If, like one Austin entrepreneur I’m aware of, you make vodka in Texas and have the surname Beveridge, you’re going to stand out. The rest of us perhaps have to work a little harder to make sure we’re distinctive.
To examine the topic of differentiation more deeply I collaborated with Ivan Goldberg, the oldest and longest serving Chairman of Vistage U.K. You may know Vistage as the global networking organization that arranges peer groups of CEOs, founders, and executives of small and medium sized businesses who support each other in addressing challenges and sharing their knowledge and experience. Ivan has worked for 66 years, man and boy—longer than I’ve been alive—and at 83 years is one of the most open-minded, curious, and tech savvy people I’ve had the privilege to converse with.
Here’s the result of our conversation (in two parts):
The argument for why differentiation is so important these days has been made many times already. As Ivan once asked one of his members: Are you going to offer something truly different or remain a jobbing architect who is simply regarded as a commodity?
None of us wants just to be A choice, we want to be THE choice in our market. How do you make that happen? Especially when you don’t feel you have the resources of an Apple or other innovative big-name brand?
First, let’s share a little about the importance of the WOW factor.
Imagine you’re in the hotel business and are filling in three concentric circles, shown above. with what it is you offer. The outer circle is where you list all the basics customers expect: like a bed with clean sheets, and a bathroom with toiletries and towels.
The next circle contains your “extras”: perhaps a concierge service, free wifi, a warm cookie (as was the case at Doubletree when I visited New Orleans the other week), and branded toiletries from Crabtree & Evelyn or Thann.
But it’s the inner circle—where the WOW factor resides—that’s going to determine whether your target audience chooses you or a competitor. This is where you need to be really different, in a way that cannot be copied—or, at least, not easily. For example, Ivan is familiar with one hotel that washes the car of every guest who stays there. Which is all fine and dandy, but what’s to stop the hotel down the road doing exactly the same thing? What happens to your WOW factor then? Poof!! Gone.
If you live somewhere appropriate you might become as differentiated and unique as the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel in Sweden. Or offer your guests the choice between staying in a glass or snow igloo as they do in Saariselka, Finland. Alternatively, how about having one of your hotel rooms made out of a foodstuff – in this case, chocolate? Or your toilets out of card keys? Or your entire hotel out of shipping containers?
We’re not suggesting you need to be (or can be) that extreme, but these examples help to illustrate the point that without the WOW factor, you’re just another hotel.
That said, let’s bring this conversation back to what solopreneurs and smaller businesses should consider when looking for areas in which to stand out. You’re likely to find any number of articles already written about WHAT to differentiate, in terms of innovative products and services. We wanted to look at some of the less-appreciated ways in which you might become successfully distinctive with a lot less effort
WHO ARE YOU?
Clement Freud (yes, he’s related to that Freud) was once a Liberal-Democrat candidate in the U.K. Every week he would look in his local paper and pick out half a dozen items showcasing the successes of local people. Maybe someone’s dog took the top spot at a dog show, or their cauliflower won a prize for being the biggest. Whatever it was, Freud would write a personal letter to each of these people, signing them at the end: With warmest wishes from your Liberal-Democrat candidate, Clement Freud.
When Freud went out canvassing door-to-door and mentioned his name it was remarkable how many local people commented on either receiving a letter from him, or had heard of someone who had. Just imagine what that did for his chances of getting elected. In fact, Freud became an M.P. and served in two different constituencies for a total of 14 years.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
It’s not just the big hitters like Patagonia and Whole Foods Market that can differentiate themselves through adopting a cause or origin story. For example, we’re blessed in Austin with many wonderful local food companies, some of whom are smart enough to tell their stories about why they created their products on their packaging. We’re typically drawn to compelling personal stories such as Tara Miko’s, who founded Happy Hemp after getting sick, leaving the fashion industry, and desiring more control over her health.
Perhaps there is a WOW in the form of a cause or personal journey what would resonate with clients and customers who share your ethos?
What do you think?
[NEXT UP: Differentiating with When, Where, and How]
Dr. Liz Alexander is an action-oriented thinker who helps individuals and organizations produce a steady stream of insightful, influential, impactful ideas. She is co-founder of Leading Thought. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter: @LeadThought and @DrLizAlexander. Download her speaker sheet here and brochure, Establishing Your B2B Pipeline of Thought Leading Influencers here.