The Not-So-Subtle Art of Being Weird: How to Be Successful by Standing Out

Great leaders know the best way to beat their competition is not just to be better, but to be different. They understand that weird often wins.

The Power of Being Different

I was listening to Mike Dillard’s podcast the other day about a remarkable leader who turned around a failing organization. His name is Jesse Cole and if you don’t know him yet, you should. He is the owner and operator of a summer college baseball team located in Savannah, Georgia. But more than that, he’s a man who understands the power of being different.

Jesse came to Grayson Stadium in Savannah after a minor league team left the area. He owned a small collegiate summer baseball team and decided to bring them to the city with a goal of bringing baseball back to this historic 4,000-seat stadium. He knew he was in a city with a long tradition of baseball but he learned quickly that it was going to be very difficult to attract people to a sport that was dying in America. People found baseball was boring and Jesse soon found his dreams were bigger than his cash flow.

Jesse decided to take a different approach, to think differently. Instead of just being in the baseball business, he thought of himself as running an entertainment company. He wanted to create a fun place for families to go and enjoy a memorable time together. So, taking cues from P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney, he decided to create something special and it started with naming the team.

The Critics

Like most team owners, he went to the community to find a name. After reviewing hundreds of submitted ideas, one really stood out. It was weird, it was quirky, and it fit Jesse’s vision of being a fun entertainment company. That name was ultimately chosen. His team became the Savannah Bananas – and the reviews were terrible.

The community was in shock. The critics thought it was outrageous. City leaders were upset. How could this upstart baseball owner choose a disrespectful name for such an important and historic baseball park? What was he doing?

Embracing the Weirdness

But Jesse went all in with the Savannah Banana theme. He had a unique logo created featuring a banana baseball player and he purchased bright yellow uniforms for the team. Jesse even bought a yellow tuxedo so he could act as master of ceremonies for the games. But it didn’t end there.

He and his associates looked at what other teams were doing and they did the opposite. They introduced a simple pricing structure to make it affordable for families: $15 got you into the game and included an all-you-can-eat pass. The players greeted fans as they came into the stadium and danced between innings. They had a breakdancing first base coach and a pep band. They even had a group of elderly ladies as a dance team called the Savannah Nanas.

The Result

The fans loved it because it was so different from anything they had ever seen before and the critics embraced it as well.

Jesse went from having only a handful of season ticket holders to selling out their stadium for two years straight. Even now there’s a waiting list to buy tickets. The Savannah Bananas became a sensation in Savannah and around the country. Jesse’s little team caught the attention of national media. He had created a fun place for families and a great place to work. The energy and excitement of being a part of this organization brought the team together as well. The atmosphere was good for baseball. The Bananas became so good they won the championship for their league.

Jesse credits his success to being weird, different, and standing out from the crowd. It began by thinking differently about his business and acknowledging he was in the entertainment business, not the baseball business.

Valuable Lessons

As business leaders, what can we learn from Jesse’s approach? What are we doing to be weird and different? How are we standing out from the crowd? What are our competitors doing and how can we do the opposite?

We are doing some of this right now in my business, Peak Demand. For example, my competitors are all big corporations. They have poor customer service and ship their products in six to eight weeks – so, as a small business, we chose a different model. We build-to-stock to ship our products in just 24 hours and make it easy for customers to do business with us. We even include a small “prize” with each of our products for the person who opens the box. It might be a sticker, a koozie, a pen, or a screwdriver – just something small to thank the users of our products, not just the person who buys them. We want our customers to feel special. As CEO, I also follow up with every customer 30 days after the sale to ask how their experience was and how we could do better.

After hearing the story of Jesse Cole and the Savannah Bananas, however, I think I could be doing a lot more!

How about your business? What are you doing to stand out? Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you are doing that’s weird and different.

If you want to learn more about how Jesse Cole turned things around for the Bananas, I suggest reading Find Your Yellow Tux: How to Be Successful by Standing Out.

Photo Credit: Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

Breaking Away from Big Brands

I recently had an experience staying in a $68 a night hotel that was remarkable. I was helping my son move and I just need a place to crash for the night. The cheapest hotel in the area was a brand I had never heard of but, it had decent reviews, so I booked it. I didn’t expect much but what I experienced was amazing. The staff was friendly. The lobby was open and airy. The room was clean and spacious. The $68 rate even included a hot breakfast. I was blown away by the value.

This experience made me think about how brands affect our buying decisions. When I travel on business, I mostly stay in big brand hotels. I try to find the best rates but I also want a hotel that is going to be clean and safe. I don’t want to risk having a bad night in a terrible hotel. There is comfort in choosing a big brand but this method isn’t foolproof. Like most business travelers, I can tell you countless stories of bad hotels with rude staffs, dirty rooms, and terrible conditions. It turns out that the name on the outside of the hotel doesn’t always guarantee the quality inside.

So, why do we tend to choose known brands over lesser known brands in our buying decisions? I think there are three main reasons:

Comfort and speed. We’re busy. When making purchasing decisions, we don’t want to spend a lot of time looking at all the various options and information available to us. We recall past purchases and recent advertisements to identify the best choice. Big brands are comfortable because they are known to us. We have heard of them or have had past experiences with them. For speed, we choose the known over the unknown.

Identification. Brands affect our identity. Often times, we choose brands that we want to be associated with. Driving a Ford pickup, wearing Levi jeans, or owning a Gucci purse all say something about us. We will also choose brands that are accepted in our peer groups. A serious weightlifter, for example, wouldn’t show up at the gym in Polo sneakers. We choose brands for identification.

Risk. Often times the risk of a poor purchasing decision outweighs the potential benefits. We choose the big brand because we think it is a safer choice. When you see the McDonald’s sign when pulling off the highway looking for a meal, you know what to expect. You might skip a restaurant called Big Jim’s Burger Joint because you have no idea what it will be like. What if the food is bad or you get sick? Even though Big Jim probably makes a better burger than McDonald’s, the risk outweighs the potential benefits.

The problem with choosing big brands is that we miss out on the opportunity to explore something that is unknown. We miss out on an experience that is either simply amazing or so bad that you will be telling stories to your friends for years. Choosing big brands is often the safe choice but it’s also the most boring and unremarkable one. And who wants to live a boring and unremarkable life?

If you want to break free of the comfort of big brands but are afraid, here three things you can do to help make the shift:

Listen to what others saying. With Yelp, Trip Advisor, Amazon, and most websites, you can explore what others are saying about unknown or lesser known brands you are considering. Listening to others can help reduce the anxiety of your decision. There is comfort in knowing others have gone before you.

Use time as an advantage. The higher the price of a buying decision, the more risk is associated with it. However, these decisions typically take longer, allowing more time to research the best solution. Take the time to do your homework. Look for all the alternatives both known and lesser known. Evaluate them all. Your best solution may not be the big brand. If a decision is for a lower priced service or product, take a chance on the lesser known brand since the risk is low. You may be amazed at your experience.

Look beyond price. Often times, lesser known brands offer more features and benefits than the big brands. I was once asked by a potential customer why he should buy from my company versus one of my largest competitors. My answer was simple, we ship in 24 hours. The big brands all had lead times of 6-8 weeks. The customer switched because speed was important to him.

The small business advantage. Many times, the lesser known brand is a small business working hard to earn your money. Instead of spending time in corporate meetings, small business leaders spend time with customers learning what they like and dislike. They are constantly adjusting their business model to please customers and attract more business. To them, it is personal. Show them some love and give them your business. You may become a lifelong customer.

Breaking away from big brands means departing your comfort zone and choosing an unpredictable outcome. Most likely the experience will be positive especially if you have the time to research the best solution. Regardless, it gives you the chance to explore something that is unknown. So, step away from the boring and predictable and enjoy the experience!

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

Building a StoryBrand Book is Released

If you follow this blog, you know I am a huge Donald Miller fan. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story is one of my favorite Donald Miller books. I also regularly listen to Miller’s podcast which is my go-to place to better understand marketing communication and messaging. His mantra, “If you confuse, you lose,” has helped me improve the way I market my business.

I’m excited about this new book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, which was released on October 10th. In it, Miller describes the StoryBrand process which helps companies simplify their message so customers better understand it. He also describes how to create the most effective messaging for websites, brochures, and social media.

If you are a marketing professional or a business owner, I expect this will become a “must read” book. I have it on order, I’ll let you know what I think.