What Are You Afraid Of?

Fear is the most basic of human elements and plays a major role in business success and failure.

I spend a great deal of time trying to help business owners understand that one of the most important marketing strategies they must embrace is finding a way to stand out from the crowd. Because this is such a focus for me I can tell you that one of the single greatest fears that many business owners have is being different than everyone else in their industry.

I suppose it goes back to the schoolyard where being different made all but the most independent kids nervous as heck. I find that this goes well beyond simply copying what others in the industry do, it’s a real fear of doing anything that might appear odd. I can tell you right now this fear, and knowing that others in your industry share it, is the single greatest small business marketing opportunity at your disposal.

Here’s an exercise I would like you to tackle. Go to the website of your four biggest competitors, copy the introductory paragraph from their home page and paste each on a document. Now add the same from your own website. Lastly, blackout any mention of the names of the firms and pass this page around the office or to anyone familiar with your business.

The object of this little game is to see if anyone can identify any of the companies listed, including your own. My experience when I’ve done this is that many business owners struggle even identifying the entry from their own company, but what is usually painfully obvious is that each of the companies is saying essentially the same thing.

I can tell you right now that if the world of prospects can’t tell you apart from your competitors, they will be forced to use price as their only guide.

You must get over the fear of being different and find a way to demonstrate that you serve a very narrow target niche, package your services in unique ways, provide an over the top experience, own a certain way of doing things, do something that someone wants like no one ever thoughts of – and then, proudly declare this difference in every fiber of your communication.

So tell me, how do you stand out, how do you tap the fear of being different?


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  1. Fantastic insight and ideas… we’re certainly trying to incorporate all of your last paragraph in our music licensing website, Burst Labs, and the results have been promising.

    It definitely takes more work trying to be both different and valuable to clients. Thanks for the challenge!

  2. Great stuff! I run a branding and design company, and we always tell our clients that being unique is always greater than being admirable. Most people understand this when you explain it to them, but seem to forget it when it comes time to execute.

  3. I tried this for a company I am consulting for — this was very difficult! It was hard seeing what distinguishes one company from another. A very valuable exercise!

  4. John, what you say makes a lot of sense. I think you’re right in your assessment of the fear and the uniformity of companies. One of the issues seems to be the lack of creativity muscles. Most individuals in business, have not valued, and therefore not exercised creativity/uniqueness. So it is kind of frightening when you attempt something that you really are still novice at. Although, like I wrote in a blog last week, it’s only natural to be timid at the onset of a new development. We’ll find ourselves moving through the for stages of development, i.e., unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. The final stage is worth going through the first three. Thanks for the insights…

    Angel Armendariz

  5. Excellent post and reminder.

    Whether we’re looking to stand out from the crown in a marketing sense, or trying to be successful at something, or simply striving to find happiness, there is no better advice than to know yourself and to be genuine and authentic. After all, there’s only one of each of us … why would we want to conform when we are so uniquely ourselves?

  6. Great post John and fitting for where I’m currently at! I think it can be the fear of restricting oneself to a small niche initially that can stop people defining one, which will make them stand out. Applying “what’s the worse that can happen if” question when the fear kicks in can often help move things on. Far easier to be individual and yourself than to emulate others at the end of the day. Thanks for all your tips and advice.

  7. Great tip, John. I have a client meeting coming up, and I’m going to try it out. As someone said in a movie I saw recently, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.”

  8. Thanks John. Great post. Creativity is really about creating as you, not for you. Creating for you is about being more concerned about the payoff than being true to your vision. Having the courage to express who you truly are makes for outstanding blogs. The same for business, if you really follow what excites and expresses you, you’ll create a standout product or service. The key is to keep on creating and expressing as you.

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