Finding Your Brand's "Red Sole"

The ultra-premium shoe designer Christian Louboutin has been making the hearts of fashionistas race for more than 20 years. One of the most sought-after and expensive brands in the world, they are a symbol of design, beauty, and luxury.

They are also incredibly distinctive.

The sole of every single Louboutin shoe is painted bright red. Pantone 187C, to be exact. Every boot, pump, and stiletto is adorned with this brilliant red color. While high-fashion designers routinely copy each other’s ideas, Louboutins have captured the hearts (and wallets) of the luxe crowd around the world because they are unique. Special. Different. Remarkable.

At up to $1800 a pair, I’m sure the quality is good and the assembly is professional. But that’s not what women buy them. Women buy that alluring red sole. That’s what Louboutin is known for. It’s what makes his shoes distinctive.

Volvo is known for safety. Wal-Mart is known for everyday low prices. BB King is known for making the blues pour directly from his soul into his guitar. I’m sure Volvo also offers great performance and BB King could play country if he really wanted to. But the most powerful brands in the world—both businesses and personal brands—stand for one thing: They own their category. They are truly distinctive.

What’s the one thing your company stands for? If you stand for great service, low prices, fantastic quality, speedy delivery, stylish design, and being environmentally friendly, you actually stand for nothing. You customers, team, and partners won’t understand your true value proposition. By trying to be all things to everyone, you’ll end up lacking definition and delighting no one.

In today’s cutthroat world, your personal brand needs distinction too. Steven Colbert is hilarious and compelling because he is distinctive. His character mocks the droves of blowhard pundits, and we all love him for doing it relentlessly. For the last seven seasons, he's stayed true to his single, distinctive, authentic character, which is why he’s irresistible.

Too often, power brands reach too far and end up diluting their message rather than bolstering it. They launch products or services into categories that undermine their distinction, and end up jumping the shark rather than driving real results.

In a time when we all want to stand for so many things, choosing your single point of distinction can be more difficult than solving quadratic equations. But doing the hard work of simplifying your message into its most powerful core will end up driving incredible results. You’ll blast through the noise, while your competitors are tripping over their 47 "unique" value propositions.

Whether it’s for yourself or your organization, cut away the waste and narrow your pitch to a single sentence. Think of yourself as a sculptor chiseling away at the excess rock to reveal your masterpiece underneath. The clearer you can make your single point of distinction, the closer you’ll get to seizing your full potential. And that’ll really get your competition seeing red. Pantone 187C, to be exact.

[Top image: Flickr user _Nowo]

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  • Jo Chadwick

    It may well be 187c but that, in fact, is incidental. The real story behind Louboutin's signature red sole is that is it no other than Revlon Red. Less than a tenner a bottle. Available in all big Boots stores. The plan was not to design shoes with a signature sole. The story goes that CL was looking over at a colleagues desk where there lay a small bottle of Revlon Red. He opened it, and began to paint the base of a shoe. And hence the icon was born. A flash of inspiration. A serendipitous moment. Or perhaps even a moment of utter boredom. Whichever it was, that small, off the cuff action was one that saw a decent pair of killer heels become an icon of modern design.

  • Carole Pyke The Business Bard

    Thank you Josh for your insight. I've been writing about 'Purple Cows' recently (thanks to Seth Godin inspiration) - In Search of the Purple Cow and the 7 Peas -  but still hadn't really made the connection (shame on me) Louboutin's red sole is his Purple Cow! May we all find ours and prosper from it!

  • Sorilbran Buckner

    Josh, this articles helps.  If you can't simplify it, you don't understand it well enough.  So let me go back to the drawing board and simplify some things. 

  • Tim Young

    Sarah, I think you are missing the point of the article, which is to highlight a visual form of brand identity  that aligns with the designer's sensibility. In this case, it's red soles. No, it doesn't matter that it's Pantone 187C - except to the manufacturer or the marketer. And to the reader of this blog, because it shows the writer did his research.

  • sarah

    Certain women buy these shoes because they want others to think they have discriminating taste. But, these aren't the women who have loyalty—as soon as the blue-soled shoe is in fashion, she'll abandon the red-soled one. Pantone 187C means absolutely nothing. 
    You may think the brand's quality and assembly (not to mention how flattering or how comfortable they are) don't mean as much as Pantone 187C, but that's just plain silly. Louboutin would be just fine without Pantone 187C. In fact, I think it's Pantone that's getting the equity out of this deal.