We all want to stand out and be able to describe our business as unique. The problem is we often struggle to identify what really makes us different. You might say your hand-made soaps are unique because you make them in small batches out of your kitchen… until you find the hundreds of other businesses doing the exact same thing.
The best way to figure out what makes you different is to stop staring so intently at your reflection and start to also look outside of yourself. You’ve already started doing that by figuring out who your business fits in with and creating a diverse group of peers to learn from.
Knowing who you fit in with is a super important part of defining your brand, but knowing who you stand apart from is what will help you finally figure out what really makes you unique. It will also help clarify what your strengths are and allow you to be intentional about how you present yourself to the world.
How can you define who you stand apart from? I like to tackle this in three steps:
1. Look at the big picture
This first step is about identifying the broadest style or category that you stand apart from. It’s about tapping into the deeper purpose behind your business and aligning yourself with the movement you’re already part of.
It’s funny how many of my clients automatically blurt out the same giant inescapable blue-vest-staffed superstore when I ask them who they’re different from. And it totally makes sense. Small natural-minded businesses shouldn’t want to come across as the impersonal carries-everything-under-the-sun store that you only go to when you have no other choice.
What’s the first brand that comes to mind for you? That’s a great place to start, especially if it’s an easily recognized name. The big names are super helpful because they tend to have an established reputation. That makes it easy to point out what they stand for and what exactly makes you different.
2. Look at your industry
When you’re a small business, your ideal client has some mainstream alternatives to your product. Whether it’s a national chain, a giant corporation, or just a traditional choice, there’s probably a pretty well-known alternative to your product.
Who are you likely to be compared to? What other options does your ideal client consider? And why do they choose your business over the others? Choosing a small business often means a little bit of inconvenience. Think about why your ideal client is willing to overlook that and go out of their way to buy from you.
It’s also helpful to think about what choices aren’t even an option to your ideal client. Which alternatives would they never consider choosing? List out a few of their reasons for avoiding them and get specific about what makes you the right choice.
3. Look at your peers
Now that you have a clearer idea about what makes you different in the world and in your industry, it’s time to narrow in and think about how you’re different among your peers. Think about some of the businesses close your size doing something very similar. It may not be as easy to point out, but there are plenty of things that make you unique even in this group.
Your story is what’s going to help you out the most here. Even if someone shares all your values, goals, and challenges, there’s no way they can share your story. You lived it and it belongs only to you. Your story is a mixture of your background, perspective, and voice. And no one else can possibly have the same mixture as you.
Revisit your story and see if you can point out things in it that make you even a little bit different. Even on the odd chance that you can’t find anything, you can rest easy in knowing that your ideal client cares more about authenticity than uniqueness. Being true to yourself will make you stand out even if you feel like you’re just like everyone else.
Pinpointing what makes you unique can be challenging. But finding that delicate balance between looking at your own qualities and analyzing other businesses will help you a ton. All the hard work is worth it if it helps you build an intentional brand.
Your action steps for the week:
- Find a brand that can represent who you’re different from in the world. Think big picture. Write down what makes you different than them.
- List 3 to 5 mainstream brands in your industry and how you’re different from them.
- List 3 to 5 of your peers and look to your story to figure out what makes you different.
- Think about why the things that make you unique matter to your ideal client. Brainstorm ways to highlight the quirks and qualities your clients care about.