Starting Your Own Business? How to Quick-Step Your Way To Being Different From The Competition From Day 1

Photo: Clique Images on Unsplash

Photo: Clique Images on Unsplash

Brand onions.
Brand pyramids.
Brand ladders.

These are names of clever-sounding tools often used in Marketing plans.
Through a series of complex diagrams, they attempt to uncover what makes a business, service or product different. They cause a lot of chin-scratching, arguments and confusion, however.

For years, I struggled to understand them. 
I’ve worked in the marketing industry for 13 years now, and they still baffle me.

I’ll put my neck on the line here.
It took me a long time to realise that they're 90% bullsh*t, 10% useful. 

Filled with confusing jargon, they are often built on hocus-pocus thinking.
And rarely do they lead you to what makes your brand, product or service different.

I wasted many fruitless hours trying to understand them. 
Many hours slow-stepping my way through them, trying to learn how to make a business different.

Now a few years have passed, I realise that there is no need to slow-step. 
For I, ladies and gentlemen, have a quick-step way that will help you discover what makes your product or service unique. And you won’t need to struggle like I did.

It’s something that you can do yourself, from day number one when you are starting a business. It’s an exercise you can do without having to pay a consultant hundreds of dollars to work it out for you.

Sounds exciting doesn’t it?

Before we get going, let’s play a quick game...

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of:
a). The X-Factor
b). McDonald’s
c). Barcelona Football Club?

For me, the first word for each was:
a). Simon Cowell
b). Big Mac
c). Lionel Messi

These are examples of unique elements (i.e. people, symbols, products) that make these brands different. 

You see, being different is what makes a business special. 
It is one of the few important reasons why customers will choose the competition instead of you.

If you lose a sale, it might have had nothing to do with your product being bad.
It may have been that what you deliver is not different or special enough compared to the competition.

As humans, we never make decisions in isolation, but by comparison.
So therefore, you need to give customers a quick, compelling reason to buy from you instead of your competitors.

Think of the last time you bought a loaf of bread.
I imagine you saw many types of bread on the shelves. Even though you may have put one in your basket straightaway, your subconscious mind was still busy comparing loaves with loaves.

You probably didn’t even realise you were doing it.
But you were.
Even if you chose your favourite bread that you buy every time, your mind will have still been comparing bread products at the moment of purchase. Even if it’s for a fleeting moment. It’s in that extremely brief moment that a new competitor bread can be picked off the shelf.  

Discounts get you to do it sometimes. Clever, distinct packaging too. 

But another key reason for putting something in your basket is: ‘What makes that particular bread different from other breads?’ Is it gluten-free organic spelt bread? Is it Homemade Nigerian bread? Is it baked by Santa’s elves in Lapland?

If you don’t believe me that our brains work this way, take a look at this video:
It’s called the 4-step selection process (click here). It shows the moment we make subconscious choices when buying. The footage is old, grainy and about 10 years old. But the person filming and talking is a seasoned pro in consumer behavioural psychology. You can see the intense decision-making that goes on in just a few seconds.
In the ‘decision moment’, our brains go into overdrive.
Our pulse increases, our thinking is more emotional than rational and our focus narrows as we decide to buy. Think of that moment when you last bought a ‘big-ticket’ item like an iPad or a car. Do you remember the sensations running through your body?

It’s during this moment that a brand’s uniqueness and 'what makes you different' is most important.
When our buying senses kick in, we are looking for reasons to choose (or not to choose). And if a customer is torn between brand A or brand B, then it’s the one with the compelling, unique selling point (USP) that they will go for.

As a business, if you don’t have a USP from day one, then you’re quite possibly gifting the sale to your competition from the beginning of your business journey.
So you must work to find what makes you different, what makes you unique.

Finding what makes your whole business or product or service different might sound hard to do.
But there is a quick 5-step process to getting there without having to wrestle with a brand onion.

So what are these 5 quick steps?

  1. Find Your Market
  2. Find Your Fuel
  3. Make It Right 
  4. Make It Real
  5. Make It Snappy

Let’s tackle one at a time. 

1: Find Your Market

Well, shiver me timbers. This is quite possibly the easiest stage of the lot.

The only thing you need to do is write down which market you sell your product in.
E.g. Artisan cheese, pensioners' slippers, luxury cruises, marketing advice, scuba diving equipment.

So, get a pen or pencil and write it down.

Have you done it? There you go, that wasn’t so hard was it?

So let's move on to step 2: Find your Fuel.

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2: Find Your Fuel

Tapping into what frustrates you about the market in which you sell is the next step to making your business different.

Channelled in the right way, feeling angry and frustrated can be an endless source of enthusiasm for creating a great product. The energy that anger and frustration gives you is an incredibly useful starting point for creating your unique product or service.

Now it’s time for a bit of note-taking.
Firstly, jot down now on paper what p*sses you off about how things are done in your market.

For example:
Is Artisan cheese too expensive for many cheese eaters?
Are pensioners’ slippers not stylish enough?
Do luxury cruises have a poor range of food?
Is marketing advice dominated by untrustworthy, ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes?
Is scuba diving equipment too complex for beginners?

You may have quite a few on your list, but you’ll need to whittle it down to just one frustration.
If you have more than one, you can’t be unique. So you’ll need to think hard and choose your biggest one.

To help you decide, put a ‘Rage Rating’ out of 10 next to each one. 
Which one on your list has the biggest ‘Rage Rating’? Which one annoys you the most? (That's the one you'll need to choose.)

Let's look at one example:

If you are in the market for selling Artisan cheese, these three things might annoy you:

  1. Artisan cheeses are too expensive (and people should be able to buy them more cheaply)
  2. The finest Artisan cheeses are hard to find (you usually need to go abroad to find the best ones)
  3. Flavours haven’t changed in years (and artisan cheese flavours are a bit predictable).

Next, place a rage rating against each one.

  • Artisan cheeses are too expensive (4/10)
  • The finest Artisan cheeses are hard to find (8/10)
  • Flavours haven’t changed in years (6/10)

Now choose the one with the greatest rage rating.
In this case, it is ‘the finest Artisan cheeses that are hard to find’ that you need to focus on.

Sticking to just the one issue will focus your efforts and energy into finding out how to make your product truly different.

But we can’t stop here.
Yes, we have identified a problem, but it’s up to you to tell customers how you’re going to make it better; how you are going to 'Make It Right'.

And that means moving on to the next step, part 3: Make It Right.

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3: Make It Right.

Now we know what annoys us the most, the next step is quite simple. 
We must do the opposite of what annoys us. That is, we must be a bit creative and 'Make Right' whatever it is that's annoying you.

This is your starting point.
By tackling the problem head-on and finding an answer to what's not right in your market, you are well on the road to making your brand, product or service different.

Let's look at some famous and not-so-famous businesses who have done this:

1). Dyson vacuum cleaners.

Inventor Sir James Dyson began with something that he felt simply didn't work as well as it should; in this case, the vacuum cleaner. Pure irritation drove Dyson into making 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before he got it right. It took him years before he worked out the solution. Sir James is now worth more than £3billion.

2). Bakey's edible cutlery.
Another example of 'Making It Right' is Bakey's, an Indian start-up determined to tackle the nuisance of plastic invasion in daily life by offering an alternative: edible cutlery made from millet. Even if you don't want to eat it, Bakey's cutlery will decompose in 3 days and animals can also safely eat it. Genius eh?

So how do you come up with an answer? How do you 'Make It Right'?
This will require some brain power because it's up to you to decide what your solution is going to be. 

There is no one right way, but there are two things NOT to do if you are trying to reach an answer.
One is thinking about it in front of your computer screen and the second is not chatting through your ideas with customers. 

If you sit in front of your screen, you'll get distracted by Facebook updates and newsletters from people like 'Chief Brain'. Instead, get a sheet of A3 and scribble away your ideas. Then get up, go for a walk, do something else. It will come to you eventually.

And when it does, run it by a few close customers or business colleagues. This real-world feedback will help you shape your offer.

But stopping here won’t make you different enough, however.
What if someone else has the same idea? What if it’s easy to copy?

This can be a big problem: you don’t want somebody to steal your new business ideas.
If we go back to my earlier reference to Artisan cheese, if you just focus on making artisan cheeses easily available to the public, anyone could copy you.

Which is why you need to go further and make your offering really hard to copy. 
You need to think about how you are going to make it different. You need to think about the process that makes it happen. You need to create a story that you’ll tell customers. A story about how you do it differently.

So how do you tell your own story? 
How do you make a credible and exciting story about how you are different?
This takes us neatly to the next step, step 4, 'Make It Real'.
This is where the magic starts to reveal itself...

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4: Make It Real

There’s this Ice Cream company in Wales.
Science Cream is a Welsh ice cream company that uses liquid nitrogen and high-quality ice cream ingredients to create an incredibly unique offer. 

Through masterclasses, Science Cream allows its customers to experience making their own liquid nitrogen ice cream. And it brings its story to life through its social media accounts. 

It may serve quality ice cream like many of its competitors, but it’s the way Science Cream makes its ice cream that is different, and hard to copy. 
If you were to try and copy it, you might need to take a course, get extra health and safety certificates, buy equipment, train staff. 

Science Cream make makes its point of difference ‘real’ in a special way.
They have put up enough barriers so that in reality, people will find it hard to copy what they do. 

Why do we need this ‘Make it Real' step?
If you say that you are doing something different (e.g. making Artisan cheese more readily available), but don’t tell people how you do it, then your story is not as credible.
If you go about making unfounded claims about being different without explaining why and showing evidence, people won’t believe in you as much.

That’s why you need to create a simple, believable story for customers about what makes you different.
It doesn’t need to be a novel. Three to five paragraphs should do it.

When you have a story, you start to go places.
That’s because you'll encourage your customers to believe that you actually do what you say you do.

Our minds 'buy into' stories more than facts and everyone likes a story, so give one to your customers.
If you don’t have a story about why you are different, then you’re making it harder for people to ‘buy into’ you and your company (especially if they don’t know you as you are starting out).

So how do we write our story? And how much of it should we reveal to customers?
The truth is, you’ve got to give people the most magical version of your story. The best bits. Not the minute details so that you give everything away and/or bore them senseless.

Let me explain...
When David Blaine does a new magic trick, no one knows exactly how he does it.
You don’t get to see behind the scenes. But what he does do is tell you a dramatic, magical story from start to finish.

When Coke talks about its secret formula, no one knows how it is actually made. 
But you know it exists. And Coke talk about it being there, locked away in a safe, somewhere in the depths of Coke HQ in Atlanta. That’s their magic.

Take Google’s algorithm. 
No one apart from Google knows precisely how their algorithms work. But Google will tell you enough of what you need to know, and leaves the rest for Google fans to speculate over.

Amazon's Prime service delivers packages to you within 24 hours from the click of a button. 
That feels like magic. You know the process (sort of), and the story of how they do it. But you don’t really know what goes on to make it happen.

Steve Jobs produced magic with the iPhone too.
Famously, Jobs was said to have been enraged by a Microsoft exec bragging about developing a new tablet using a stylus. 
Jobs’ response was to focus on creating a phone (not a tablet) that used fingers (not a stylus). He wanted to prove that he could do it better (to read more, click here). 

Apple told the world its story about how they made the iPhone and how it works, but they didn’t give everything away.

Apple, Amazon, Coke and Google all tell stories about what makes them different.
And they make it feel like magic. 

I am not saying that you need to be 100% secretive about your process.
You don’t. It can pay to be open about it.

Let's look at two smaller examples.

TOMS shoes
TOMS shoes became famous for their ‘One for One’ scheme, giving one pair of shoes away for every pair bought, to help people in need. That’s their magic trick and what makes them different and special. And they are open about how they do it.

Weathered and Worn
Round the corner from where I live is a small cafe business, ‘Weathered & Worn’. It's a vintage-style tea room also selling refurbished vintage products in one space. They are very open about how and why they do it. Their offer is unique in my area. And they serve a great cuppa.

The moral?
Think of the most special thing you do and tell people about it with a great story.
Just enough of a story to encourage them to believe that you are different and special. And don’t bore them with the detail.

Simple right?
Well, maybe not.
This is the place where lots of businesses get stuck.

They tend to write too much.
This is because they get bogged down in ideas and processes. They get lost in the detail and forget to create a story that's intriguing to customers.

One tell-tale sign is that they don't keep things simple.
They write pages about how and why they are different. They write about the nuts and bolts of how everything works. Like an obsessed car mechanic. They talk about it for hours in meetings, not really getting anywhere.

Yet can they say in one short line what makes them different?
That’s the hard part. 

And that, my friends, is why we need the final, fifth stage to work out how you are different.

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5. Make It Snappy

This final stage is the shortest one. But often the hardest.
At this point, you might have a lot down on paper or in your head. Maybe it’s one long sentence, a paragraph, pages even. 

And that’s good, but it’s not great. 
The reason is that it shows that you can’t yet communicate in one quick, pithy phrase what makes you different. 

So, how do you come up with one pithy phrase summarising so much detail?

I find the easiest way is to: 

  • Review everything you’ve written. 

  • Then step away from the page for a few hours, ideally a day or so.

  • Then in no more than 20 words, write what makes you different.

  • Then shorten it to 10. 

  • Then in 7 words. 

  • Then in 3.

Recently I have had to tweak what makes The Brain Wheel different.
The customer who I built my homepage around (yes I built it around one person, but that’s for another day), emailed me.She said that she didn’t immediately 'get' my previous point of difference of: ‘Strategy First, Tactics Second’.

This pushed me to come up with something clearer, simpler and more exciting.
So I wrote this lengthy paragraph:

“I believe that it’s not the size of a business, but the size of the idea in a business that makes it great. That's why I push clients to find their 'Big Idea' first.

A Big Idea lets you and your customers know what you stand for. It makes a small business stand out, be loved by customers and get chosen over the competition.
Too many businesses rush into the murky waters of short-term, tactical marketing. Yet unless you find your Big Idea first, you’ll blend in with the competition, and leap blindly from one short-term tactic to another.

Every great brand, product or service of any size has a Big Idea at its core. I am here to help you to create and communicate yours, so that you'll give your customers a big reason to buy from you for many years.”

Eventually I highlighted a phrase within it that summarised what it all means. 
And that was 'Big Idea First’.
3 words.

And the way to use this in your marketing is: any way you like!
As your tagline.
Peppered throughout your sales copy.
On your website.
In conversation.

It’s up to you. There are no hard and fast-rules.

All that matters is that you use your snappy phrase often, and consistently.
If you chop and change ‘what makes us different' too often, then problems occur.

It means that customers have to keep re-learning what makes you different.
And customers aren’t up for re-learning. They’re up for getting on with their lives, uploading pictures of cats to social media, and watching Netflix.

So make it easy for them.
Say it consistently.
Keep it short – in 3 words ideally.

The most important thing is what you do with the energy that comes from what p*sses you off.
As mentioned earlier in 'Finding Your Fuel', your passion and energy need to flow through the heart of your story about what makes you different. If you are passionate about what p*sses you off about the status quo, and are determined to change it and 'Make It Right', then your magical story and snappy line will flow from there.

So, remember these 5 quick steps.

  1. Find Your Market

  2. Find Your Fuel

  3. Make It Right 

  4. Make It Real

  5. Make It Snappy

 That’s how to do it when you’re wondering how to start a business and be different.

Toodle pip,
Simon | The Chief Brain

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