Standing out and differentiation provides you and your business the competitive edge you need to succeed. If all things are equal, your chance of landing a client is 50/50 at best. By differentiating yourself you can dramatically close more deals and build a super-engaged community at the same time.
Tom and Mike share how they stand out of the crowd which led to successful businesses and a highly engaged combined community of over 750,000 creatives combined. The good news is, It’s not rocket science and you can do it too.
If you are in a rush, here are the key takeaways from this article:
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3 Actionable Tips to Stand Out & Differentiate
Stop being unbelievably generic
Whenever someone does something even slightly different, you immediately take notice. It’s because it’s not boring. In fact, you feel relieved for not seeing something that you’ve already seen a million times before because it comes as a surprise to you. It instantly stands out since it’s something that’s been untouched or unnoticed. But many entrepreneurs struggle with it.
Tom works with many creatives and they often ask him these 3 questions: Why am I not growing? Why am I not making sales? Why am I not getting traction?
After reviewing their social profiles, he saw a common trend. First, they were all very talented people. Second, their content was unbelievably generic. So, the question remains why would someone want to work with someone who looks just like everyone else? Hence, if you are in a similar boat and want to change things, just stop being generic and create a value proposition for your brand that makes you stand out. Differentiating yourself from the rest of them is how you can grow as a brand, drive sales and build an engaged community.
To do this, start by asking yourself two questions: Why should they buy this product or service at all? And why should they buy it from YOU? Think about why people should buy a product/service from you rather than the other 1,000 people out there that are selling a similar product or service.
It is inherently quite a difficult question to answer but it’s the most important question because if you don’t have an answer for it, your potential customers won’t either. There’s never been more competition. There’s never been a lower barrier to entry. There’s a new competitor emerging every five minutes in the world, trying and going after the exact same work that you’re going after and so differentiating yourself is absolutely critical for your business survival.
How Tom Stands Out: Tom shares original content on his platform which is actionable advice without the fluff. He is also super approachable and helpful to his community because he feels that a lot of the contemporaries and CEOs are not as approachable. Tom happily shares his disgraceful hangovers and creates goofy videos being true to what he calls himself, ‘the honest entrepreneur”.
How Mike Stands Out: Mike’s content is not pulled out from a book rather from his own life experience. The content is unique and is only found on his Instagram platform. For example, the concepts shared have been developed while he was building his agency. He is also on a mission to be the most accessible business mentor for designers in the world. He replies to every single DM on Instagram and makes sure no one ever feels he’s too good for them. Mike has distinct brand colours, he uses a yellow and black color palette to differentiate himself. There have been instances where people have seen a product such as Stanley Tools which is yellow and black in color and they instantly think of Mike and reach out. In the eyes of the audience, it’s his brand’s colour palette.
Be your truest self
If you are completely and utterly yourself, you naturally differentiate because we are all unique and therefore by being fully yourself, you, by definition, will be like no one else. You ultimately will differentiate effortlessly.
There are two schools of thought:
- Do in-depth research of all your competitors and know exactly how they position themselves so that you can position yourself differently.
- Don’t do any research at all.
Interestingly they are the exact opposite of each other but if you do either you will differentiate yourself. In the first method, it’s more strategy focused and in the second, you will naturally differentiate yourself by being your truest self.
Do a little exercise, ask your friend what personality traits they like about you and most certainly, they will have something interesting to say. You will come up with many unique traits, be it being funny, quirky, vulnerable or analytical; you can pull on them to create a differentiating factor in your brand that will potentially help you stand out from your competitors you conduct research about.
For example, if your trait is that you are funny and after competitive research, you see that most brands are more inclined towards a formal approach, this could be a way of differentiating yourself. You have thousands of aspects of our personalities that make us unique, leverage them.
Carry out competitive analysis
Do in-depth research of all your competitors and know exactly how they position themselves so you can position yourself differently.
Put pen to paper and list down criteria to examine your competitors to figure out how you position yourself in the market. Here are seven categories you can begin with:
- Their values vs yours
- Their brand colors differentiated from yours from a visual marketing standpoint.
- The services they offer vs what you’re willing to offer.
- Price points, whether they’re high or low and in comparison to yours.
- Their marketing channels vs your business’s outreach
- Their social media presence and the channels they operate through.
- Their customer experience vs yours.
Carefully articulate the data you collect. The competitive research will be an eye-opener because you get all the data that you need and you can sit back and ask yourself; how or why should somebody buy from me instead of these people?
For Example: Why does somebody buy a Mercedes over a Ford? If all the specs are the same or even if Ford is winning on some of the technical specs of the automobile, they aren’t ever going to win on the brand reputation of Mercedes. And that’s where Mercedes wins, because of its sterling reputation.
Pro Tip: When you’re doing this exercise of trying to stand out from your competitors and your market, remember if it’s hard for you to do so, it means it’s hard for other people. If it’s super easy to differentiate yourself from the rest, you can differentiate and stand out and become the best, but it won’t take five minutes before you’re doing well in that space for someone else to figure that out and steal your idea from you. The harder your steps are, the harder it becomes for someone else to follow those steps.
You don’t want that ‘Apples-to-Apples’ comparison. You want it to be ‘Apples-to-Oranges’ and when you’re the orange you want to be the number one orange.
When you consider differentiating on price don’t immediately think, “I have to be cheaper”. For example, Apple doesn’t think that way. It charges higher than anybody else. They differentiate on price and they still get the business that they’re looking for. Products, service, customer experience, price and then brand reputation are global categories that you can look at and decide how you’re going to differentiate yourself in these five different categories. Simplicity and usability are other differentiating factors, they set underneath product and service. So, with your products and services, people might have a certain emotive brand connection with it too.
Your golden morsel that you will share in the elevator pitch or that you share as the closing statement in your sales cycle with your customer is the golden answer that’s going to give you your differentiation for your domination. But you’ve got to work at it. Nobody’s really going to be able to answer it for you. It’s going to come with research and effort by leveraging your advantages.
How Tom positions his company: Tom’s company started in a relatively smaller niche with dozens of competitors that sold design bundles. Tom analysed each one of them but he worked out what we could be the best in most areas and it worked. Design Cuts has the best price, the best license and the best customer care.
Now, Tom’s company, Design Cuts, has entered the marketplace model and there are enormous platforms like Envato, Creative Market etc. Design Cuts isn’t leading in terms of product breadth because it doesn’t have five million products but Tom considers this as an advantage since the product quality always stays high. His aim was to have a smaller product range, but a much higher average product quality and he nailed it with his company. He intentionally chose to let the competitors win in those categories such as volume of products and positioned himself to win in all of the other categories that exist.
How Mike positioned his agency: Mike’s agency was based in a second-tier market and the clients were in the first-tier market. So the client base was in LA, New York, DC and San Francisco primarily that accounted for 90% of the work. Many of the competitors were in those major markets and Mike was running the race from behind and not competing at the same level as them as far as location was concerned. So, that was a point of differentiation for them. Unless Mike opened an office in LA, it was hardly possible to compete with the competitors based there.
So Mike differentiated the agency on customer experience being very accommodating and not the stuck-up black turtleneck designers or arrogant ad guys. Mike intentionally decided to be the super fun and easy people to work with, who bend over backwards to please the clients. Another way that Mike differentiated his agency was in the price point. The office space was a fraction of what it would have been if located in New York City.
Mike’s agency was running at a 31% Profit margin over 13 years and by charging less than his competitors and most agencies didn’t even come close to this profit margin. So, differentiating in price is very effective as long as you’re still profitable. Mike’s agency was giving the same quality as the major market agencies at a more affordable price, the best deal for any customer. That being said, Mike’s agency was at a disadvantage in some areas such as, if the client wanted to meet, he would have to fly to a different city for it. Some people didn’t want to work with Mike’s agency because it wasn’t based in Hollywood but that didn’t bother him.
For example: Let’s take Amazon Prime, they’ve strategically put many small to medium and even large businesses out of business by crushing them on price point. We could never compete with Amazon on price. They’ve got this global infrastructure. Amazon ran at a loss for almost 20 years before they ever turned a profit in their business. They took every nickel of investment and profit and poured it into crushing the competitive landscape, which they’ve done in many different industries.
When you look at the competitive research spreadsheet and list out these criteria, you shouldn’t try to win in every single category instead ask yourself: What categories can I reasonably win in and is it enough to make the client choose me over the competitors?
And finally, give it some time
You have to give it time. Conduct competitive research and let that settle in your brain and let your subconscious mind work on this problem over time. You may get some of the groundbreaking ideas right in these initial stages or it may take you six months of hemming and hawing on and on this topic before you figure it out, but it’s something that you should be working on definitely and it should be an iterative process.
Every competitive advantage might not get you the desired results. But, one of them will be huge and everyone will go nuts over it. Double down on that!
In a nutshell, you niche down and find your values. Be your own customer. Ask yourself this – What makes you different? Find what makes you stand out, do your research and stand by your core values.