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Be different.

It’s not something you hear a lot. In fact, most of us are taught from a very young age that it’s better to tone down the things that make us different, rather than play them up. But according to Fascinate founder and CEO Sally Hogshead, being different is the key to fascinating your customers and making your brand more valuable, desirable and irresistible than your competitors.

Hogshead, whose Sunday evening keynote kicked off this year’s Fast Casual Summit at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott in Dana Point, California, shared the hack for successful branding that she began developing at the age of 24 as a top copywriter in the ultra-competitive advertising industry. At 27, she opened her own successful ad agency and soon became a New York Times best-selling author and one of 200 people in the Speaker Hall of Fame.

The secret, she said, isn’t changing your brand to make it better; it’s playing up what makes your brand different and using what might seem like negative factors to your advantage.

Consider the negatives, along with the positives

As an example, Hogshead told the story of the Florida bar located near a causeway bridge. This particular bridge stops traffic flow to raise the roadway for passing tall ships.

This easily could have been an impediment that kept customers away from the bar at the end of the bridge. However, the business turned that negative into a positive by running a promotion offering 25 cent beers every time the bridge went up.

Any time the bell rang to signify that the bridge was going up, customers would run to the bar to order cheap beer.

“The thing that makes you different is the thing that makes you stand out,” she explained. “Different is better than better.”

Knowing your critical difference is more important than ever in a restaurant business with so many competitors and so much “noise” via social media and promotions.

Brands that figure out their “fascination factor” create fascinated fanatics for their brand. The brand can then charge as much as 400 percent more for a product, based purely on that fanaticism.

It’s not actually about making yourself or your brand awe-inspiring, as much as it is about uncovering how your brand makes customers more awe-inspiring, Hogshead said. Sometimes, this means doing something a little unorthodox or offbeat.

To this end, she urged restaurant executives to hold out about 10 percent of their marketing budget to invest in nontraditional campaigns and promotions.

So, how do you “fascinate” as a brand? 

Hogshead listed seven ways to amp up a brand’s fascination factor:

  • innovation —look for new, unusual and better ways to meet customers’ needs;
  • passion — make your brand a social conduit that helps customers to connect more easily and meaningfully with others;
  • power —be confident in who you are and what you’re promoting as your key difference;
  • prestige — find ways for your brand to elevate customers to the next level of esteem in some important aspect of life;
  • trust — make connections that build trust, whether it’s inviting customer feedback or providing  something as seemingly insignificant as labeling that drives home the quality of your ingredients;
  • mystique —hold back a little about how you do what you do so well, so that customers and potential customers want to know more; and
  • alert — get into the details of all elements that matter to customers.

Hogshead began her talk with an example that demonstrated all of these fascinators, asking how many in the audience had ever had a shot of Jägermeister. Not surprisingly, almost all admitted to trying the high-potency German herbal liqueur with the hard-to-love flavor.

Next, Hogshead asked how many of these same audience members actually liked Jägermeister. Far fewer raised their hands.

This kind of response could indicate a real problem in marketing a product that tends to be a bigger hit with a younger crowd. In fact, when Jägermeister worked with Hogshead, the issue was that “most consumers were aging out of the brand before they’d even hit legal drinking age.”

Hogshead said they sold the medicinal-tasting stuff simply by promising a “toxic experience.”

“It’s the most popular brand that nobody likes,” she told an amused roomful of executives. “It promises a toxic experience. … People will say ‘I hate it.’ Then the other person says, ‘Me, too. Let’s drink some!'”

Again, it’s turning a difference — even a negative one — into a positive.

Hogshead said that once you figure out the fascinating difference for your brand, you must communicate it with maximum impact. To do this, you need to think about creating an “anthem” that explains how the brand is different.

First, she said, think of an adjective to describe the aspect you want to play up. Then, she said, hone in on what your brand does best by thinking of a noun descriptor. Then put the two together.

For a brand such as Nike, for instance, the key message boils down to “athletic empowerment” — a determination derived from lots of research — and that critical noun-adjective equation.

Hogshead said that the formula works well to give a brand a simple statement or distillation of key qualities that can be played up in engaging ways in communications.

She said that the best communication performers have been shown to demonstrate how the brand adds value to people’s lives through a specific benefit by accentuating that area of over-performance.

Finally, Hogshead urged the audience not only to try her approach in order to boost brand performance but also to use it to increase the diversity of personalities and working styles within both management and frontline teams.

As she sees it, by enhancing the types of people and working styles represented in “boots on the ground,” you increase the strength of the team — and that of the product they deliver.

Posted with permission from

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, S.A. Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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