Last night I participated in the SpitzBiz networking event, which included a 15-min presentation from Alan Morrice, art director in Ogilvy. After spending two minutes desperately trying to spot a difference between stripy grey circles, it was a real relief to see a blue circle. The question was – which one of circles stood out. Blue one, of course.
Simple, yet effective. It worked.
As Alan said, our brains are programmed to search for a difference … and the easier it is, the more you get noticed. Makes sense. But we tend to forget about it, concentrating on fine tuning the message, using benchmark to copy our competitors (who hasn’t said at one point in their career – this is what I want: I want to be like them?) and being too scared to push the boundaries, to get out of the comfort zone. But how can you possibly stand out from the rest if you look just like them?
Here are six tips on how to stand out, inspired by the circle example:
Tip 1: Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.
Nice quote. Actually a fantastic quote. Think about the beginning – you did not create your brand or product to be like others. Most probably you were sure your idea or concept was unique and that you were going to make money out of it, be noticed, be talked about. Blending in is not going to make it, being like your competitors is not going to make it – maybe you will have a decent income, but … what happened to that dream? Go back to the beginning and remember your roots. Remember who you wanted to be. Your dream. Now write it down and it is not a dream anymore. It becomes a goal.
Tip 2: Stop fine tuning and be bold
Fine tuning is safe and nice, but ineffective if you are fine tuning a message or brand image that has not actually worked in the past. Be honest to yourself … it most probably won’t work in the future either. Remember that a slight difference makes no difference – for you it might seem like a huge leap to go from “thin stripes” to “bold stripes”, but if the change is still inside your comfort zone, a normal person is not going to spot a difference.
It is like the awkward moment when your friend shows you a pair of curtains and asks you whether you prefer beige curtains to a slightly-whiter-but-still-beige curtains. Ehm. However, if the other pair of curtains was a completely different colour or had patterns, the choice would be more immediate and easy.
Tip 3: Find out what makes you, your company and your brand unique
This applies to companies, brands as well as your personal career. There is something unique in all of us, and sometimes we are too closely involved in the project to see what is our unique selling point. Why do your customers prefer you over the competition? Ask them, ask your friends, ask people on the street, ask people online, ask people in a networking / LinkedIn group – do a quick poll. When you hear an external opinion on your selling points and where you could improve, it is easier to be objective and make a realistic, up-to-date list of your strengths and weaknesses. But watch out – sometimes what we hear is not what we want – or expect – to hear.
Tip 4. Use benchmarking as an inspiration, not as an excuse to copy
Benchmarking and campaign / CV / social media / App Store best practices and examples are great source of inspiration, but the point is not to copy them. Knowing what your competitors do is essential – do they go for quality, do they go for price, do they go for reliable, do they go for exciting and cool? When you know what they go for – do not even think about using the same message or a slight variation of the message. Again, a slight difference makes no difference in the eyes of the consumer.
Make a list they are good at and what they focus on and compare it with your own list of strengths and weaknesses. In which areas you are better they are, do you do something they are not able to do?
Using a personal example – I am a person. Well there are billions out there. Ok, I have a business degree and master in management. Less people, but still very high competition compared with the career opportunities. OK, I have over 6 years working experience in various industries. Yes and …? I am Social Media, Mobile and SEO expert with a thesis on Social Media. But we are looking for someone who has also International experience. Ok, I have international experience on EMEA roles. So do some of the other people. Yes, but I have lived in 5 countries and speak 7 languages, and it is quite difficult to compete with that. Now we are getting there.
Tip 5. Use that data, but use it well.
Once you have written down who you are, what you want to achieve, what makes you unique, why people prefer you or your brand or product over others, what you are better at than your competitors and what can you offer others cannot – it is time to play.
This is the fun part, brainstorming. Meet up with friends or colleagues and have fun throwing in the air even the craziest ideas. It does not mean you have to use those ideas, but it is a matter of pushing the boundaries. And sometimes the more you look at an idea that seemed silly to you in the beginning, the less silly it looks like. Maybe that will be the big idea that is going to skyrocket your business or brand. Make sure that the brand identity and messaging also suits your target audience – be bold, be brave, but don’t go completely crazy.
Tip 6: Make a plan how to get there, but start with simple steps
Once you know what you want to achieve and who you want to be and what you want to say – the question is how to get there. While you are still excited, take a chance to make an overall plan with targets for a year. Then split it in quarters.
With the targets and timelines, make another list of actions to be taken to achieve these results. Important thing is to start with little steps – allow yourself little victories every quarter, that make you feel like you are achieving something and getting closer to the target. These little positive achievements will keep you motivated all the way to the top.
It is like doing a house renovation project. First you are excited and make big plans, but the more the work advances, the more tired you get – it seems like the project is getting nowhere and you will never reach a target. Nothing is ever that simple, there are always complications on the way. However, if you write down a list of little things to do to push it forward, that you can physically cross off the list when done, then you are well on your way without even noticing. Allow yourself for example an hour every two days for the task – it is more productive, motivating and efficient than dedicating a day for a huge list of things to do.
A bonus tip – stop being a hamster.
Most of these things are of course obvious, but sometimes we need someone to remind us of the things we know make sense, but have forgotten in the pile of day to day tasks and worries. It is tough to step back and leave the familiar hamster wheel even for a minute, as we are reluctant to give up the things that we consider important and a priority. If the week is too busy – start with little steps during the weekend. A slight difference does not make a difference, yet a small – bold – step towards the right direction might change things for the better.
Anyway, it is worth a try.