Identitity Crisis

If you spend any time in an airport, you’ll find two inevitable truths: (1) you have absolutely no control over what is going to happen to you (what time you will depart, what time you will arrive, whether or not your luggage will accompany you). And, (2), almost every person travels with the same nondescript black carry-on bag.

On a recent business trip, my colleague and I were getting our luggage off the long-term parking bus when we realized that someone had mistakenly taken his bag. If you remember the bicycle scene from “Pee-Wee Herman’s Big Adventure,” you know exactly what it was like: Millions of travelers buzzing by left and right, all pulling identical black bags behind them.

At that moment, I pictured those hundreds of black bags coming off baggage claim. A few would inevitably be marked with orange duct tape, purple ribbons or polka-dotted tags. I had always thought that looked ridiculous. Suddenly, it looked pretty smart.

As my coworker flew through the airport after his bag, I got the number off the shuttle bus as it rolled away. On the off chance that the baggage thief realized his mistake, we’d be able to tell him where he could find his bag.

Amazingly, as we were reporting the loss (and the bus number) to baggage claim, my coworker spotted his luggage. Someone had turned it in! We had just enough time to check our bags and make our flight!

Like the airport – our market is filled with seemingly identical products & services. But like each piece of luggage, every product or service holds unique features that set it apart from the rest. As marketers, our job is to identify each product’s unique point of difference and make that visible – without feeling like we’re sticking ugly orange duct tape on it.

My coworker’s bag had a small black name tag on it. It was subtle. But, in the end, it was that tag that made our fellow traveler realize his mistake. Would a bigger, bolder name tag have made a difference? Absolutely. But even the subtlest name tag was enough to alert the traveler in the end. The point is, you have to both (1) identify your brand’s point of difference AND (2) find a way to make that point impossible to miss.

That can happen in product design, in packaging, in graphics, in choice of media and, of course, in messaging.

So imagine yourself in the airport pulling your little black bag. What makes your bag different from all the others? How are you going to distinguish its unique characteristics? If you can’t find something distinctive about your bag, nobody else will either. And the only way it will get picked up. . .is by mistake.