Most business owners don’t want to draw that sharp line of distinction, and it’s why their marketing efforts blend into the clutter.
Discernible edges and silhouettes allow us to visually identify an object, separating its figure from the background “noise.” Eliminate those discernible edges and break up the silhouette, and you’ll effectively camouflage yourself.
In the top-left picture, you’ll notice how the person’s legs, backpack, and hat all present a solid silhouette, with clearly defined edges. They stand out from the background and are easily identified. But the man’s upper body, clothed by the camouflage pattern jacket, blends smoothly into the landscape. The pattern breaks up his silhouette and blurs his edges into the background of mountainside, snow, and brush. As a result, your eyes end up visually identifying the man by his packback and hat first, and then squint in to find where his shoulder, body, and arms “should” be.
This works the same way for advertising. Like our eyes, our minds also depend on edges and silhouettes. We define by giving parameters, mentally grasping a concept by its boundaries. Without the “edges” of contrasting reference points, a concept or term remains ambiguous at best. To know what a donut is, you have to know the difference between a donut and a danish — to know what isn’t a donut.
This is why grabbing after an “infinite” market and seeking to be all things to all people ends up camouflaging one’s brand and messaging; without contrast it all just blurs into the background.
And that’s a good thing because it makes it easy to stand out — if you’ve got the guts. Want to stand out? Sharply define the edges between you and your competitors. It’s that simple.
The better you do this, the more strongly you’ll turn-off some customers. But wouldn’t you rather powerfully persuade some of your market than be overlooked by all of it?
A Bold Example of Reverse Camouflage In Action
“You don’t want me to be your family doctor.”
Pretty ballsy headline for a doctor, huh? Wouldn’t you feel compelled to read more about this doctor with the courage to so brazenly declare what he wasn’t?
Having gained the reader’s attention, the body copy further explains: “Neurosurgery is one of the few medical specialties for which I am well-suited. I am not warm and fuzzy. I could never be successful as a pediatrician or in a family practice — no one would come back a second time. But I am very good at what I do.”
Dr. Goodman then substantiates his claimed expertise with a list of very impressive professional qualifications and accomplishments, rounded off with some examples of his extreme commitment to surgical excellence and his patients’ well-being.
While his professional qualifications are truly outstanding, most readers would never have read them without Dr. Goodman’s use of reverse camouflage in his headline. Saying what he wasn’t allowed Dr. Goodman to stand out amidst the clutter.
3 sure-fire ways to reverse-camouflage your messaging:
1. Get yourself an enemy and/or reject a reasonable alternative position
Nothing fires the blood quite so much as declaring what — or better yet who — you stand against. But you get no points for tearing down straw men; rejecting a reasonable alternative position puts teeth into your message.
2. Present a tightly focused perspective
Once you’ve narrowed the group of customers that you’re most interested in attracting, focus your messaging to speak most directly to their deeply felt needs, desires, and frustrations. People who don’t share those experiences will feel excluded, but your core audience will feel an instant connection. Both will instantly recognize you. Tim Miles offers a brilliant example of this on his “About Us” page.
3. Explain what costs you’re willing to bare and admit the downside to your offer/product.
What you’re willing to put up with in order to satisfy a passion can be as much of a marker of identity as the passion itself. Stick shifts aren’t as pleasant to drive in thick traffic, but a lot of driving purists wouldn’t have it any other way. Top end kitchen knives require extra care in terms of cutting surfaces and using the right knife for the job, but those are points of pride for Foodies and Chefs. So admitting these downsides is not only the right and honest thing to do, it’s also the persuasive thing to do. And for two reasons: 1) as just discussed, it helps enthusiasts further identify with your brand; 2) admitting the downside boosts credibility — and credibility acts as its own form of reverse camouflage amidst a background of hype and BS.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Camouflage, I highly recommend this brilliant piece in the New York Times.