This post is based on a conversation I had in a Facebook group for creative professionals. I started off simply responding to a question on defining a niche and, interestingly, I got a little pushback from a member who approached my advice from a place of, “it won’t work” rather than just trying it. The reason I mention it is that, after just a few posts, I was able to get this member to have an amazing breakthrough and identify a very strong position of differentiation that he will now be able to build his entire value proposition and, by extension, his business upon.
I won’t name names and I won’t include the sundry other comments, all of which were positive but, I really think if this member could have a breakthrough in just a matter of a few explanations, many of you can do the same thing.
Read this as if you’re on Facebook, reading a chain of communication. I can’t post the actual Facebook grabs because it’s a private group and, I’m not going down the privacy concerns road!
Enjoy, I hope it helps…
My first post, in response to a question about finding focus & differentiation.
I know many people struggle with this, so, I thought I’d give it it’s own post.
Defining your differentiation or focus can be really difficult. The people who find this easy are usually the ones who started their business out of an absolute frustration with the lack of an existing solution for a problem they were having. For that person, this question is easy.
For many others, however — and the majority of our customers — there’s not a clear point that said, “I’m going to launch service X to solve problem Y because I believe there’s a better way to solve Z.” Instead, they’re in business because they have a skill set, enjoy doing what they’re doing and need to pay the bills.
In those cases, it’s often helpful to look at it from a different perspective: If you don’t have a very clear, “I stand for..X..,” what do you stand against?
This is something I first learned from Ryan Deiss at Digital Marketer in a pre-marketing definition context. Ask yourself, “What pisses me off about my industry?” What do you hate about your industry that you want to improve on? What do others do in your industry that you think you can do better? Ask yourself, “What am I against?”, and you can get a much clearer picture of what separates you from the competition and how to channel those beliefs into a like-minded audience.
Most importantly, don’t try this in a vacuum. You don’t necessarily have to hire a brand strategist (although, of course, I’d recommend it 😁) but, whenever we see brands, logos, taglines, value propositions, and key message points created by outside marketing firms without owner or executive level understanding, they end up based on a designer’s or marketer’s interpretation of communication value. Even if it’s good (which it rarely is), it’s not authentic.
The member posted a pretty negative response, essentially saying there was nothing wrong with his industry, if he quit, the industry wouldn’t miss him so who was he to say what’s wrong, etc. Unfortunately, he must have realized how negative he looked because he deleted his post while I was writing my reply. No problem with that, I just want to set up my next response.
I think this is just a mindset thing. If you don’t love or hate anything about the industry, you’re just not trying hard enough. It’s all too easy to maintain the status quo, but defining your differentiation means getting out of your comfort zone.
I’m certain you’ve worked on or seen sites built by someone who just mailed it in or seen a horrendous design that you know you could improve upon, or horribly written code the made your head spin. The point is, you need to decide to stand out. You can either stand up for something, or stand against something but, middle of the road means commodity and that’s a lowest-price-wins war every time.
There’s power in identifying this if you’re able to. For example, there’s a speaking coach who used this approach because she just hated boring, dull speakers that put their audience to sleep. Her message now reads, “On a mission to rid the world of boredom one speaker at a time.” Simple but really effective. EVERYONE has either delivered or received a boring speech at one time or another. So, what have you seen that just stunk?
I don’t believe for a second that you can’t improve upon the speed, delivery process, quality, design, etc. of something you’ve seen in the wild. It’s there, just keep digging for it.
Hope this helps.
A little less pushback now, as he started to give it some thought…
Okay maybe I’m a bit confused then. Of course I stand for quality clean code, speed, customer focused messaging, mobile first development. And I’ve seen many people ignore these things, but I’ve seen lots of people do these things also. You asked what do I hate about the industry? Like as a whole? Naturally you have to stand for something, and quality is key, I work to deliver the best, but that’s not unique to me, I would say at least half the industry tries to do the same surely?
Great, now he’s giving himself the opportunity to understand. Here’s what I said…
I’d say that our speaking coach example is not the only speaking coach to stand against boring speeches, too. Don’t confuse this simple exercise with a complete brand, this is a starting point.
In my experience, this is a terrific way to get people thinking differently but, you still need to dig deep into who you are and what makes you different. Over time, you’ll have developed preferences and processes, you’ll already be attracting people like yourself, it’s just what we do as humans. Your goal here is to try to identify what your business stands for. (This will be slightly different to you, as a person, but that’s a much bigger discussion).
So, if the approach of what you stand against isn’t ringing a bell with you, try looking at what you stand for. Start by listing out all those things you just wrote and adding anything else you get a real kick out of seeing or creating. As you narrow this down, you’ll start adding your personality, processes, values, experience, likes, dislikes, etc. until you can’t help but arrive at something totally unique.
I would highly recommend taking a look at writing an Onliness Statement, too, if you’re serious about defining this. It’s a process developed by a branding genius called Marty Neumeier, which revolves around identifying and solving a trend you see in the world. This comes back to what you stand against but, from a different angle. Google it and, if you can’t find a description on how to write one, let me know and I’ll send you something.
For example, we recently rebranded a SaaS company in the tourism field who creates the multilingual audio tracks you hear on tour buses, boats, trolleys, trams etc. When we created their Positioning, we identified a couple of trends in the world that their customers were experiencing and, which their services could provide the solution for (hint, that’s the power here). The Onliness Statement we wrote for them finished with “…in an era of formulaic tour experiences and short attention spans.” Sure, it’s two different trends but, they’re directly linked to the problem they create for the tour operator. Bored tourists not paying attention and surfing on their phones instead. Those tourists don’t care which company’s bus they were on and they couldn’t remember it to refer their friends anyway. Solving that changes their experience so much that they do remember the company and they do refer their friends, or at the very least, talk about how good the tour was.
Think about the trends that may apply to what you do. Something like an increasingly mobile-first audience that demands great user experience or they’ll never use the site again and tell all their friends to stay away, too.
That’s a legitimate trend that a great design and incredible user experience can solve. This goes beyond just responsive design and into user experience understanding.
There’s a lot there you can drill down into, but don’t get in your own way if it doesn’t fall into place immediately. This takes time and it’s evolutionary, meaning it will change as your business grows.
Hope this helps!
Now, he get’s it! He’s allowed the concept in, and not only did he find an amazing point of differentiation, he actually feels strongly enough about it that he can genuinely build it into a value proposition!
Yeah that’s a bit helpful. The more I’m thinking about it the more I started thinking about something that I hate: Technical Debt.
There is one thing that so many people get involved with this day and age, and that’s using too many one size fits all solutions. When someone builds a plugin, a module, a theme, they build it with tons of options in the back end so they can serve the most people possible. This comes with tons of Technical Debt. It usually also requires you to change your business to fit the technology, instead of customizing the technology to fit your business. By the time you are done having your WordPress website completed with 1,600 plugins and a theme that does 100 things you don’t actually use. Your site is sluggish and the UX is flakey.
I prefer to code from the ground up when possible. This is how you stay clean with only technology you actually use, instead of a bunch of things loading but turned off. This is how you end up with a mobile design that is amazing, and instead of degrading to fit mobile, it expands to fit desktop.
One size fits all is not performance. It might get the job done to get started but it doesn’t fit you like a glove.
It pains me to see companies that need help and are so overloaded with Technical Debt that it’s hard to even help them even with a decent budget. If it would have just been done right from the start then a lot more could be done for little.
BOOM! What a breakthrough.
And this is from posting on Facebook, nothing more. Branding doesn’t need to be rocket science, it just takes a willingness to get uncomfortable and dig deep. And, if you can work with a strategist who’s skilled at facilitating, you’ll get better results, faster. It’s just one of those things that takes an experienced outside perspective.
Go and try it yourself, it’s an amazing exercise and an even better feeling when you crack it. Jump in the comments with what you come up with, good or bad, I’d love to hear your experience!
Also published on Medium.