As many businesses grapple with the ‘new normal’, it’s becoming increasingly common for firms to approach me wanting to be ‘different’. They don’t want to be like everyone else. They don’t want to look like everyone else. They don’t want to sound like everyone else. It’s the brief every creative agency loves to hear.
But, like anything worth achieving, the devil (in this case, differentiation) is in the detail – and this is where the best intentions can begin to unravel.
The first sign of trouble is when I ask a company or firm exactly how they are different and they respond with a a long pause followed by, well, nothing.
How is this possible, you ask? It’s possible when you invest all your time saying you want to be different without attending to the much more difficult task of understanding how you are (or aspire to be) different. Often, when I take a company through a process to help them identify the ways in which they are different, it turns out that they are, in fact, exactly the same as everyone else.
When we then move on to how they could be different from everyone else, they get incredibly excited.
Until, that is, I tell them what they need to do to achieve it. Then they do the psychological equivalent of counting to ten, and their excitement turns to fear: ‘Oh no, we can’t say that. That would scare our clients. No, we can’t look like that. Our clients wouldn’t understand. We’d alienate all our clients if we did that. It makes us look too different from everyone else. Our clients need to see us in the same light as our competitors.’
What happens next?
The harsh reality of the commitment required to actually be different shatters the aspiration and the company ends up pretty much where it started:
For a good article on the basis of firm differentiation, read this post by Lee Frederiksen from UK branding specialists, Hinge Marketing: Find Your Differentiator: 21 Ways to Gain a Competitive Advantage for Your Firm.
This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan or follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.