Sometimes, admitting you’re second best is a good differentiation strategy.

Building out a differentiation strategy has always struck me as a bit ridiculous.

It never actually involves brands differentiating themselves from their competitors. But, instead, brands basically just saying they’re the “best”.

No, they might not always use the verbiage “best”.

But, that’s what they’re insinuating as they litter their marketing communication with words like…

And, other business buzzwords and jargon that leave prospective customers smelling something fishy and calling bull-shit.

Having written copy over at Honey Copy for brands in industries ranging from beauty to fitness to tech, I’ve realized that the most effective differentiation strategy must begin and end with honesty.

And, sometimes, that requires a brand swallowing its pride and admitting it’s the second best or the third best or even the fourth best.

Don’t take my word for it, though.

Let’s take a hard look at a real-life example of where claiming second best paid off big as a differentiation strategy…

How accepting second best helped this brand win big.

Years ago, the rent-a-car space was booming with two major players leading the race — Hertz and Avis.

At the time, Hertz owned a behemoth-sized chunk of the market share and was the undisputed “champion” in the industry.

Yet, despite this, Avis marketed the way most brands do when they’re the clear second, they pretended they were first.

For thirteen years straight they were treading water and losing money with marketing campaigns making bold dishonest claims like…

That was actually a slogan they used at one point.

Fortunately, one day, a savvy marketer came up with a rather provocative idea…

This initial idea led to the following slogan…

Almost overnight, Avis started making money… an assload of money.

All because they swallowed their pride and admitted that they weren’t the best nor the finest nor the most innovative nor the most disruptive.

They sent out a very clear and honest marketing message…

Well played, Avis.

(Well fucking played).

When it comes to designing a differentiation strategy, honesty is the best policy.

Even the best marketers in the world are guilty of the occasional stretching of the truth.

However, in a world where everyone is making ridiculously bold claims about being the best all of the time… it’s refreshing to see a brand be honest every once in a while.

And, additionally, not take themselves so seriously that they can’t swallow their pride and admit that maybe, just maybe, they’re not the best.

However, this is certainly easier said than done.

When I get hired on to write pretty words for a brand, the last thing I want to tell them is…

That’s a good way to get fired.

So, instead, in my head, I tell myself they’re second or third or fourth and come up with honest reasons folks would still spend their hard-earned money on them knowing this.

Differentiation strategies that actually make your customers want to buy whatever it is you are selling.

Generally, when I’m honest with myself about where the brand I’m working with sits at in the race, I can come up with great differentiators.

For a moment, let’s compare two very different brands that sell pens — Pilot and Montblanc.

You would never, in a million years, claim a Pilot G2 pen is better than a Montblanc.

However, what you can honestly claim is that a Pilot G2 is still damn good and over $400 cheaper than a Montblanc.

Some solid marketing language around this would be…




Now, I’m not claiming these marketing messages are perfect (I wrote them out in a few minutes) but I think they are much better than G2 pulling an Avis and writing…

The bottom line is that every industry has hundreds of brands competing for a share of the market. This makes it impossible for there to be more than one best or finest.


So, if you are reading this right now, there is a good chance your brand is second or third or fourth…

Finding the courage to admit you’re behind the market leader.

Then, come up with an honest differentiation strategy you can use to sell your product or service despite not being the best.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.

You gotta check this out — Sticky Notes is my email list reserved strictly for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.

I write pretty words and sometimes sell things.

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