Does Standing Out Sometimes Mean Fitting In?

The entire idea of disruptive marketing is often built around the guise of standing out, being different, and redefining norms of the day. It is a heralded truth of marketing principles I learned as a young planner. When there is an industry or advertising norm, you build your entire perspective on defying that norm in order to stand out.

When watching an interview celebrating the achievements of great practitioners like George Lois, the theme of culture defying thinking rang as a constant undertone. In his famous/infamous New York Magazine covers, oftentimes what stood out was the ability to break category convention and disrupt our audience’s perception, like with Marilyn Monroe shaving or Andy Warhol being consumed by the iconic Campbell’s can that originally made him famous with the declaration “final decline and total collapse of the American avant-garde.”

There is still a huge place for disruptive marketing. I personally believe in it as an art form. But in the past few years there seems to have been a shift in what is defined as creative breakthrough. When the form was messaging, the sole outcome achieved was to shout the loudest in the most differentiated manner. TO STAND OUT! When the form is function, does this mantra fit?

In the practice of user experience, the idea of disrupting a user’s experience with new “breakthrough” functions and designs is almost frowned upon. In one of the most famous books on the matter by Steven Krug, the author famously states “Don’t Make Me Think.” Great message-based content is meant to stop you in your tracks, whereas great functionality is meant to feel seamless, almost non-existent.

In a cluttered marketing world, we still need to stand out. How do we stand out while still fitting in? We can’t apply broadcast marketing thinking to service and interaction design. One is meant to stand out; another is meant to fit in. I’ve seen creative types so consumed with creating new and breakthrough functionality that they forget the user will not understand how to interact with this new function. It creates confusion and, ultimately, an unsatisfying experience.

To use a dated innovation, the Nintendo Power Glove is still one of my favorite examples of innovation without understanding human interaction. A toy launched in the late ’80s, the Power Glove was a way of interacting with gaming systems through a glove instead of a pad. It represented a wholly new way to engage with a gaming platform, it was breakthrough, it looked sexy (at least for the time), but was completely unusable. It did not fit into any gaming norms and therefore the step change didn’t offer a breakthrough but instead caused confusion.

We need to celebrate seamless optimization more. Many innovations today are not category or industry firsts. They are amazingly designed and thoughtful optimizations. Google is a refined Yahoo; Facebook a refined MySpace. In the advertising world, much of what we’ve done has been done. Others just optimized and did it better.

Things that break through are often the things that fit in and feel almost seamless. How do we fit in more?

Image via Shutterstock.

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