There’s a tendency in business – as with most things in life – for people to copy one another. That’s why we get fashions. People are afraid to be different, so we follow one another like sheep.
Take websites, for example. There are fashions in web design. Businesses want to follow the current trend. So most websites look similar to one another.
As a web designer for many years, my clients would show me other websites they liked and ask me to “do something similar”. The same applies with Google Adwords advertising. People tend to look at their competitors’ ads and copy them.
The problem is, when everyone in an industry benchmarks against one another, it results in a mediocre sameness. Everyone says they provide great products or service, and the usual things you would expect in that industry.
So, essentially, what most businesses are saying with their marketing is “we offer you the same as everyone else but we do it better.”
If that’s what you want for your business, fine. Keep copying your competitors and hope for the best.
Maybe you can undercut their prices and win business that way. That’s what you have to do when your product or service becomes a commodity. And it’s a commodity because it’s the same as everyone else.
What makes your business unique?
To stand out from the crowd, you need to offer more than this. We all have unique personalities and experience. So, with your marketing, try to focus on what makes your business unique.
Highlight the things that make you different from everyone else in your industry. Downplay the things that are the same as everyone else. Dare to be different.
I made a decision with my own marketing that I was going to be different from other web agencies. I wanted to communicate what makes me unique – not what makes me look like just any other agency.
For example, something everyone seems to be doing is to have popups appear on their website requesting you sign up for their newsletter or special offer.
This is something I have purposely decided not to do. If it irritates me, chances are it also annoys others. So why would I do it? It’s a classic example of people doing something, just because “everyone else” does.
If you want to build a mailing list, why not find a less intrusive way to get people to sign up, rather than interrupting them with a popup.
Make yourself uncopyable
If you are going to be innovative with your marketing, you need to come up with original ideas. The problem is, brainstorming new ideas is difficult. That’s why hardly anyone does it.
You don’t usually get new ideas when you are buried in the day to day running of your business, or sitting in front of a computer screen.
The best ideas come when you are away from your business. You need to do this regularly, even if you think you can’t afford the time. It’s the only way to create true innovation.
It’s interesting to note that Gutenberg got his idea for the printing press when looking at wine presses squeezing grapes. He had a brainwave. He thought, maybe I can use the same kind of format to create print. And the rest is history.
The inventor of Velcro apparently got the idea when he was walking through a forest and got a whole lot of burrs stuck to his socks.
Look at businesses in other industries
If you find it difficult to come up with genuinely new ideas, one method I’ve found useful is to look at businesses in a completely different industry. You can often find things they are doing, which can be applied to your own business. And they will appear innovative in your own industry.
Think of businesses you come across in your day to day life, which make a positive impression. It could be something as basic as a café or supermarket, where you particularly love the way they do things.
What is their secret? And is there any way you can apply some of their ideas in your own business?
This is one reason why Amazon.com has been so successful. They started with books and did things radically different from anyone else in the bookselling industry. Now, Amazon are taking over more and more industries because they are coming in as outsiders and ignoring the way things have traditionally been done.
If Amazon bought your company, what changes would they make? That’s an interesting question to ask yourself.
The Dollar Shave Club
If you think you are selling a commodity and don’t believe there’s any way to stand out from your competitors, consider The Dollar Shave Club. If you haven’t heard of them, check out their website – www.dollarshaveclub.com. They sell razors and shaving products.
You could hardly get more of a commodity. And yet by innovative marketing, The Dollar Shave Club has become a massive success. You join the club and get your shaving needs delivered to your door each month.
The secret is, people feel like they are part of an exclusive club. Maybe you can find a way to apply something similar to your own business. How can you make your customers or clients feel like they are members of a club?
What type of business do you want to be?
The reality is, running a small or medium size business is tough. Most businesses are just getting by. They are copying everyone else in their industry who are also barely staying afloat.
But a few businesses stand out and enjoy unusual success. And always, it’s because they have dared to be different. So, which type of business do you want to be?