If You Put It on a T-Shirt, Would People Wear It?
A simple test for creating remarkable things
‘Different’ is part of ‘better.’ It’s never enough to be different, but if you aren’t, we’ll have a tough time seeing how you’re better in the first place.
Even if you’re faster than Amazon, we’ll still go there for the selection. But if you offer books we can’t buy there, your shop is worth exploring.
So far, we’ve published 3,000 articles in Better Marketing. For every one that lands in our inbox, we ask: How is this different?
If you insist on writing the same article someone else wrote yesterday, we won’t stop you. We’ll tell you that it’s the same article, and we won’t run it, but we can’t stop you.
It’s on you to put your foot down and say, “Enough!” No more copying from For Dummies books. No more rehashing news articles.
We’re aware that being different is only a necessary condition of being better, not a sufficient one. But in assembling a big compilation of vastly differing advice, we hope to plant seeds that blossom into better. That’s why we have columns and collections. That’s why we ask: “How is this different?”
Of course, what goes from different to better is out of our control. We’re not in charge of what’s remarkable. 13 years ago, Seth Godin defined it well:
Remarkable doesn’t mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to me. Am I going to make a remark about it? If not, then you’re average, and average is for losers.
Remarkability isn’t a matter of good taste, it’s a matter of connection. You can’t announce it in a vacuum. The audience is the jury, and the jury is always deciding.
Seth did, however, offer a proxy question: “If you put it on a T-shirt, would people wear it?” If not, it’s probably not worth making. You’re not looking for everyone to wear your t-shirt. Just a select few who wear it with pride. 1,000 true fans apply.
When I was 14, I went to see The Rasmus. It’s a Finnish rock band you likely haven’t heard of — but I still have the t-shirt. Think about Harley Davidson, Jurassic Park, your favorite Youtuber. Whatever connection you create with us, make us proud of it. So proud we’ll want to wear it like a badge.
“I am associated with this person, this brand, this idea.” That’s what a t-shirt says. It’s a constant remark about what you believe in, and everyone who believes in the same thing can self-identify, walk up to you, and start talking. It’s a connection that fosters more connections, and that’s why it’s a great test of the importance of what you make.
It’s easy to design a t-shirt that looks different. You can combine mismatching colors, invent a word, or draw a unique design. But what is it for? What does it mean? Is it a catalyst for better? Or just noise that attracts attention?
Chances are, you won’t nail your metaphorical t-shirt on first try. You might have to cycle through lots of ideas. Make sure each one is different. Put all of yourself into it. Keep sowing the seeds of better. Eventually, the jury will side with you. Eventually, you’ll make a t-shirt, and we’ll be queuing to wear it.