Who are you? I really wanna know!

Have you ever noticed that some people (especially politicians), products and companies describe themselves by saying who or what they ARE NOT, rather than who or what they ARE?

You’ve heard all the variations: “I’m not like my competitor.” “We’re different from the leading brand.”

Why do people — and companies — uses this messaging tactic so often? And we have all done this at some time or another. It invests an awful amount of energy into someone else’s brand story, rather than your own.  I think the reason is because it’s easy to do and uses an established brand — good or bad — around which we can package our message. Unfortunately, when you do this, it tends to dominate the conversation.

There is another way which I think works much better. Simply state who you are or what your brand is about. On my company pages we say, “We pride ourselves on being a small agency that is client-service oriented” rather than, “we’re not a gigantic agency.” It places the focus on OUR brand story, delivered in the context or frame that we’ve built.

That way, we can then have an entire brand conversation without the need to ever directly mention other brands.

Besides, clients — internal or external — want us marketers to talk about THEM, not ourselves or others. So let’s focus on doing that!

From the Wayback Machine: A version of this post first appeared in 2007.

About Arthur Germain

Arthur Germain, Principal & Chief Brandteller of Communication Strategy Group is the curator and main blogger for Brandtelling, a blog about Brand+Storytelling.


  1. says

    Yes, saying you’re different is a lot easier than saying why. A long time ago I was on the team that kicked off Oregon’s “Things Look Different Here” ad campaign. The tagline stuck around for 16 years. It worked as a tagline because the ads emphasized the off-beat nature of the state. But I think it was an exception, by an exceptional ad agency, that proved the rule.

    Which is to your point: In most cases the difference has to be demonstrated, not just asserted.

    For instance, those web tabs that say “Why We’re Different” probably communicate just the opposite. If you’re really different, why save the explanation for a particular page — just BE different in a way that makes a difference to your customer.

  2. says

    Arthur, I’m wondering the same thing. Perhaps, it’s easier to compare yourself to others.. than to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ because it’s like asking about your sole purpose here on Earth.. and with brands who are striving hard to find what makes their customers tick, the answer to this very question comes with limitless possibilities and multiple twists. Just a thought.

  3. says


    You’re right. Answering the “Who am I?” question is often a show-stopper for many brands. Easier for them to position themselves as the anti-something… like the old 7Up Un-Cola positioning. That worked because they backed it up with descriptives “cool, refreshing taste…” Not every brand can make the anti-position work.


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