The binary brain and dangerous advice

June 16, 2023

I love my Nudie Jeans. They look cool (although not on me). They’re Swedish. And they’re made from 100% organic cotton.

In marketing speak, you would say Nudie Jeans has distinctive brand assets and solid brand codes. I’m sure they don’t, but hey.

As someone that’s vertically challenged. I can buy a pair of Nudie Jeans that have a 29 inch waist and a 29 inch leg.

This might not mean much to you, but for me, and all short people, it’s a fashion gamechanger. Certainly worth paying more for.

Because Nudie Jeans are made from 100% organic cotton, they wear out a bit faster than other non organic brands. As a result, I can get them repaired, for free.

In marketing speak, this is brand positioning and being differentiated.

However, is the person bent over a sewing machine in store repairing my jeans also a distinctive asset? After all, they might be more productive working from home.  

You see how silly this conversation is getting.

When my Nudie Jeans have passed the point of no repair, I can take them in and get money off my next pair. They use my old jeans to repair other people’s jeans.

In marketing speak, this drives loyalty/repeat purchase. Even though I’m sure the majority of people only buy a pair occasionally. Perhaps never even taking advantage of this offer. It’s also very purposeful, which is nice.

No doubt, if Nudie Jeans created its brand for light buyers, it would never have created its differentiated services.

So, what’s the point of my sample of one, exception to the rules, rather boring story?

Increasingly, we choose between two things we don’t need to choose between.

Two things that may actually be complementary rather than opposable forces.

To adhere a set of rules, rather than being the exceptional, exception.

  • Brand versus performance.
  • Mass reach versus targeting.
  • Rational versus emotional.
  • Differentiation versus distinctiveness.
  • Heavy buyers versus light buyers
  • Purpose versus just selling stuff.

The list goes on.

Not only can you do both. One might be more important depending on your situation, resources and the life stage of your brand.

When you crash them together, you might get something that’s innovative and divergent to the rest of the category.

Yes, spending more energy in one versus another might be wise, but beware of the binary brain and the dangerous advice that comes with it.

For example, I get some research that says, “in advertising, differentiation makes little impact compared to being distinctive”. Although not everyone agrees.

But imagine this in practice.

I dare you to stroll into a meeting with your team tomorrow and say…

“We will no longer strive to be different and innovative”.

“Our job is not to make a dent in our category and raise its standards.”  

“We will no longer do the right thing, because light buyers don’t really care.”

“From this day forth, we will reach everyone in the market. Even if we can’t afford it.”

“With distinctive brand assets.”

“We will move all of our budget from brand to performance. Then back again.”

Good luck with that and let me know how it goes.

If you fancy reading a great book that talks about the benefits of holding ‘two conflicting ideas in constructive tension’ check out Roger Martin’s ‘The Opposable Mind: How successful leaders win through integrative thinking’. It’s better than it sounds.

And whilst a binary brain might help you stick to divisive ‘rules’, it won’t ever create anything like a smartphone, that’s also a walkman.

Or something revolutionary, like an integrated campaign with an idea in it, that people like and also get their wallets out for.

Words by Carl Moggridge.