As I walked my dog, Finnegan,  this morning, I listened to the Wall Street Journal’s Tech News Brief podcast as I do most every morning. I am usually annoyed by the commercials embedded in the podcast or I ignore them as I plan my day, but today a new audio ad for Paul Fredrick, the dress shirt/men’s clothing company, entered the ad rotation.

As a marketer, outstanding branding or positioning gets my attention (so does noticeably poor marketing). Today I heard, “Brought to you by Paul Fredrick…..the shirt you wear most.”

Paul Frederick is the company you’ll see in publications, like Newsweek, offering men’s white dress shirt by mail order. Little is more commoditized to the average American businessman than a white dress shirt. For this reason, I was intrigued by their branding effort.

Understanding Your Audience
Paul Fredrick could have said, “The shirt that will help you succeed in your professional life” or “Your favorite dress shirt,” but they didn’t. They understood their audience enough to know that audiences won’t overtly connect a shirt with professional success since there is a lot more that goes into success than your ensemble. Paul Fredrick also knows that with a mortgage, children, and a long commute, their audience does not care too much about a shirt moving into the coveted position in their closet of “favorite work shirt.” They knew that they needed to dig deeper to position their product as relevant to their target marketing personas.

Identifying Value to Customers by Asking Why
Paul Fredrick understood that the value of their shirts is not the quality, not the look, and not the price. They asked customers WHY they would wear a white dress shirt. Customers probably said “for work.” The marketing team then asked WHY they wear white dress shirts to work. Customers probably told them that white shirts look more like business shirts. From there, they continued to ask WHY until they uncovered that customers wear white shirts when they have an important meeting or want to make a highly professional impression. So, it is not the shirt that customers value. It is the impression that the customer makes when he breaks out the white shirt.

Differentiating a Commodity
By understanding what customers value and focusing your message to that need, Paul Fredrick presents an excellent example of how commoditzed products can be differentiated. You can develop remarkable, positioning by understanding when, how, and why your customers use and benefit from your product or service.

If you sell grapefruit to grocery stores, you’ll want to think about why customers eat grapefruit. Its healthy, they’re tender and delicious, and fairly convenient to eat. Your messaging may be, “Not All Tasty Health Food Comes with Such a Convenient Carrying Case” or “More Juice Than Your Bowl Can Handle” – Notice these messages don’t focus on the product. They let the grocer know that you deeply understand their audience. Dig beyond the surface value (where most of your competitors spend their time) and embrace the real life value your customers get from your offering.

Do you see Paul Fredrick’s marketing as innovative positioning or marketing vaguery? How can your organization move past “Me! ME! ME!” marketing and deeply understand your audiences to position your product at the core of their needs?