Do you run a creative or service based business online or off? Do people keep asking what exactly it is you do and how you are different from others (no matter how many times you explain)? Do prospective customers gasp in shock when you mention your prices yet happily buy the more expensive options offered by your competitors? Do you struggle to attract clients, collaborators and the media attention you need to take your business from local to global?
Well, let’s face it, differentiation is getting harder and harder these days. For starters, technology has made it easier to start a business with as little as a website and a mobile phone. Thanks to Google, everyone can be an ‘expert’ and with millions of job seekers exploring self-employment, the market is as competitive as ever. Whether you are a lawyer or a coach, a consultant or a blogger, there are far too many people doing exactly the same thing you do. That’s why this article shares some helpful insights, real life stories and strategies to help you STAND OUT better in your crowded market. Do read on and share to inspire others.
** Introspect and Project! **
STANDING OUT in business always begins with looking inwards, embracing and then projecting one’s unique character traits, stellar skills and life-defining experiences. Every human being on the face of the earth is distinct. Add to that, the unique mix of experiences and influences we all have and it would be impossible not to stand out. The problem though is that many people lack sufficient self awareness, neither value nor explore their full spectrum of abilities and feel immense pressure to conform. Whilst the majority cower in the shadows of convention, the few who cut against the grain are certainly reaping the rewards.
Some Examples of Real Businesses that STAND OUT and Create BuZZ around the world:
1. Painting The Town Red: ‘Red Shoes Coaching’
(c) Red Shoes Coaching
Based in Sheffield; England, ‘Red Shoes Coaching’ certainly does a good job when it comes to standing out from the crowd. According to founder, Kay Gill, inspiration struck one day whilst having lunch with a girlfriend. Upon discovering that many women regard red shoes as a symbol of confidence, excitement and vitality, Kay created coaching services that inspire more ‘red shoe’ moments for her audience – namely professionals of both sexes as well as business owners.
This is just one of many good examples of how to carve out a niche without slicing oneself out of the market. What do Red Shoes Coaching do? Well, essentially the same work as everyone else – yet the company’s ‘how and why’ has created a paradigm shift and a brand that is bold, exciting and memorable.
2. Blogging Boldly: Dooce, Forleo and ‘Truth About Cars’ in the Smitten Kitchen?
(c) Smitten Kitchen, The Truth About Cars
With millions of websites and blogs competing for eyeballs, the stakes are higher than ever. Voted one of the top blogs in the world by the publishers of Time Magazine, The Truth About Cars serves up super-feisty automobile reviews mixed with thoughtful social commentary about cars plus car-related history and politics. Quite an eclectic mix there but when it comes to standing out, contrast can be a good thing especially if you know how to balance out the elements.
On the other-hand, foodie blog, The Smitten Kitchen has garnered multiple awards and reviews from The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, InStyle Magazine and Forbes to mention a few, thanks to it’s author’s personable writing style garnished with stunning food photography.
(c) Dooce, Marie Forleo
When Heather Armstrong got fired over her blog well over 13 years ago, she cleverly turned Dooce into a full time income stream for herself, a husband and two children. The winning formula is Heather’s ability to serve up the highs and hiccups of everyday life on the platter of her personality. Whereas most people feel conflicted about their multiple talents, Marie Forleo has whipped up hers (choreography, dance, marketing and life coaching etc.) into a hugely popular video blog. She is upfront about her occasional swearing and double-entendres not being everyone’s cup of tea (not my preference either). However, it is her quirky and lively manner that make her branding pop and attracts her ideal audience in droves.
You will notice that by mining their personality and life experiences for inspiration, these bloggers have distinguished themselves in a fiercely competitive blogosphere – attracting tons of traffic, opportunities and multiple streams of business income. From a branding perspective, they are very interesting. Although the raw materials are in abundance, standing out in this way can be one of the scariest things you can do. It takes courage and some hand holding along the way.
3. Redefining Virginity: Richard Branson
Outstanding marketing will attract the right customers to your business but it takes a lot more than that to create buzz and keep those customers eating out of your hands. When I asked my facebook community to name businesses that inspire them, Virgin was definitely a front runner. In-fact those who responded spoke passionately about the free upgrades, champagne and chocolates they had received on Virgin Airline flights whilst exclaiming ‘Virgin rocks’.
Conceived in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group has gone on to grow successful businesses in sectors ranging from mobile telephony, travel, financial services, leisure, music, holidays as well as health & wellness. Across its companies, Virgin employs approximately 50,000 people, in 34 countries and global branded revenues in 2011 were around £13bn ($21bn). Thumbs up to Richard, who has infused personal qualities (such as friendliness and a penchant for adventure) into his company culture.
4. Cooking Up A Storm: Akhaya Cookery School
Featured on CNN, TimeOut and various publications, Akhaya Cookery School is hailed as the first cookery school in London to dedicate itself solely to African cuisine. Customers can’t seem to stop talking about it’s interactive cookery classes which explore the historical and cultural influences behind some of today’s popular African dishes. For instance, ‘Follow the Spice Trail’ – a two-day course (priced at £250 per head) takes its inspiration from the ancient spice routes of Africa, as well as those crossing Arabia, the Far East and India. Students typically get a welcome glass of wine, all ingredients, a copy of the school’s recipe book and the choice to take their cooking home. These imaginative courses, workshops and private classes offer a fresh and exciting cultural experience. Award winning founder and head chef, Jennifer Okpapi, originally Nigerian, says Akhaya is her middle name and means UNIQUE!
Sometimes it’s not enough to mention where you come from on your website. This is a great example of how cultural heritage can be leveraged to make almost any business STAND OUT from the crowd. Sadly many of the businesses I come across neglect the wonderful opportunity to create outstanding and exciting products, services, branding and ethics simply by weaving in cultural undertones when appropriate.
5. Milking It Big Time: Moo.Com
And last but not least, Moo.Com merits a mention for its use of technology to create products that pop. In the not so distant past, business cards were mainly one sided creatures. Thanks to MOO’s invention aptly dubbed, ‘Printfinity’, a different design (text and images) can be printed on the back of every single card in the pack whether you order 50 or 5,000 cards. Use this to show off your design portfolio, your range of products and services or maybe just more information about what you do. Remember, it’s not enough to ‘Distinguish Your Business!’, you’ve got to creatively communicate your uniqueness too. These top quality cards can make a great conversation starter helping people to remember you and your brand.
Differentiation is getting harder and harder in today’s global economy. Whether you’re working on your branding, products, books, blogs, social media, company culture or customer service, bland is no longer enough.
- Think about your person, passion, skills and life experiences. What is unique about you? And how can you infuse more of that into your business?
- Think about your audience. What keeps them awake at night? What do they need the most from you and how can you provide this in a fresh, compelling and cost-effective way?
- Think about your peers. What are they doing? What appears to be working? How can you bring more value and excitement to your marketplace?
Go ahead and think about it. Then please share your answers or experiences in the comments box below!
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