Desirable Contrast: Marketing Fundamentals 2 of 7

In today’s article, I want to unpack the concept of Desirable Contrast and how you can use it to earn attention.

Because when it comes to growing a business beyond your network, every expert consultant and founder is faced with the same challenge: how do I get new buyers to notice me?

We’re awash in a sea of noise. Amongst the daily emails, tweets, ads, videos, and podcasts, every one of us struggles to pick out the stuff that matters amongst all the garbage.

And once you get past the spam, what’s even harder is standing out when the competition is actually pretty decent.

This happened with me a few weeks ago.

I was conducting market research for a client and needed to sort through an Excel sheet containing 80,000 companies.

I didn’t want to do the work myself, so I posted the job on Upwork. Within 24 hours, I had 50+ options, and when I read them, all I could see was this:

I was overwhelmed by the number of options

I filtered using some obvious parameters: Had they done this type of work before? Did they have an average rating of 4+? Did they have any testimonials?

But this still left me with around 20 to choose from, all equally qualified to do the job, all charging a similar rate.

Who should I pick?

Optionality is supposed to favour the buyer, but as the buyer in this scenario, feeling stuck, am I really benefiting?

The Paradox of Choice

In 2007 Barry Schwartz delivered a TED talk on how an excess of choice actually makes our lives more miserable.

During his talk, he mentioned the number of options you could find in a supermarket:

  • 230 soups
  • 75 iced teas
  • 40 toothpastes
  • 175 salad dressings
  • 285 varieties of cookies

And that was in 2007.

Today, you have 24,000+ Android smartphones to choose from. You have 3.7 million new videos being uploaded every day on YouTube. And God knows how many coffee products are at Starbucks.

This is just the number of espresso options at Starbucks

Life is constantly asking us to make decisions, providing us with a number of options to choose from.

Not only does this create paralysis, but it also makes us feel anxious about decisions.

“Did I make the right decision? What would’ve happened if I picked one of those 154 other options that looked so similar?”

That’s where positioning comes in.

It acts as a shortcut for buyers to instantly identify the right choice for them.

And, if you boil down positioning to its fundamental truth, you get to “desirable contrast.”

To help understand this principle, let’s unpack the last bit:


Do you know when people tweet their list of favourite accounts?

I used to think it was cool when my name appeared in a category together with big names.

“Wow. They’ve put me under the “marketing” category together with Katelyn Bourgoin. I’m killing it.”

Then, one day, I saw a list where one person had his own category. He was there alone. And a realisation struck me:

This guy had created enough contrast from the other accounts that he couldn’t be included in the same cluster.

I was delighted to get listed amongst some high profile Twitter accounts

That’s positioning.

Another great example is ​Geraldine Carter​.

Google ‘business coach’, and you’ll get 16.1 million results.

If you take a 1,000-foot view of them all, you’ll notice this common pattern: they provide ‘entrepreneurs and business leaders’ with ‘guidance, support, and encouragement to meet their business goals.’

These are broad, unspecified benefits to anyone who runs a business.

Geraldine, on the other hand, positions herself as a business coach who helps overworked accountants go down to 40 hours without giving up revenue.

Geraldine has zero competition

What’s critical to understand here is this:

We don’t possess the ability to judge the value of something in isolation. We determine value by comparing and contrasting one thing to another.

What successful consultants like Geraldine do is identify the existing clusters of competition in their market (categories) and create a contrast that distinguishes them from everyone else.

They eliminate the paradox of choice because suddenly, 50 options become 2.

Now, 50 options becomes 2

Geraldine creates the contrast required to distinguish herself from every other business consultant in the market and, in doing so, buyers immediately noticed her, even amongst all the noise.

But creating contrast alone isn’t enough.

Buyers need to perceive the contrast as desirable.

Around 5 years ago, I used to go to a Vegan cafe in my local town (population of 60,000).

There were 10-20 coffee shops in the town centre, and this was the only vegan cafe. They had clear contrast.

The problem was there weren’t enough people in the market who wanted to go to a vegan cafe. And it didn’t take long for them to go out of business.

They had contrast, but not enough people found it desirable.

That’s why once you find contrast, it’s important to ask:

"What do my prospects actually want, and is there enough desire to justify this position?

Before investing time and money into it, you want to answer this question.

We’ll unpack it in the next article - Relativity

Want to become a thought leader?

Every 4 weeks, I publish deep dives into B2B thought leaders, breaking down the content strategy they used to go from unknown consultant to top tier personality.

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