A “secret sauce” is derived from the more literal notion of a “secret ingredient”, which handy old Wikipedia describes as “a component of a product that is closely guarded from public disclosure for competitive advantage”. If one is a chef, then this would be seen in the form of a “secret sauce” that takes an otherwise familiar dish into the stratosphere. You would never print the recipe for said sauce, as the whole point is to get customers coming back for more. Because only at your establishment could they experience this particular pleasure.
Let’s take this one step further, and talk about how at the level of branding, every great brand has a “secret sauce” that makes it uniquely valuable and/or irresistible to customers. Coca Cola, both in terms of its taste, and the symbolic meaning it has, especially to Americans – is unique. To borrow an analogy from the natural world: There is only one authentic monarch butterfly, though other species might seek to imitate its appearance.
So what is your secret sauce? Thinking about this question not only about the brands or organizations we represent, but also ourselves, is to me an endlessly fascinating question. Not the easiest question to answer (which is why it’s so much fun to pose it), as most of us are simply too close to the subject to have much perspective. What, at the end of the day, do I bring to the table that no one else can?
This forces us to ask questions that go deeper and deeper, quite a lot like peeling the layers of an onion (which is why that metaphor is so useful). When we did our own soul searching as an agency, we had to go through an initial phase where we discarded all the usual answers, as they didn’t satisfy the requirement of something only we could bring to the table. Therefore, things like “thoughtful strategy” and “good creative” and “excellent client service” were inadequate answers, as there are others who do these things quite well.
When we put ourselves under our own psychological microscope, we realized we provide something more complex, and harder to find: “Advertising Navy Seals”. Long version: “Highly-trained operatives with a battery of skills and tools deployed under pressure for sensitive high-stakes situations.” We found the short version much easier to remember.
So what is your secret sauce? What is the thing you have that is highly valuable, unique and hard to replicate? I guarantee you the answer will not be a product or a technology or even a process. It is the deeper thing that explains why you have those tangible assets in the first place.