Being Unique is a Good Thing
Being Unique is a Good Thing... Isn't It?
C.J. Hayden, MCC
New entrepreneurs frequently hear the advice to "be unique" in their marketing.
The basic idea is a valuable one -- to get attention in a crowded marketplace,
you must stand out in some way. Distinguishing your product or service from the
competition can make your marketing more effective. Crafting a novel marketing
message can attract the notice of more potential customers.
There's no question that an element of uniqueness in your marketing can make
your business more memorable, competitive, and special to your target audience.
These are all reasons why being different can be good. But how different should
A student in one of my classes had noticed there were no display ads for
management consultants in his local Yellow Pages. "What a great opportunity," he
thought, "to make my business stand out to prospective clients." He spent over
$200 per month on a large ad for a full year. The result was not a single phone
call, unless you count the ones from vendors trying to sell him photocopiers and
He had neglected to ask his consulting colleagues WHY none of them had ads in
the Yellow Pages. It seemed like a good idea to him, and no one else was doing
it, so he pulled out his checkbook. What never occurred to him -- and what any
experienced colleague could have told him -- was that companies don't choose
management consultants from ads in the phone book.
Sometimes you can be too unique for your own good. There's a lot in sales and
marketing that is tried and true. If you decide to forge a completely new trail,
you may be attempting an experiment that many others in your field have already
tried with no success.
It's not always just your marketing techniques that are a little too different.
The same problem can afflict the product or service you are marketing.
I met a fellow while networking who had a "unique process" for helping companies
resolve conflicts between employee groups. When I asked him to explain his
process, he said I would have to experience it to understand it. I inquired how
it compared to solutions like mediation or team building, and he told me it was
a totally different approach that defied comparison.
Since I knew a company that needed help with a problem like the one he
described, I would have liked to refer him. But I couldn't picture myself
calling my friend at the company to say, "Hi, I know someone who says he can fix
your problem, but he can't explain how. You'll just have to hire him and see."
Being noticeably different from the competition can help you attract customers
and close sales. But claiming that you have no competition is naive. Comparisons
to a known quantity can help prospective customers understand where your product
or service fits in the range of solutions they are considering. If they can't
compare it to anything, it's doubtful that they will be able to see how your
offering could work.
Your market, too, needs to be a group of people who already exist and can be
readily identified. A reader once wrote to ask me for some advice on getting her
new book published. I asked what market category it fell into, and she replied
that she hadn't really thought about it.
I pressed her bit, explaining that her book needed to be categorized in order to
be marketed and sold. Even something as simple as where to shelve it in a
bookstore depended on having a category to print on the back cover. Was it
self-help, spirituality, careers, business? Who did she see as the audience for
She asserted that she was creating a new paradigm, and if I was going to help
her, I needed to think more creatively. My reply was to tell her I couldn't help
her at all. Her idea may have been brilliant, but no publisher was going to
touch her project.
Creating the perception that your product or service is one of a kind can help
you capture people's attention and make them remember you. But you have to be
able to identify the people you want to reach and communicate how you can be of
service in words they can understand.
You know those car commercials that go, "Zoom, zoom, zoom?" I had to see those
ads dozens of times before I could remember that the car being advertised was a
Mazda. "Zoom" was unique alright, but what did it have to do with Mazda? Or with
the benefits of owning one? A catchy slogan like "Inspiration Beats
Perspiration" may be clever and unusual, but what the heck is it marketing?
Definitely look for a unique way to express the benefits you offer to your
clients, but make sure it still communicates what you actually do. It's okay to
get creative with your marketing, but don't bet the rent money on untried
If you really want to make your marketing more effective, cheaper and less
stressful, stop re-inventing the wheel. Find models that work and replicate
them. I'm not suggesting that you plagiarize your competitors' marketing copy,
but when you see someone successful in your field, find out what they are doing
right, and follow their lead.
Don't let your business be a victim of "terminal uniqueness" -- the belief that
you are so different from anyone else that none of the rules apply to you. Being
distinctive is good; being eccentric can be unwise.
C.J. Hayden is the author of Get Clients NOW! Thousands of business owners and
salespeople have used her simple sales and marketing system to double or triple
their income. Get a free copy of "Five Secrets to Finding All the Clients You'll
Ever Need" at