’s a lot of attraction. When you have a good person working for you, and they see a lot of opportunities there, so the hardest thing is keeping the people not so much, keeping the clients but keeping the table.

So let's talk about like, for instance, if I knew then what I know now about starting a Marketing agency, it's almost like Sean, and you can agree or disagree with me or tell me I'm out to lunch. But it's almost more important to know the business side of things. It's one thing to know how to be a practitioner in SEO, Google ads, Facebook ads, or web design. It's a different story to take that, try to make a business out of it, and have the business skills to run it. It's remarkable. Did you have a mentor?

No, not necessarily. There are plenty of people online you can read about and look at. It’s interesting what you’re saying about being a practitioner in SEO, PPC ads, or whatever the case. I was zero with that. I’ve always been a sales first, marketing second type of guy. So when I came into this my whole thing was okay, how do I scale my knowledge? And probably not the depth of knowledge, and I’m not going to be doing schema markups or anything like that type of knowledge. So I’m talking about the top line, looking at the whole digital footprint of businesses and saying, Okay, where are the opportunities to improve this? So it wasn’t mentoring, per se, but trying to find people who knew what they were talking about. And at the time, not that he’s a Digital Marketer in-depth character, but like you mentioned, before coming on about Gary Vaynerchuk. At that time, he was starting to get his daily vlogs and so forth happening. So he was focusing on marketing so that I could glean some information. It was not marketing in the traditional sense, but it was about how to utilize or leverage the channels in Digital Marketing to get the best results. Such people like him and Brian Dean from Backlinko is another one. So if you read the blogs and so forth, which are quite long and extensive, you can glean a lot of top-line information, enough for you to have good conversations with clients. And not enough that you become a technical boffin and the client’s eyes glaze over. So it was trying to get that right balance of not being too tech but not being too digital naïve. Find the source of the knowledge and make it what you want.

And it's very interesting because you took the approach of being a salesperson in your company. Here's a question I have for you, this is very interesting. How did you overcome people asking you what have you done? What have you done if I don't have any websites or case studies? How did you overcome that?

People said to me previously that I get a genuine interest in our client’s businesses. Once I start asking questions, it leads to how their sales work, how they manage their leads, and what marketing they tried in the past. If it’s all about the conversations about them, the customer, they’re not looking at us and saying, well, you’re lacking credibility. You haven’t got much of a background in that area, but I certainly had enough to talk about their business and other business experiences I’ve had, and I have a good network, so I was able to call on that. But people don’t look to you to have as much credibility when you are taking a great interest in their business, speaking in the right positive growth terms, and understanding their challenges as business owners and what they’re experiencing. On the other side of this Matt, which is very interesting, I often hear that it was refreshing to have a conversation with me because I wasn’t straight into the digital guide. So I was, I was more about saying it doesn’t mean because I run a Digital Marketing agency that Digital Marketing is the answer to every question. So there could be other answers that I could probably assist with.

That's very interesting. What were some of those things just out of curiosity?

Well, the sales and marketing engine is set up. How’s that at the forefront? How do you address clients? What’s in your proposals? How quickly you’re responding? One of the things we’re getting into a bit more now is finding, okay, do you understand your unique selling proposition? Let’s face it, I used the 70s term, but I think it’s missing inside very much. It’s more prevalent now than ever because if you look at one website to another website to another website, take away the brands or the logos, and we are looking at a lot of sameness. Digital Marketing or the various channels of Digital Marketing are the tools, but we have to find the problem and apply it to what we’re trying to overcome.

It's interesting. I hope you don't mind me sharing. I have a blog post I will publish called, Seven Reasons Why Building a Website Is Like Building a House. And the number one thing is the foundation. And it's interesting, many people think the foundation is pictures, text, and code. It is not, the foundation is what you just said, a unique selling proposition. And it's so mind-boggling that there are so many websites, and they should call themselves another plumber.com. Or another home renovation company.com, or just another dentist.com. Because they haven't worked on the strategic part of their business, which is something you should put a lot of work into. So it's interesting that you bring it up because I haven't had many people talk about the unique selling proposition. So I learned about unique selling propositions from two people, Dan Kennedy and Michael Signoff, and he got it from someone else. He bought the entire materials from a guy who developed an incredible course on the unique selling proposition. I can't remember what his name is. But anyway, and then he and Perry Marshall learned from Dan Kennedy. But even Perry says the number one thing that will be the success of your Google ads campaign has nothing to do with Google ads. It's your unique selling proposition. Can you share with me your definition of a unique selling proposition?

From our point of view, what can you bring to the market that differentiates you from your competition now? It was a belief that there’s only one USP- a unique selling proposition per business, but you can have multiple if you’ve got them good because it allows you to talk about more aspects. So when we look at Unique Selling Proposition, we go back to the values or the philosophies of the businesses. Where it’s going to be sitting, it’s more about, if you’re a plumber or commercial cleaner, or whatever the case may be, it’s the foundation of why you’re doing what you do, not what you do. So it’s the way you bring it to market. So what you do is commercial cleaning but the why is, you may have experienced the story of people getting ill at work, or it created more absenteeism. So you’ve identified that, so you then get more of a story to talk about than a normal yes, we offer commercial cleaning, teams that come out, clean, etc. That’s expected.

That’s the standard, blah, blah, blah, and it's boring.

And so I think I’m not, I’m not always great at picking up examples out of midair.

Yeah, well, Dan, always taught that a unique selling proposition was uniquely identifiable about you in the marketplace, combined very powerfully with an irresistible offer. So think about Mitsubishi, did it? They have a ridiculous warranty on their engines, it might even have been like 100,000 kilometers, but a Mazda had an unlimited mileage warranty on their engines. They said, we don't want to limit you to how much you can drive because we're all about enjoying the drive, so they put in unlimited. So it's like, they looked at and built better. Mitsubishi's tagline was USP built better. And whether that is true or not, your USP should align with your actions. But we were talking about plumbers there. And I guess what pisses people off about plumbers, at least where I live, is they're never on time. So this guy started his plumbing company called the On Time Plumber, and he guaranteed he'd be there on time or give you a $100 gift certificate or something. So they talked about how you should always fashion your USP to stand behind it with some guarantee or warranty. So, for instance, in the context, and I don't understand why now, I might ruffle feathers with some of our audience members here. And I don't mean to take over the interview here, by the way. Web design agencies can offer a 100% Customer Satisfaction guarantee, if you're unhappy with the design at any point in the process, we'll give you your money back before we start the coding. And we offer a two-year warranty on our websites, we guarantee that our websites will work for two years exactly as they're supposed to. You're going to update the code anyway. For example, if you're dealing with a CMS like WordPress, or Hub Spot, you know what will work. And we're not talking about any additional development add-ons. We're just talking about the flip and CSS is going to work, and there are so many agencies that won't want to do it, and I have suggested it to a couple.

And generally speaking, most of the agencies who build a website have put their name at the bottom of it anyway. So they should sometimes want it to maintain its integrity for at least two years. And I often get the USP discussion a little bit mixed, well, not mixed up, but it blurs into the brand positioning line. I often look at the likes of Avis. If you go back, they were number two, so they tried harder and stated we are number two, and we try harder. To me, that is taking a unique position, and they stood on the rooftops and shouted we are not number one. So, that’s going back many years, I think the 60s or early 70s. But it’s something, once you have the bull by the horns, you can megaphone it everywhere you want. So you can, you can put it out there, and as I said, I think that’s where I get caught in the brand positioning and USP. So it’s a little bit of a mix. It will not make the marketing purists happy with those types of comments. So to me, it’s a good way to have a conversation with people and say look, you’re using some of those examples to teeth out there as the USP. So people sometimes need a good example.

So think about Geico, 15 minutes could save you 15% in car insurance. That’s their USP. They're bloody brilliant.

They back it up with an entertaining way of delivering it, like the pre-roll YouTube ads. We don’t have GEICO here in Australia. So, even watching those, they were probably Labrador or golden retrievers, jumping up on the dinner table and eating everyone’s dinner, which was fun to watch. So they got their message out, they made it entertaining, and you didn’t skip the ads. So pay full marks to them.

So it's important that one of the key foundations of marketing is developing a USP.

And it goes on to other things. If you look at Jay Baer’s book Talk triggers, it’s all about creating that word of mouth, and all of these are in one melting pot of your life. So, there’s another book called Red Marketing. It was by Yum Foods CEO and Lead Marketing guys, and a lot of the things they talk about is the distinctiveness, having something that differentiates you in the marketplace. And a lot of that USP talk is around that type of thing. And even Mike Michalowicz, in his book Get Different, is saying better isn’t better, different is better, and it all ties back to the USP arena.

You've mentioned three amazing golden nugget books in less than a minute. Talk Triggers- The complete guide to customers with word of mouth by Jay Baer, Red Marketing- The three ingredients of leading brands by Greg Creed and Ken moon, she is the co-author, the former CEO, and CMO of Yum brands. I can't remember what yum brands are, but anyway. I'm going to read these books. I'm always interested in this stuff. And Mike, Michalowicz Get Different- Marketing that can't be ignored.

In one of the stories, you may have heard of the Savannah Bananas, a baseball team in Savannah. And it’s like no other baseball team, how they approach the game, their audience, the entertainment value, and reading a bit about them. They took a struggling team, they didn’t call on the Savannah Sailors, Serpents, or anything like that. They gave them a quirky name Savannah Bananas. So they ran a competition to get the name. I think someone got it from Westfield, and they loved it, and the yellow became a sticking point, obviously the mascot being a banana. It’s fun and separates The Savannah Bananas from others. I think it’s a college baseball team. It got so much airplay on ESPN sports, unusual sports, or whatever the case. By focusing on, how do we differentiate from the other baseball team in the other city? Or when you go to a baseball game, what do you see? What do you do? Let’s 10x that experience table, and they suddenly become a bit of folklore in the marketing game in sports. It’s in these in these books you find all these excellent case studies. From a credibility standpoint, you talked about starting and talking to clients about those gems that you hear and read, which then gets them thinking about, okay, what can we do differently in our business, and that helps us establish with them the USP. From our perspective of view, Digital Marketing standpoint, we can go great, we got something, and it’s better than beige and vanilla to talk about.

Yeah. And then you can ramp things up like having a solid USP, as baseball ticket sales are off the roof.

They made more money during COVID when sporting teams were shutting down, and no one was going, they made more money than they did the year prior. They’ve got merchandise sales, and it’s becoming globally known. So they did a couple of other things, but it shows the power of finding a different creative USP.

That's a USP, and it's fun, 100%. It's amazing how many business owners want to be boring. I was saying off camera to you that I worked for a car dealership as a Marketing Director, and the business owner I tried to get him to bring some life. For instance, in the book, Outrageous Advertising That Works by Bill Glazer, who used to be Dan Kennedy's business partner. And I said, Bill Glazer had a straight jacket on the cover, and it says Outrageous Advertising Campaigns. And he used that in one of his men's clothing store campaigns. He was like, prices so low, they think I've lost my mind. As you know, the swipe and deploy is like, why don't we do this for the dealership? Why don't we put you in a straitjacket and take a picture of you? I was trying to get him to implement his life stories and things that were going on in his life. So he was getting married, and I was like, let's do the frickin boss's away honeymoon sale. But he wouldn’t do it. He wanted to be a boring old vanilla car dealership, which is retarded. Sorry, I shouldn't use that word, which is not good. It's not going to get you anywhere, man. So why would anyone come to buy a car from you when they've got the Mazda dealership? Are you just competing on price?

It’s pricing and meanings then, that’s all. And many times in my conversations that I’ve had with businesses, they don’t want to have this outrageous something that might put them in the arena of discomfort. Not because it won’t work but because they’re worried about what their peers will say. You can see it all over the mourners; it’s not what we do. It’s not the industry, and you think, well, hang on a second, you’re marketing to the wrong people. So you’re not marketing to your competitors, you’re marketing to your customers. So you find a way to cut through. I’m going to get this rolling, Tom Dickson, it’s Blendtec or blends.

Are you talking about Blend? What a brilliant thing.

The story started with a new Marketing Manager walking through the plant and finding these mounds of rubble, a small wound sitting on a desk, and as he asked, well, if you don’t mind me asking, what are these mounds of blended stuff sitting on the desk? I think he said that’s Tom testing his blenders, he blends different things. So the marketing guy said, let’s get that on film. Let’s find out what it does. And every new iPhone or iPad that came out, I went into the blender.

Shows his USP and that he has a pretty strong blender.

Again, he demonstrated a unique selling proposition of a blender that does not stop at the hard things, and he demonstrated it in a fun way that people loved. You look at the YouTube views of these Will It Blend, and it’s not hundreds of 1000s, it’s millions for everyone. You can’t buy that marketing; you can’t. So I think the fun is always top of mind and a talking point.

Yeah. These blenders aren't cheap. They cost $4,000. I'm looking at them right now. $4,000 for a blender. The lowest one I am looking at is 1230 Canadian dollars.

I think he went from a 40 million turnover the year before doing it across America to about 160 within a very short time, and that’s years ago. So, it’d be bigger and better now, I’d imagine.

Yeah that is such a phenomenal story about the power of a USP.

I think if you add that you’re trying to move away from vanilla and beige, and doing what everybody else does in this type of scenario, you start to say, Okay, what’s the philosophy of the Digital agency? I hang pirate flags, and I try to get people to think about being more pirates in understanding that. Was it Steve Jobs, and if people fact-check this podcast, Matt, they might correct all my information. But I think it was Steve Jobs who said I’d rather be a pirate than join the Navy. So my agency’s standpoint, I often ask my guys, are we blurring the lines? Can we blur the lines a bit more? Can we push the envelope here and let’s get out of our safe waters and try different things for clients? Try different headlines, and try to be different and creative. Many of our clients don’t have the budgets to film videos, so we use a lot of stock video that we mainly manufacture into a film or editing or film. They are very short. We sometimes put some crazy ideas to them, and they can reject them, but we’re just doing it to keep our pirate mentality up and going. It’s having that internal communication or thought that we don’t like beige or vanilla. And we get the opportunity to be more pirates.

Is there a process you've developed for taking businesses through this?

I’m in the process of doing it. I’ll be perfectly honest, we have the cart before the horse. We’ve put up on our website a page, Digilari Different. And it talks in and around the brand positioning and establishing your point of difference, it’s taking a bit out of that Red Marketing book. We’ve got clients who have multiple products and services that some of their clients only know they’ve got a few of them. So, bringing those into light, we’ve got to find ways to connect Product A with product C so clients can understand what they don’t. It might be a food processing client that is a flavor enhancer, they do dry rubs, Béarnaise butter to add to your steak, prepackaged, and so forth. They do so much across an array of all food products like poultry, small goods, snacks, and all this type of thing. But someone in the poultry world doesn’t know about the dry rub scenario. So we’ve got to find ways to bring those together, prompting us to say, Okay, where can Digilari Different help clients tackle this challenge uniquely?

That is awesome and so smart. Hey, what is one takeaway you want people to get from this episode?

I think it’s fairly obvious, Matt. We’ve talked about differentiation, like, looking for ways to stand out from your competitors because if you don’t, it comes down to price or convenience, and that’s a no-win long-term game. I think there are plenty of examples where people have nutted out their USP, they got the point of differentiation, they’re proud to be talking about it constantly or pushing it out there, or it becomes part of the fabric of their business. So I think anytime you can find a way to separate yourself from the competitors positively and it’s got to match your brand and business. One of the examples I used is in one of the books it’s saying, if you’re a lawyer and want to get attention, you’re dressed like a clown in the courtroom, and you’re not going to get far because it doesn’t connect and match. So I think you’ve got to have a way of differentiating, that differentiation is attractive and attracts people. And you’ve got to get them to do something in the end. So it’s got to be tied together that you want them. So they’ve got to be clear on that next action, although you’ve taken them down a bit of a different route.

That's excellent advice. I want to thank you so much for coming to the episode today. It's been an awesome conversation. How can our listeners connect with you online if they want to?

Look, anybody can send me an email if you go to digilari.com.au. Website, the contact details are there. I’m on LinkedIn, Sean Brown five, S-E-A-N Brown, the number five, and my email is Brown@digilari.com. I’ve got a few other things like Twitter and so forth. So let’s face it, direct contact is the best way to contact people.

Yeah. And I'll make sure to put that information in the show notes.

Thanks, Matt, I appreciate it.

It’s been a pleasure having you here, thank you so much for being on the show.

Thanks for having me, Matt. That’s great. Cheers.

Cheers. Bye

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