I’m not the same as my competition- I’m different. But do your customers agree?

It can often be difficult to see your own situation clearly. You see things at 100x more detail than customers do, and have a different perspective. Plus you know what to look for, and are able to easily evaluate between the different service providers.

It’s like when you look in the mirror and see you’ve got a couple of pimples forming, plus a bit of a double chin at certain angles- but nobody else notices. They think you look great, and instead notice how straight your teeth are, because that’s what they notice isn’t right with them.

But most of the time customers aren’t thinking too much about choosing who to go with- they just want their problems sorted. Or it doesn’t matter too much and they just go with what ‘feels right’ in the moment without much thought. They aren’t evaluating you the same way you evaluate yourself and your industry.

Given the different points of view, it can often be difficult to explain to clients that they’re looking a little bit too alike to their competitors. It can sound as though I’m describing a situation that applies to others, but not them.

So how can you tell if this may be you (even if you don’t know it)?

How can you see things like a customer would?

I was trying to explain this concept yesterday while with a photography client.

And as each photograph is ‘custom’ it can make it even more difficult to discern the feeling of ‘sameness’ a customer might get- cause none of them are exactly the same.

I realised how pointing out how 2 different sets of photographs that are different, but asserting they look the same would be just confusing as f***.

So instead I decided to illustrate this by showing this effect by asking my client to be a customer, and choose who to go with in an industry they’re unfamiliar with.

We selected plumbing.

We fired up our trusty uncle Google, and scanned through each of the listings on the first 2 pages in quick succession.

I don’t think we stayed on a single site for longer than a minute.

Whilst the specific wording was a bit different on each, the layouts not exactly the same, and the list of services and offers not exactly the same, the overall impression was the same.

Without fail, they all said the following things:

-How many years of experience they had.
-Areas they service regions, suburbs etc.
-We can help with any problem- no job too big or too small.
-Here’s our list of services and prices:
-We respond quickly
-We are reliable, and people trust us.

In addition to this, most of the sites where white, with blue flourishes.

These websites told you no more than “I’m a plumber, and do exactly what you’d expect I’d do. Call me”.

Which is all well and good to a certain degree. You know you need a plumber, so you look online to find one, and those in the list have a chance of being chosen.

In fact, after being overwhelmed by this decision, you’ll probably feel indecision, and you’d probably just do what most people do- and that’s ask for a recommendation from a friend.

Being chosen will depend on you having a large enough following, so that you’ll have the best possible chance to be recommended. The more people who have worked with you in the past, the more chances you have. Being good at what you do is a minimum expectation, and not something to necessarily rave about- although i you do bad work it goes without saying that you won’t get recommended.

And who does this way of buying benefit?

Those who are already well established- despite you being just as worthy as them for the job.

But let’s say for a minute that you look up Plumbers on Google and there’s one there that instead of saying something along the lines of “24/7 Plumber- Servicing the (your town)Region” it said “We fix leaking pipes”, and if you had a leaking pipe, that listing would probably be the one you’d gravitate towards.

Specialisation is one way to stand out from the wallpaper of your competition, but isn’t the only thing to think about. Point is- if you’re saying something different in a way that resonates more strongly with your customers than what others are saying, you then become the obvious choice of who to go with, and customers may not even consider anyone else.

So, after this, he was starting to get the idea, but I was still sensing a bit of doubt- after all, photography isn’t like plumbing. Plumbing is just plumbing. It’s all the same isn’t it? You call up, get your leak fixed. End of. Right?

Enter: phase 2.

So then we selected from this bunch what we thought were the top three most generic sites that we felt typified what all the Plumbers were saying, and told him to call them up.

We made up a bit of a story about a blocked toilet that wouldn’t flush, then asked the bog standard questions (when, how much, yada yada) before getting to the meat of the matter: We found you on Google, and we’ve been to a few other sites, but not sure what we should be looking for in a plumber…

And you know what? All the plumbers we called thought they were by far the best, and enumerated all the reasons why.

Because they didn’t see things the way we did. They thought they were different.

Then the crux of the matter- getting him to see that the same thing was happening in his market.

We followed the same process and looked up local photographers.

We quickly scanned the sites and noted overall patterns.

Of which there was quite a few:

-Having a similar list of services offered; wedding, portraits, landscapes, babies, corporate/events.
-Having similar prices.
-Saying something along the lines of “You should hire me because I’m passionate about capturing memories- it’s about the people”

On top of this stuff, there were also common themes running through the collection of photographs as a whole- even though they were all technically custom and ‘different’.

-Similar subject matter was taken in the shots; the wedding dress shot, jumping in the air at the beach, babies shot inside ‘stuff’, close-ups of hands and feet, etc.
-Similar photographic styles; in wedding photography there’s a warm yet mid range tone palette in pastel type tones. There’s not too much contrast or chiaroscuro, there’s a bit of lens flaring with the suns glare featuring quite heavily. There’s also a ‘twee’ country bumpkin wholesome vibe- not dramatic, or energetic, or edgy, or other vibe.There’s heavy use of mid range shots in front of a simple rustic flat outdoor background, typically with 2 tones- straw tone grass, with mountains etc.

After first seeing this play out from the perspective of a customer in a foreign industry (plumbing) he was then able to see this pattern in his own industry (photography).

So go on-give it a go!

Go Google the industry category that best fits what you do.

Go through and note all the similarities.

What things are you all saying?

What are you all offering?

Who are you all speaking to?

How do you all look?

You can also do this for any part of your business. You can gather together a selection of ads across your industry, an audit of places and mediums you use to promote your business, or even looking at the characteristics of the people you hire.

Are you all looking and sounding the same? And does doing so serve a purpose?

Because while you’re looking and sounding the same, no one will notice you.

And if it’s harder to get noticed, you’ll have to spend more, and work harder and longer just to be seen.

Do you have the time and money to outwork and outspend others in your market in order to be the go-to choice for customers?

Thought not.

And if you decide to do your own thing in your own way, you won’t have to worry about what your competitors are doing.

You can ignore them.

When in Rome speak Romanian…uh, I mean Italian.

Have you been somewhere, and just felt like you didn’t fit in?

Like you’ve got no way of orienting yourself around a certain bunch of people. You can sense that there’s a set of unspoken rules and norms- but you’re not sure what they are. You may feel paralysed and not sure of what to say. You feel like you’re constantly saying the wrong thing (without knowing what it may have been), because you notice people’s stiff fidgety body language, & people’s eyes darting around as they speak to you- trying to find an excuse to exit.

Some would call this culture shock, but it can happen around those in your own city or neighbourhood, and around those with the same ethnic makeup as you.

I had such an experience yesterday that got me thinking a lot about times and place I have felt like this, and lost a bit of sleep trying to figure out why this was.

I had an old friend announce she was coming to town in a couple of week’s time, and wanted to get the old gang together for a shared pot luck dinner (we were all friends at high school). Sounds innocent enough. But then there were the words that sent me into an instant panic: BYO Dish (Vegan friendly welcome).

Which was strange given I think it’s pretty weird that it’s normal in our society to kill and control other creatures for our own purposes. I’m all on board with Veganism.

But it wasn’t what the word meant- it’s what it represented.

It reminded me that I was going to be attending a dinner with a bunch of people who are morally superior (in my head at least)- an intimidating prospect for me given I’m not one to shy away from unpopular, and at times politically incorrect opinions if I feel it to be my truth, or that the factual evidence proves otherwise. I can’t just go along to get along with things that I don’t believe to be true. It feels false and slimy.

It’s not just this, it’s the whole scene. Domesticated civility with everyone’s partners, healthy meals, the congratulatory discussing the ticking off of society dictated life milestones (the degree, the OE, the marriage, the house, the kids etc), ugh. It all just feels a bit too Stepford Wives for me.

I feel like my presence is offensive to the group, and taints their crisp white sanitised soiree with vulgarity.

I feel judged.

And when I really think about it, I tend to have a natural aversion to anything sounding a bit too goodie-two-shoes for the same reason. Clean diet and exercise products, ‘supportive’ and ‘caring’ events, ethical fair-trade silk made by Japanese virgins. And of course Vegan food.

What’s this got to do with business?

In the same way the word ‘Vegan’ stirs up feelings of cultural alienation in me- despite actually thinking Veganism is a good idea, the words you are using in your business, or even in your entire industry may be alienating some of your customers.

But consider the reverse- with just words alone, you may be able to speak to a part of your audience that no one else is speaking to, if you can find a way to speak to them on their terms.

That alone could make your competition irrelevant.

It happened to me- I was changed through the power of words.

If there’s two things I thought I’d never do, it was going to see a counsellor, and getting nutrition advice.
For years I just figured these things just weren’t for me.

They talk about ‘finding balance’ (what does that even mean?!), ‘nourishment’ (isn’t that just eating healthy, but with a smothering overly attentive mothering spin to it? Uh, that sounds kinda overbearing. I don’t want things to be too serious), talk of depression or anxiety (hey, we all have ups and downs and that’s normal right?), and I didn’t quite get the logic how talking could help cure me- I talk all the damn time anyway. Plus, I’ve been a ‘media approved’ size most of my life, eat okay most of the time, and therefore don’t feel any pressure to go on a diet.

It just didn’t seem like something I even needed, or even if I did, it came across a bit woo woo that I felt I wouldn’t get anything out of it.

It wasn’t until it was put in my language that I even considered going to see a health coach (for both mental & physical health).

“If you’re not able to get to sleep, and you’ve tried everything else why not just give things a go?” was how it was put.

Fair enough. Can’t argue with that.

Then when I got there, we discussed my situation a bit, before I started asking questions about how it actually worked. How was all this talking stuff supposed to cure my sleep?

“Well, we can develop behaviours and ways of thinking when we’re under stress, but these can become habits that stick once we’re no longer in the stressful situation from which they came. So we need to retrace your steps back to when some of your more unhelpful habits came about so that we can pick apart the situation back then, to really understand your habits, then replace these with other behaviours…it appears you’ve got a whole lot of these going on which are stressing you out, and not letting your mind shut down at night to go to sleep. Plus there’s a few things you could be consuming less of to help here too.”

Sounds logical. Let’s do it!

So I did. And my sleep was greatly improved.

But if it were never explained in a way I could understand, I would never have done it.

And who knows, maybe there’s a whole bunch of others like me out there, who would otherwise be interested in such a service if it were only explained in our language. If there is, a company that was able to do so may very well be able to tap an entire market that no one else is touching. And they wouldn’t have to compete with others offering a similar service.

All it would take is choosing to use a few different words.

Been feeling a bit jealous & tempted to copy what someone else has done?

One thing I get asked a lot ( although not nearly as often as I’m asked about my age-given I’m trapped inside the body of a 17 year old girl ), is whether I’m worried about people stealing my ideas.

Well, I feel something when this happens, but it’s not quite worry I’m feeling.

I feel pity, mixed with what I assume my Dad must have felt when I was young when he’d like to warn me against doing something, but knew I wasn’t gonna listen- so instead told me to do whatever it was I shouldn’t do just so I’d learn the harsh lesson for myself. This of course is followed by the ‘I told you so’ satisfaction. Some would call it karma- not that I believe in that.

In this case, the sense of satisfaction comes from knowing that if someone tries to copy what I’ve done, then it’s likely to not work for them.

But I know why some people do it, and I truly feel for them.

The seed may have been planted a while ago. Before the idea of starting a business was even ideated. Because we live in a culture where we hear stories through the media on a daily basis about others’ rapid success, and a quick scroll through Facebook may echo this with a collection of snippets your friends life wins and highlights.

Then there’s the daily stories and advertisements about the new thing or technique (whatever it happens to be at the time)that’ll cure all your business woes in a flash. It kinda reminds me of the fad diet industry.

Feeling like your own achievements aren’t living up to the reality everyone else seems to be experiencing, you may be tempted to pop one of those miracle diet pills- which in the case of your business means copying someone else.
I’m guessing that most people would feel pretty icky about doing this, and would rather not have to feel like they’ve stooped so low. But sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures- or so the justification goes.

It’s a bit sad really.

On the other hand, as a creative, you sometimes can’t help feeling sometimes that justice has been served when someone tries to steal your ideas. Cause if you bring your original flair to the party, often you’ll face a bit of backlash and resistance in getting your ideas accepted. Sometimes hate. And mean words.

You’ll be told you’re not doing things properly, and feeling like you’re battling everyone around you in order to create the change you want to see.

But then you get there. And you find your former critics, and other voyeurs showing up to try and emulate what you’ve done. And it can feel goood.

But the best revenge happens when you see what happens when they try to rip off your ideas- most of the time it falls completely flat. That’s right- it doesn’t work at all.

Because you can give people a car, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to drive it.

Or how it works for that matter.

There may be things that are going on under the hood so to speak that may not be visible to others.

So whilst some may attempt to rip off some of the more visible elements of what you’re doing, they often aren’t able to grasp the context, or the ‘why’ behind it, and mis-apply things that on the surface look like a carbon copy of what you’re doing.

Back in the day, I used to run a couple of bars. It was just after the recession hit, and almost overnight the punters in the area more than halved.

But this was okay. We didn’t need to have our business halved. We just had to make sure that people came to us instead of going anywhere else.

It wasn’t too tricky. Once the level of street traffic plummeted, most of the venues shat their pants and relaxed their standards to widen their potential customer base. This was a great opportunity for us to do the opposite- which was a no brainer given that the whole experience of going to a bar is about the other people in the bar. It’s a social thing.

Anyway, one of the bars had quite an old crowd (average age of around 40) compared to the surrounding areas, and we worked out that they were coming to shake off their feeling of responsibility by indulging in a bit of childish stupidity- which they normally wouldn’t in day to day life.

So we just doubled down on it.

One night, we got a giant mechanical bull. We drew quite a crowd, and also drew the attention of the nearby bars who came to grab the details of the bull hire people.

A few weeks later we saw another bar doing their own bull night (surprise surprise).

But it all it did was draw people out of the bar to outside, made those who’d drank too much to throw up, and attracted the unwanted attention of the police.

It didn’t work for them as they had a different audience. They had a younger audience, who frequently pre-loaded, and often had issues with drunken behaviour anyway, and this only served to make things worse.

On top of that, it made it into a juvenile raucous fest, which only served to turn the best customers off.

Same action, different result.

Are you sure they’re not faking it?

Come on? We’ve all seen that annoying couple on Facebook who post daily snaps gushing all about how happy they are, only to find out later their relationship is on the rocks.

Or that person who humble brags about their exercise routine, and how healthy they eat- with daily photos of their running route, and meal pics. All the while their friends are politely offering support by the way of ‘likes’, which only serves to prop up their fragile self esteem by way of validation.

And if you spend enough time online, you may see thousands of ‘I’m perfect, & my life is awesome’ messages every day, and feel defective by comparison.

But the truth is that many people (especially online) are full of it.

Most of us experience daily frustrations and disappointments, but rarely do we want to broadcast these to the world.

This effect is probably worse when it comes to business where we could worry that admitting to screwing up could affect our professional credibility.

So if you see someone who appears to be doing really well, before rushing in to emulate what they appear to be doing; just bear in mind that they might be faking it.

Knowing the difference between ‘because of’ vs ‘in spite of’.

I’m rather fond of treating myself to KFC every once in a while (I’ve even taken a couple of boys on dates there- just to lighten the mood and make things a little less serious).

With Just 3 little letters everyone knows I’m talking about the place with the delicious greasy chicken.

Given there’s over 15, 000 KFC outlets, in 118 countries, you could say they’re not doing too badly.

But do their 3 letters help them?

Sure, everyone seems to know what these letters mean, but is it because this letter combo is somehow intrinsically mouth watering or memorable? Why not say HNP?

Yes, I know. KFC stands for ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. But if they initially named their business HNP (or KFC off the bat for that matter), would anyone be able to remember the name?

I’m writing this, and I’ve already forgotten what the 3 letters I suggested were just a second ago.

If you were to start a business tomorrow, and you had to come up with a name for it, would you look to large successful companies for inspiration? Companies who often have random letter combination names?

If you did, not only would it not help you- it’d probably hurt you.

Imagine someone came into your new store to buy something, and had the best experience of their lives. So much so that they want to tell everyone about it.

“Hey everybody!!!!…I had the best day ever, of my life, all because I went to HD..T, er, HTD?, or is the an ‘N’ in there somewhere? HN..T?…”

You get the idea- letter combination names just aren’t very memorable.

So why do the successful established companies use them?

For a start, many of these companies were famous with meaningful names before changing to their 3 letter initialled names. Kentucky Fried Chicken, International Business Machines, etc.

There could have been many reasons why they decided to change to a 3 letter name such as they may no longer do what is described in their full name (if KFC stopped selling chicken for example), people may have called them by the letter name anyway, and just decided to make it the official name, or maybe they just saw someone else doing it and decided to follow suit.

It may not be something that helps them, but with their level of recognition they’re built up over the years it’s probably not going to hurt them too much.

They’re successful in spite of their names- not because of them.

If you’re green-eyeing someone else’s name, ads, website…whatever, can you be sure that it is even a good exemplar to model yourself after in the first place?

Chances are, it may not be.

What about not reinventing the wheel and all that?

Yeah, good point.

Why make mistakes yourself when you’re able to learn from others- and not make them yourself?

Hmmm, learning. I think that’s the key word here.

If you’re attempting to learn from others successes with a learning mindset, you’ll likely break things down a bit to identify why something someone else has done was a hit. You may find that certain aspects apply to your situation, and other don’t. You may also decide that certain things don’t quite fit what you’re looking to achieve- maybe once you get a feel for why something is working for someone else, you may realise that it isn’t going to fit with your goals, or that you may apply a few principles but modify a few bits and pieces to better suit your audience, business type, or situation.

As a result, you’ll naturally be able to make use of the inspiration you’ve gained from others in the right way.

But if you’re reacting to what others are doing in haste, and wanting to directly lift what someone else has done, you’ll likely find you’re doing so with a mindset of jealousy, fear, or insecurity.

And I think we can all agree that a business strategy based on your emotions in the moment is not likely to be cohesive or effective.