Perhaps the only thing more difficult for a company to derive than its elevator pitch is a list — even a short list — of its principal differentiators. In October of this year, The Chautauqua Center for Meaningful Distinction surveyed 647 of the companies in the S&P 500 and found 20 percent of them struggle to identify and articulate their differentiators. Seventy-two percent of the remainder do a lousy job of it. And the remaining eight percent get them all wrong.
Nevertheless, for those willing to try, differentiation remains possible. It remains, in fact, inevitable, since your business and your brand can’t be my business or my brand. As long as we’re necessarily differentiated from each other as human beings, the businesses we create will be necessarily differentiated from each other as brands.
I’m not sure that point can be made or affirmed any more saliently than it is in this article. It manifests a powerful notion from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”
As a published author, I’m sometimes invited to speak at local book stores. So, I’m accustomed to hearing Amazon is anathema to independent booksellers. Any mention of Amazon has to be whispered clandestinely, out of earshot of the proprietors, lest I be publicly excoriated and banned from the premises — sullied and besmirched as just so much Kryptonite to bricks and mortar, Mom and Pop, the flag, apple pie, and senses of decency everywhere.
Such anti-Amazon sentiments betray a lack of imagination from which many brands and business owners suffer. But that suffering is easily overcome. Here’s how:
Rather than attempting to discern the specific differentiators of your business or your brand, think about yourself. Who are you? What do you do? Why do you do it? How do you do it differently from everyone else? What do you add, offer, or contribute? What’s important to you? How do you show, express, convey, or reflect it? Are you ordinary, predictable, or nondescript? If not, why not? What distinguishes you?
Extend that line of questioning: Did you create your business or your brand to be a part of the herd, lost in the crowd, run of the mill? If not, how is it distinct? Does it reflect your personality, your interests, your values, your commitments? What sets it apart? Product? Service? Culture? Attitude? Why should people care about it, return to it, and honor it with their loyalty and their dollars? Does it serve an interest or a cause beyond or outside of itself? What does it stand for?
It doesn’t matter what your answers to any of those questions might be. As long as they’re not the same as his or hers or mine, they constitute your differentiators. In our differentiations, we are as the proverbial snowflakes: No two of us is alike. All we need do is manifest our differences in our businesses or our brands, and we will have initiated our respective successes.
What’s the difference? The difference is everything. Find yours and manifest it boldly.
Mighty forces will come to your aid.
“The Bold Look” by Esquire Magazine, 1948 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.