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Only 3% of people think differently with Stan Phelps | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Only 3% can think differently to upgrade their brand with guest Stan Phelps and show host Jason Mudd episode graphicLearn how your brand can achieve competitive separation with our guest, Stan Phelps



Stan Phelps is the founder of PurpleGoldfish.com. He is a Forbes Contributor, IBM Futurist, and a keynote speaker



Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. Why only 3% of people and brands are able to think and operate their business differently
  2. The two main ways you can stand out and achieve competitive separation  
  3. Why you need to be very clear with who your company is for
  4. Why being middle of the road could be the downfall of your company
  5. What benchmarking is and why it’s a hindrance to thinking different 


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  • “Every weakness has a corresponding strength.” — @StanPhelpsPG
  • “Be very clear who you're for and the customer that you serve and don't be afraid to push off the ones that you're not for.” — @StanPhelpsPG
  • “One of the biggest culprits of not being able to achieve separation is we start to emulate all of the attributes of the leader we admire and pretty soon everyone looks exactly the same.” — @StanPhelpsPG

If you enjoyed this episode, would you please share it with others and leave us a review?


About Stan Phelps:

Stan Phelps is the founder of PurpleGoldfish.com. He is a Forbes Contributor, IBM Futurist, and a keynote speaker. He focuses on increasing customer loyalty, experience, and employee engagement. He has had experience with companies such as Adidas, International Management Group, PGA of America, and Synergy. His award-winning books focus on the little ways to drive differentiation, increase loyalty, and promote positive word of mouth. He has spoken at over 200 events in 11 countries.


Guest’s contact info and resources:

Additional Resources:

  • How to stand out and achieve competitive separation: Lean into what makes you unique and pull back efforts where you can

Sponsored by:

  • On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named by Forbes as one of America’s Best PR Agencies. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.
  • On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.
  • Burrelles has a special offer for On Top of PR fans. Check it out at burrelles.com/ontopofpr.

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About your host Jason Mudd

On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.


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- Hello, and welcome to "On Top of PR", I'm your host, Jason Mudd with AXIA Public Relations. Today, I'm joined by Stan Phelps. We're gonna talk about strategy and differentiation and why only 3% of people and brands are able to think and operate their business differently. This might be one of my favorite episodes of "On Top of PR", I think you're really gonna enjoy it and be thinking about who you wanna share this episode with, because colleagues are gonna thank you for it later. Trust me on that.


- [Announcer] Welcome to "On Top of PR" with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer.


- Hello and welcome back to "On Top of PR". I'm your host, Jason Mudd. And it is my pleasure to be joined today by Stan Phelps. Stan and I met at a conference and he was such a great keynote speaker that I wanted to make sure that he was one of the guests that we bring to you on our show. Stan is an author, keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. He works with organizations that want to increase loyalty, sales and word of mouth through brand, customer and employee experiences. He is the author of his most recent book, it's called "Pink Goldfish 2.0" Stan, welcome to the show. I'm glad you're here. I hope you're glad to be here too.


- Thank you for having me Jason, excited to be here.


- Yeah, it's great to have you. It's been something I've been wanting to get done and here we are getting it done. So thank you for being with us. Today we're gonna talk about strategy and differentiation and not to pull the rug out from under you and steal your thunder but you said only 3% of people and brands think different and even fewer are able to achieve that separation. And today we're gonna talk about ways to do that, which I'm really excited about. And so kind of warm us up a little bit, set the table for what we're gonna explore today.


- Yeah, the first question, if only 3% can achieve that competitive separation, where are the other 97%, Jason? And they're stuck in what we consider and we talk about is the box, they're constrained by the norms of their industry and whether it's legal norms, ethical norms, social norms, they can't seem to get outside of that box and the whole central tenant of "Pink Goldfish" is, how do you expand that box to become part of the 3%?


- [Jason] Well, I think I wanna know how you do that and I'm sure our audience wants to know exactly how to do that. So let's jump right in.


- Yeah. So the framework we talk about is a concept called The Pink Goldfish. And so the goldfish just is a metaphor for growth, probably too long of a story to get into but the idea that the only way you can truly grow is to actually differentiate what you do and I believe more importantly from an experienced perspective, how you do it. So my co-author, David Rendell and I, this is the 2.0 version of the book. So three years ago, the original came out, but we've now studied over 400 brands that have achieved competitive separation in the marketplace. And we feel like we've touched on the two main ways that you can stand out and achieve that competitive separation.


- [Jason] Okay, well then I'm dying to know what are the two ways that you can do that, Stan?


- So the two different ways are simply this, the idea of leaning in to what makes you imperfect. What makes you unique, weird and a little bit out there. So this is a more strategy. This is the idea of doubling and tripling down on the things that make you quote unquote, un-normal or imperfect.


- [Jason] Wow, okay, I've never heard that before. That's an interesting concept.


- Yeah. You know, the concept behind this actually comes from a Japanese term called Kintsugi. Have you ever heard of that word before?


- [Jason] No, I've heard of Kaizen, but not Kintsugi, is that what you said?


- Yeah, so Kintsugi dates all the way back about 600 years ago, you have to go all the way back to the 15th century. And there was a Japanese Shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa. And he had like a favorite tea bowl Jason, much like you might have a favorite coffee mug that, you know, someone gave it to you, you could never replace it. You love it. Well, one day his tea bowl, you know, fell over, smashed into pieces. So imagine your favorite coffee mug shattering, you know, what would you do? What would you do, Jason?


- Well, I don't have a favorite coffee mug, but I know what you're saying. I once had a favorite umbrella that had a great story behind it and somebody decided to use it once at our office and then decided it was just an umbrella, so who cares? And I had to call the search party to find it.


- Wow, so here's the thing, he did what probably most people would do, he actually sent it out to get repaired. Like maybe the crazy glue will work this time, right?


- Right, aha.


- It came back two days later, Jason and whoever had repaired it, like his heart sank when he held it in his hands, they'd use this black coarse ugly glue on the ball. They use metal staples to put it back together and like his heart dropped and he's like, no, that's not good enough. So he's a Shogun for the entire Osaka region. So he called in his best craftsmen and he handed them the bowl and he said, "you need to fix this". And they went away, it took them a couple of weeks, but they meticulously took it apart, cleaned it, and then using lacquer and gold, put it back together. When they came back and gave it to him, his heart leaped, the bowl was even better now than when it was perfectly new. And you can imagine this bowl that had these kind of golden scenes in it, just absolutely gorgeous.


- And a lot of character.


- Yeah, a lot of character, right? And here's the thing and this is so funny, it became this art form, which is now known as Kintsugi and it became so popular in the day that the collectors, Jason would purposely take perfectly good pieces of pottery and smashed them. So they could apply this technique. The whole, you know, the takeaway here is, look, it wasn't better because it was flawed or broken because if that was the case, it would have been fine the first time. It was better because of the attention that was paid to the flaws, not to conceal them but to actually illuminate the flaws and bring them to life. So the thing is that there are certain things about each and every one of our brands that make us unique, weird, and different. And so the first strategy is going all in and doubling and tripling down on those things that make us unique.


- Yeah. You know, that's very contrarian, right? So a lot of times people would say, you figure out your flaws or what you don't do well at and you spend time developing personally or corporately ways to improve in those areas, right? And I've heard some people say in the past, don't worry about improving in areas you're not good at, leverage your strengths but they've used the word strengths of course and certainly not the word flaws.

- So here's the thing, again, sometimes we get caught into what is considered the norm. And we talk about in the book is that every weakness, Jason has a corresponding strength. In fact, in the book we show 40 strength with weakness comparisons. So for example, if you're a brand and you're small, many people would say, oh my God, that's a weakness, right? You've gotta actually try to portray yourself as being better and bigger than being... But here's the thing, being small is not a weakness, being small is actually a strength because that makes you nimble. You get a chance to move very quickly compared to your bigger competition. In fact, one of the, you know, classic story, when Mini launched here in the US, they didn't hide the fact it was in the name, they didn't hide the fact that the mini was small. They actually told you that it's actually smaller than you thought it was.


- I didn't know that. That's interesting. So we're talking about the Mini Cooper, right?


- Yes. Yeah. Yeah. The Mini Cooper.


- Okay, yeah, yeah, very cool. So Stan, that's very interesting what you're proposing here and like I said, contrarian to what a lot of other people think. And for those that are watching the video, I am wearing pink specifically just to support the Pink Goldfish here. So anyway, what I wanted to ask about though, with that is when you have companies, you know, like the companies, the PR people and the marketing people who are watching this, maybe they work at a big company or a medium-sized company, not necessarily small company, could you give some examples of how they might explore and how you've seen other companies do well exploring, you know, some of these differentiations?


- Sure. So here's the thing. So again, the first strategy is diving in, figuring out what makes you unique, weird, maybe even weak, doubling and tripling down on it. The other strategy, 'cause there's two main strategies, there's eight different types of pink goldfish, but the other strategy, Jason is a do less strategy.


- [Jason] Yeah, okay, okay.


- And so it's the idea, and this is such a perfect time as we come out of the pandemic, there's so many things that we used to do and never questioned why we do them, Jason. And here's the thing, in order to double and triple down on what makes you unique and importantly, what your customers value, in order to free up those resources, you also have to find areas that you can physically pull back and do less. So for an example, I'll give you a great example, REI. This is now six years ago but you know, the biggest day in retail and the reason why they call it Black Friday is because literally for 10 and a half months, you've been in the red, this is now your most important day, how do you compete and most compete on a more strategy, right? Longer hours, better sales, doorbuster deals. REI said, no, no, no, we're about being outdoors. We think our employees and even our members should be with their and not jockeying in line. And so what did they do five years ago? They shut down not only 150 stores, Jason, they shut down their website.


- [Jason] What? Yeah, that's crazy.


- For Black Friday. And they've now created a movement out of it called The Opt Outside.


- Okay, nice.


- That's a great example of a company that's decided to do more. You know, you mentioned the idea of a little bit of a counter reasoning is one of the ways that you can stand out and be different and it's controversial, it's what we call an antagonizing strategy. And so everyone has people that complain, right? If you try to be for everyone, Jason, who are you actually for?


- [Jason] No one.


- No one, right? We spend so much time to figure out who our target market is, I think we don't spend enough time to actually think about who's in our anti target market. And if we can spend a little time to do it in a way that we repel, you know, not be rude, but repel the people that we don't want and we get very clear who we're not for, that has the ability to attract the customers that we actually want to serve.


- Yeah, I totally agree with that. That's very insightful. In fact, I just wrote down anti target audience because I think lots of companies could benefit from thinking through that. And Stan, you raise a great point because I can't tell you how many startup or small companies might come to my PR agency or another PR agency and they say, well, everyone's a customer. And I'm thinking to myself, you are so small and you know, how could that possibly be? You know, now you need to be thinking more like, you know, laser focused on one audience to build a business and start growing and then start thinking expansively. And you know, larger companies, which are, you know, medium and large company, which are typically more of the clients we work with, yes, they can think more expansively and they can start looking at becoming Walmart but when a very small micro businesses, like everybody's our customer, I always like to say, okay, well that means nobody's your customer. And you know, another way of looking at that too is, a lot of times newsrooms that we work with, they have like one email address that you send news@thenameofthemediaoutlet.com. And they're like, send it there 'cause that way it goes to everybody and I'm always contrarian and I say, well, that means it really goes to nobody because everyone else is gonna assume someone else is gonna read this and do something with it. And so I plead and even push and just refuse to send something to a generic email address like that because I know the importance of a one-on-one relationship. And I think that's kind of what you're describing is, when you can create an environment where people feel welcome and wanted, is that what you're saying, then they come into your company and they feel like this fits very nicely instead of like the Goldie Rocks, I guess.


- Be very clear who you're for and the customer that you serve and don't be afraid to push off the ones that you're not for. One of the examples that's new in the "Pink 2.0", in fact, it's an entire new category called, we call it Exposing, Jason.


- [Jason] Exposing Jason, you call it?


- Exposing. And it's a great example because every brand has this. So Snowbird Resort, which is out in Utah, really nice, I haven't been there before but from what I heard it's a very nice ski resort. They did an entire campaign where they featured their one star reviews and it was so brilliant because the people that gave them a one-star background Snowbird is not for an average ordinary skier. And so you had some of the reviews that came back and they said, "oh my God, I felt like my life was in danger." One star, another one was, "No easy runs", one star. And here's the thing again, you're very quickly saying to what, to people that are beginner and novice and even maybe intermediate, we're not for you. What are you also saying tongue in cheek? If you're a good skier, if you're advanced, you wanna be challenged, this is a badge to come to Snowbird. And it's amazing. The imagery that they use, you know? Oh, the one guy, oh, there was too much powder. Like I was looking for the hard, you know, so I could do my dice, what do they call it, like when it's groomed and it's like a carpet? I wanted that. Like there was too much powder for me.

- Right. That's so good. Yeah, I can see where that would go. And it would make a lot of sense, especially if they get a lot of obviously five-star reviews from people that are fans and they rave, I love that. That is definitely a differentiator and a different way of positioning your brand but you're clearly kind of, and I can think of, you know, restaurants could really get away with that too. You know, like something, you know, oh, it's so expensive, but the food was fantastic, right? One star, you know? And you know, so then you're kind of setting the stage of, don't come here if you are looking for an Applebee's budget for your steak dinner or whatever it might be. So yeah.


- And here's the thing you mentioned before the idea of, Hey, I'm a big, I'm an established brand, you know, the smaller you are, Jason, the more extreme you can get with the Pink Goldfish Strategy.


- All right. Well, Stan, let's take a break right there and let's jump into that on the other side of this break, okay?


- [Stan] Perfect.


- [Announcer] You are listening to "On Top of PR" with your host, Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He is the managing partner at AXIA Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies. And now, back to the show.


- Well, welcome back, I'm Jason Mudd, your host, I'm joined by Stan Phelps today. We are having a very engaging conversation, while you're listening, if you can think of a peer or a colleague or someone you know who would benefit from this conversation, take a minute and share this episode with them so that they can join the conversation with you afterwards. And now back with Stan Phelps. Stan, so glad to have you here. I hated to interrupt you. We were on a roll and I wanna just keep that going. So we were gonna start talking about how bigger brands can start thinking about what makes them different and apply what we've talked about here a little bit.


- Right, so you're big, you're established, Jason. Like it's harder to kind of push the boundaries and really tap in. So we talk about this idea of micro weirding and micro weirding really comes down to the experience that you provide. And so it could be very small things that can be distinctive, but the same reasoning applies doing more of some things that make you unique and maybe a little less of things that others do as normal. So I'll give you a great example of, Five Guys, Burgers and Fries. You know, one of the things that they do, that's a little different is if you've ever had French fries at Five Guys not only do they fill your little container with French fries, but they always jump in and give you a handful of like bonus fries.


- [Jason] Right, bonus fries, I like it, yes.


- I've researched this. They're scientifically proven that they taste better than the regular fries. And here's another thing that they do that's interesting is that, your burger doesn't hit the grill till you order it. So you have to wait longer, that's a little out of the norm, right, they're cooking it fresh for you. So one of the things they do is that they give peanuts out to people while they're waiting, you can kind of, I don't know if you've ever done it, you can shell your peanuts. And it's kind of a neat little thing that they do. Well, here's the thing, a lot of people have peanut allergies and you know what they say, they're unapologetic. They're like, don't come to Five Guys.


- Right. That's good.


- You know, they're not gonna change who they are and if that means that they have to respectfully push some back, it's gonna attract people like me who absolutely love that as a little something extra.


- You know, Stan, one thing I remember around 2006 was Walmart was trying to steal some of the Target's customer base by becoming more like Target, simultaneously Target was trying to steal some of Walmart's customer base by becoming more like Walmart. And in the meantime, I'm going, you know, what are you thinking right now? Like, I mean, be Target because there are people who wanna be Target, right? Be Walmart, because there are people who wanna be Walmart and there are some people who go to Target because there's not people that are looking for the same discounts and the same experience that you would have at Walmart. And I think fortunately they got back in their own lanes but they both got greedy and wanted to be more like the other. And, you know, what would have happened is that would have created a great way for somebody to enter the marketplace and disrupt both of them.

- We talk because that is a great example, Jason, thank you for bringing that up because we didn't even talk about that. We really dive into that and we'll tell you the one that was a little bit of an outlier. So Walmart was always about one thing, low price, right? And here's the thing, if you wanted someone to help you at a Walmart, like good luck, right?


- Right.


- Target was always about great service and design as part of the experience. And so you go to a Target and you see a few of the checkouts are starting to get a little full, they're immediately opening one or two more checkouts because they want... Now here's the thing, when Target tries to be like Walmart and they lower their prices, that means they can't hire the staff that provide the great experience and now they're being average in two areas as opposed to being great at one. And here's the thing, Kmart was the original Walmart and Walmart stole Kmart's launch because they undercut Kmart. And so Kmart tried to be cute, if you remember this 15 years ago, 10, 15 years ago, they tried to go the Target designer route. And they also tried to play in the low price game. And they were an abject failure. We can talk about JC Penney's even a better example of, you know, Ron Johnson, Apple's kind of retail whiz comes in and he totally changes the ethos of what JC Penney was. And it was an absolute train wreck.


- Yeah. Well, what's the expression if you're in the middle of the road, you get run over? And so you really have to kind of pick a side. And so yeah, that definitely comes to mind. So, and these are great examples and I love, you know, kind of reminiscing through them. And I think that's why you've seen brands like Trader Joe and Aldi have so much success because they are so unique and they have this niche and their stores can be smaller and they can serve a, you know, a unique clientele or a clientele who's looking for a unique experience. And I can't speak to pricing in those locations but I know Aldi seems to have really good deals and Trader Joe, I'm not so as experienced with, but I understand that there's a vibe there that you get that's different from other places.


- We feature Trader Joe's in the book. They are one of the most profitable grocers in the world. And they are very, they use a lot of the principles that we talk about and people, and they're not the cheapest place to shop and they don't have three, you know, eight different types of Axe, right? They have very unique brands that they source and they do a lot of unique stuff that makes them stand out and makes them ultra successful. So that's a great one. One of the things I wanna share 'cause I think it's where a lot of people just get stuck 'cause no one listening to this right now, Jason, doesn't realize that it's important to differentiate and stand out. But again, only 3% have the ability to think and act differently. And I think one of the biggest culprits that we have is benchmarking. And we all do this, whether we wanna admit it or not, we look at whoever is the leader within our category and we start to pick apart and break down the attributes that make that leader successful. And then what do we do armed with that knowledge, Jason?


- [Jason] We copy or mirror it and try to be just like it.


- Yeah and that's not the recipe for being able to achieve separation. So I think that's one of the biggest culprits is that we start to emulate all of the attributes of the leader and pretty soon everyone looks exactly the same. You know, Pink is really interesting, we love it as a color partially because, my co-author David Rendell, if you can picture him, he's six foot six, I'm 6'2, so I consider myself tall. He's like 6'9 in heels, Jason. And he's a keynote speaker. He wears head to toe pink and he's done it for a number of years. He is, you can not, not remember David Rendell if you've ever heard him.


- [Jason] He's memorable because he's different.


- And the interesting thing is because it's a man wearing pink, but here's the thing, you only have to go back a hundred years ago and believe it or not, pink was considered more of a masculine color and light blue was actually considered more of a female, more daintier and more of a female color. So for us it's a good example of how things can actually flip and it's such an interesting color to study because there's no color out there that people have either strong opinions for or strong opinions against.


- Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, I completely agree. Stan, we have hit our time together and so I know one of the things, if I were a listener, I would, or an audience member here, I would wanna know, what are the eight goldfish types and I think we're just gonna have to put that in the show notes or link to a blog post or something or article you've written to give that away. But to that end, if people want to connect with you and learn more about, you know, who you are, what you do, maybe follow you, what's the best way for them to get ahold of you, Stan?


- I try to do a Pink Goldfish philosophy of lopsided, that's part of the eight flawsome types, Jason. So I spend most of my time on LinkedIn, connect with me on LinkedIn, each day I write on LinkedIn under the hashtag, #the1299.

- #the1299. What does that stand for?


- Well, LinkedIn only gives you 1300 characters, so I've pretty much bump up against the max and do one less.


- I got you. I like that. That's clever. Excellent. All right, Stan, this has been a great episode. I think we could talk forever but unfortunately we only have so much time together for today. I'm definitely gonna follow your hashtag, I appreciate you being here. And this was a great episode, I know our audience appreciates it and we'll be sharing it with others. So speaking of, this has been another episode of "On Top of PR". Thank you for joining us and if you did enjoy the episode, please be sure to share it with a friend.


- [Announcer] This has been "On Top of PR", with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode and check out past shows at OnTopOfPR.com.

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