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Why Being REAL Matters More Than Being Perfect

Logically speaking, it shouldn’t really matter whether Dr. Seuss is still alive or he isn’t. But it does. Yesterday my five year old asked me about him. It’s the sort of thing kids always ask. Is this real, or isn’t it? Wondering whether or not something is real is a common occurrence  In fact, it’s a filter that we sometimes use for trust and believability as well. Last week on the reality show the Shark Tank, one of the sharks (Barbara) decided not to invest in a company because their presentation seemed a little “too slick.” In other words, it was too perfect.

Wait a minute – too perfect? Businesses spend countless hours trying to get everything right. Retailers obsess about store layout. Entrepreneurs hone their pitches.  Quick service restaurants optimize everything down to the ideal ice to soda ratio. Brand guidelines detail everything from the optimal colors to the best distance from logo to tagline. In many organizations, marketing itself is defined by an unwavering obsession with brand consistency.  Yet there are plenty of signs that things are changing.

Perfection is no longer the ticket to success it once seemed.

For years, reality television has offered a less scripted (though still exaggerated) form of entertainment. Even the ultimate form of perfect story – the fairy tale – has changed. Shrek made the hero an Ogre. Despicable Me and Megamind makes him a GOOD bad guy. Even at the Academy Awards this weekend, three of the most popular (and predicted to be the most awarded) films are “real” stories – Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo. So, what does it all mean?

Being real has become the ultimate competitive advantage.

We value something that is real above everything else. For further proof, my favorite example of a brand that lives this every day is Trader Joe’s. Their store aisles are crowded by traditional grocery store standards and the items are often moved around the store. The brand name routinely changes from Trader Joe’s to Trader Giotto’s (for Italian food items) or Trader Ming (for Chinese items). They even sell wine for $2 per bottle (ok, $2.49 after a “dramatic” 50 cent price hike last month).  Yet it all works – giving the brand growing sales and some of the highest customer loyalty in their industry.

What Trader Joe’s has figured out about offering a great experience is something every brand should consider … sometimes being perfect isn’t as important as just having a real personality and being yourself.


8 thoughts on “Why Being REAL Matters More Than Being Perfect”

  1. Hold on there Rohit–you lost me in the first paragraph. I didn’t see Shark Tank, but, too slick is hardly the same as “too perfect”. Too slick means lacking details, glossing over the important stuff. Too slick is when someone says to you, “Rohit, that’s just not important…you don’t need to know that part.” For women the comment is sometimes, “Honey, don’t trouble your pretty little head about that.” Too slick is lacking important info, it’s inexperienced presentation, it’s ignoring what’s important to the consumer. Waaay different from “too perfect.” Sorry, but you lost me early on this one.
    Not a marketing expert, but a consumer and skeptic, Kari

  2. Interesting interpretation of word “perfect.” Are you sure you are not confusing it with “too much details?” As long as your Real is not a substitute for “cluttered” or ” unfocused” or ” unorganized”, you may be close to right. Maybe more appropriate phrase would be “simply functional.” or “just presenting the gist”.
    Japanese pioneered the concept of “introduce it”, “fix-it” and “introduce it”. What it really means is that for faster realization, get to the market quick and then improve the offer with enhanced features and functionality – moving towards perfection – – Ah! Ha! – Lexus says that – – “passion for perfection!”

  3. Well, perfect or just good enough, it just depends on the audience you target. Perfection is always the preferred option, regardless of what you try to sell, including yourself. But often you may end up like a girl on her first date when she put too much makeup looking more like a house for sale than a pretty chick. On another hand, the idea of getting to the market quick to put a foot in the door and then fix the rest is a recipe for failure as it can ruin your brand forever. No one universal formula for success but the right amount of preparation and understanding, not just simple modelling but a lot of common sense are essential

  4. A “slick” pitch doesn’t make it a good one, especially on a show like the Shark Tank where they have seen that 100x before. They want to see raw talent and products with leverage. Not polished salesmen with their BS approach.

  5. I have to agree with you. Having something too slick or seemingly perfect is boring. Personality makes a business more relatable in a way most local businesses are instead of trying to define the corporation as a person through the perfectly optimized appearance, branding, etc.

  6. I think people just want to hear (or read) things is a non salesy way and the more you can work on this in your marketing the more people will be drawn to you. I once said to someone ‘Just be yourself on twitter/facebook, don’t try to write the perfect tweet – just write it as you would naturally say it’. He was so relieved at the advice – he said after – he was spending too much time trying to make it all sound perfect, stressing and fretting over it – and in the end he never liked how any of it came out.


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In addition to Non-Obvious Thinking, Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

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