Be Real or Remarkable (Not Both)

August 23rd, 2008   •   9 comments   

Seth Godin recently shared about the problems which companies face when they try to be both authentic and slick at the same time. He created a nice looking chart (see above) and warned us about being caught in the dead zone which is between the twin peaks above.

According to Seth,

“…really well done HTML email works, as does unique, hand-typed text email. It’s the banal stuff in the middle that people don’t read. And yet, 95% of what I see is precisely in the dead spot of the middle zone.

The Blair Witch Project and Pi both felt authentic. The Matrix was perfectly slick. The new Star Wars cartoon is just dumb.”

Interestingly, this point had some parallels with an earlier observation I made about authenticity in advertising as seen from the flyer below.

While the above flyer appeared to be amateurishly done, it did attract my attention a whole lot more than the yawn-inducing ads that real estate agents typically generate.

Similarly, I have noticed that Talent-time/Singapore Idol/The Dance Floor/other amateur talent contest winners rarely make an impact beyond their second or third years in business (with the rare exceptions). There is a distinct difference between doing well on an amateur, root-for-the-underdogs platform versus the cold, hard realities of trying to sing professionally for a living. You may sound cute and charming mimicking Britney Spears, but end up being hopeless with your own compositions.

In marketing and advertising, you need to decide where you wish to belong. Be either truly authentic, raw and gritty or go for the ultimate lush and classy category. Find a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors and do not try to be too many things to too many people (at least in one campaign or product launch).

At a certain point of time, one has to make a decision on where one’s standing is. And to accept which way is best.

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  1. posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    Ahhhh…. I agree with you. There are so many confusing promotions these days, I don’t know what they are marketing.

    Your competitors are all gearing up to get their share of the pie. I’m very impressed with NHB for coming up with quite a number of good marketing ideas and campaigns and keeping up with the times. Others are also catching to the ideas. :)

  2. posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 1:48 AM

    Ah, reminds me of Kathy Sierra’s Zone of Mediocrity post.

    I wonder though, about the graph. Does increased slickness inevitably lead to declining perception?

  3. posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 2:14 AM

    The assumption here is that “real” and “remarkable” (as per your title) are mutually exclusive.

    If the definition of slick is something manufactured, then I’d agree. But I believe that real and remarkable (done with high quality) need not be exclusive. Many pieces of literature are real and written powerfully.

  4. sho
    posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:33 AM

    so being focused and genuine are the bottomline issues. Someone should remind MOE again now that teacher’s day is just round the corner.

  5. posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:10 PM


    Thanks for your support! We are trying to differentiate ourselves from the others by adopting original approaches as far as possible. It is a challenge trying to lead the pack all the time, but we can’t stop trying.

  6. posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:13 PM


    Thanks for the comment and the link. I believe Seth’s point above is that slickness and polish has a certain impact only up to a certain point. Beyond that, it may be a case of marginal returns (eg a 1 billion dollar house versus a 2 billion dollar house).

    Having read another good book – The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – I am also a little sceptical about the chart above.

  7. posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:14 PM


    Good point there. I think what you mean would be originality and rawness versus a highly packaged product. Perhaps the definition of Real could be repropositioned as Amateur?

  8. posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:17 PM


    I think being focused, being genuine and sincere would be effective if that’s what your audience goes for. In the case of the world of education, I think being professional and qualified is often seen to be more important than being genuinely keen in teaching and imparting knowledge. You can’t be granted tenure at a university as a professor if you don’t have a PhD – even if you do know more than the average professor on the block.

  9. Anonymous
    posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 8:59 AM

    At the end of the day nothing beats a good product. You take a look at that brotherhood guy darkness for the equivalent of less than 0.30 cents per episode, he can still take one’s breathe away on a magic carpet with his sappy love stories.

    50,000 satisfied customers.

    With that sort of value for $, very hard to beat.

    At the end of the day, its all over delivering value to the customer.

    Can have the best website in the world with all the bells and whistles, but if you cant even deliver on the primary need, then I think, not even the best marketing advice can help you.

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