Not Everyone Should Try To Be Duolingo: Why Chasing Trends Can Backfire

Have you ever been in that meeting? You know the one. The CEO leans forward, eyes gleaming with the perceived brilliance of a competitor’s social media campaign. Maybe it’s Duolingo’s sassy owl tweets, Wendy’s savage roasts, or Dollar Shave Club’s… well, everything. The question hangs heavy in the air: “Why can’t we be more like that?”

As a CMO, that pressure to chase the next viral trend is real. But here’s the truth: not every brand should try to be a meme machine. Duolingo’s quirky mascot and relentless gamification wouldn’t translate for a luxury watch company. Wendys’ snark might alienate their core customer base of families.

The key to successful marketing isn’t blind imitation, it’s authenticity.

Here’s why you should push back against the pressure to be the next “edgy” brand:

  • Brand dilution: Yes, it’s the equivalent of flushing what makes your brand unique down the, shall we say, skibidi toilet. What made a brand like Duolingo stand out can become generic if everyone starts doing it.
  • Misaligned messaging: A forced voice feels inauthentic. Customers can smell desperation a mile away (also known as being “cringey” or giving them “the ick”). Your brand voice should flow naturally from your brand values and target audience.
  • Short-term gains vs. long-term strategy: Sure, a viral post might get a few reshares (for the right or wrong reasons), but does it build lasting brand loyalty? Focus on building a voice that resonates with your customers over time.

So how do you define a unique brand voice?

  • Know your audience: Who are you trying to reach? What kind of language do they respond to?
  • Identify your brand values: What makes your company special? What story are you trying to tell?
  • Be consistent: Don’t be all over the map where one day you’re serious, the next you’re cracking jokes. Think about how jarring it would be to wake up one day to find that McDonald’s had switched its brand voice and was posting Quarter Pounder sauce recipes and US RDA data. It’s the same when your B2B brand switches from whitepapers to nonstop memes out of nowhere.

Building a strong brand voice takes time and effort, but the payoff is huge. When your brand speaks with a clear, authentic voice, it cuts through the noise and connects with customers on a deeper level. You’ll build trust, loyalty, and ultimately, drive sales.

So the next time someone asks why you can’t be more like Duolingo, stand your ground. Embrace a holistic social media and marketing strategy that includes creativity, without copying a strategy from a brand that is far outside of your target audience.

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