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Tom Meyers
Tom Meyers

The Critical Importance of Standing Out from the Crowd

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

 

If you want your business to be a leader in its sector, your business needs to stand out from the crowd. In order to do that your business needs to be different. It needs to be original. It needs to stand out! And, you will not succeed in standing out or leading if you desperately try to be like everyone else in the field. Leaders do not follow, they lead. And they are not afraid to lead.

Obvious, isn't it? Nevertheless, I am continually amazed by how many companies aspire to leadership of their fields yet are afraid to stand out because they perceive standing out from the crowd as being a risk. Moreover, if we are honest, it is an unnecessary risk. If you are running a moderately successful business with a decent product, you do not need to stand out. You can be like everyone else and get on just fine and dandy. You will never attain market leadership − unless all of your competitors are abducted by aliens − but you are relatively safe, at least until some Silicon Valley smart alecks launch a disruptive innovation that wrecks your field for everyone.

Serious Business

I believe another reason business leaders are often afraid to stand out, especially individuals running smaller businesses, is that they want to be taken seriously as businesspeople. So, they behave and look like ordinary businesspeople. That may be safe, but it is not a good way to stand out!

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, neither looks nor behaves like a typical business leader − and this was doubly true in Facebook's early days. Had the company failed, as many people then believed it would, seriously businesslike businesspeople would surely have laughed at Mr Zuckerberg's naivety, immaturity and failure to be businesslike. Instead, he has succeeded and will probably rule the world by the time he's my age. As a result, aspiring but unimaginative business people try to be like him in hopes they will succeed.

They won't. You do not experience massive success by copying others. You will only achieve real success by standing out from the business crowd so that, eventually, others want to copy you in a naïve belief that will help them to succeed.

Standing Out

Cartoon: woman lost in a plane of graphic figuresIf you want your business to stand out, you need to do that in three ways: product, packaging and communication. Let's look at each of these.

Product

In their marketing classic, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout argue that "The basic issue in marketing is creating a category you can be first in. It is the law of leadership: it is better to be first than it is to be better." That is very true and you are not going to be first by being like everyone else. Instead, you need to make products that are different and which define a new category, a category that your business leads.

To do this, you need to innovate in a big way.  Do not waste time with incremental innovation. Offering your product in a slightly brighter silver than the dozen similar products in the field does not signify innovation. It signifies an embarrassing lack of imagination.

I will not go into how to innovate a product here as it is something I have written about once or thrice in the past. Check out my articles on anticonventional thinking, my book on anticonventional thinking, my articles on business innovation and my book on business innovation.

Packaging

I don't know about you, but when I go to the supermarket, I am not delighted by the choice of shampoos or toothpastes on offer. I am intimidated! I buy the same brand again and again not out of any particular allegiance, but because it works and I absolutely do not want to have to examine a gazillion packages in order to make a decision about which to buy. At the same time, I wonder how much difference there really is between products. I sometimes suspect that every Nivea (for example) shampoo is exactly the same − they just put the same liquid in different packages to impress people who get excited about excess choice, and to scare me. I am not picking on Nivea here. In fact, I have used their 2 in 1 brand shampoo for years.

Now, imagine what would happen if one of the manufacturers decided to put some ordinary shampoo in a truly unique and special container. They could doubtless charge a premium and even people like me would take notice of a product that looked truly unique on the shelves.

Alternatively, imagine a massive barrel filled with all natural shampoo and having a metered tap on the bottom. You bring your own bottle, fill it from the barrel and get a ticket or token to take to the cashier. The concept behind it, of course, would be to avoid the wastage of plastic packaging. Indeed, a shampoo dispenser like that would probably impress me enough to dump the Nivea 2 in 1 and buy the all natural stuff.

There is not much packaging involved in many services, particularly business related services. Nevertheless, there is room to be creative and original. If you run an IT consultancy and your team runs around in blue jeans and hoodies, you might require everyone wear a conservative suit. That would ensure your consultancy stands out from the more casually dressed competition and would probably impress a lot of conservative business owners. On the other hand, if you run a bank you might encourage everyone to wear hoodies and blue jeans to impress a younger, IT oriented clientele. Since most banks require staff wear business formal or at least business casual clothing, this packaging of your team would stand out.

Communication

If you want to stand out, you need to communicate that you stand out. However, you cannot simply shout, "hey guys, we stand out!" That does not impress people. Your communication needs to make it clear that you stand out for a good reason. If you look at the web site or advertising of a high end Swiss watchmaker, it will not shout "Hey, we make great, really expensive watches that will tell everyone you are filthy rich!" Rather they tend to focus on quality, precision and great design. Buyers understand that such a watch will be expensive and special. Many are also aware that such a watch will communicate to everyone that they are filthy rich.

For small service oriented companies, communication is the single best way to stand out and establish themselves as innovative leaders. Sadly, most such businesses completely fail to do this. Instead, they seem to want to be lost in businesslike anonymity. Their web sites all use similar Wordpress templates and are decorated with similar stock photos of well dressed, slim, smiling people clustered around computers, reports or other smiling well dressed, pseudo-employees. Their logos are blandly businesslike and their services are described in forgettable businesslike terms and trendy jargon. They come across as professional, businesslike and bland. And, of course, neither the real team nor the office look anything like the stock photos. In fact, a market analysis consultancy with a dozen young businesspeople pictured on their web site may be run by a middle-age owner who works all day in her pyjamas while operating from her kitchen table.

You Don't Need to Look Businesslike to Succeed

I believe a big part of the problem here is small business owners, especially if they are selling to other businesses desperately want to be taken seriously by the business world and believe the best way to do that is to blend in and act businesslike. As a result, instead of standing out in the business world, they disappear within it!

The pyjama-clad woman in the example might do very well by calling her company, "Kitchen Table Consulting". She could even include on her website pictures of her working in her pyjamas as a means of stressing her relaxed, informal and honest style.

If your web site is businesslike, if your blog posts parrot zillions of other blog posts, if your Powerpoint slides use those silly, faceless computer generated graphic figures to represent people, then you are communicating to the world that you are just like everyone else; that your business fails to stand out and you are probably not the most interesting person to sit next to at a dinner party.

Stand out instead! Invest a little in an original designer. Create content that ensures you stand out for thought-leadership. Pay for a professional photographer or illustrator to make a few images especially for your web site and corporate literature. If you cannot afford that, get creative. A child's drawings could be a clever and original way to decorate a web site, Powerpoint slides and other literature. Best of all, you'd be exploiting cheap child labour: your own kids' enthusiasm to help you out!

Stand out

So, stand out! Be proud that you are unique! You are different! You can do things others cannot do. Do not be ashamed of those differences because they are unbusinesslike! Instead, boast of those differences as the differentiators that make you better than all of the other dreary companies in your sector.

Standing out is simple in concept but it takes a little bravery and creativity to do in practice. You need original products that place you in a leadership position, you need packaging that makes you stand out from your look-alike competitors and you need to communicate that you stand out. But it is worth it. It is a path from market obscurity to market leadership.

 

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