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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Worried About Your Competitors? Don’t Be Concerned, Dare to be Different!

At a recent Vistage Open Day, US speaker Jaynie Smith examined the way that businesses promote themselves to prospects and exiting customers and she came to the conclusion that most of it was blah, blah, blah.

A depressing thought but when we look carefully at what we inaccurately consider to be out USP (Unique Selling Proposition) we rapidly come to the conclusion that not only does it not sell but it certainly isn't unique.

Unique means precisely that; there are no shades of uniqueness, things cannot be very unique.

Consequently very few businesses can offer something that is truly unique; at best it may be unusual.

Jaynie calls it the competitive advantage; what is it that you offer that genuinely is different and makes you stand out from the others?

Think of those businesses that are (or were before the copyists arrived) truly different like Google through brilliant search software design, Apple through constant product innovation and Amazon who has revolutionised retailing.

Ask yourself the question: what do we offer in terms of out product, our quality, our service, our people that makes us stand out from the crowd and encourages us to seek a premium from the markets we serve?

In my youth, my (pre-girls) passion was cricket and particularly Lancashire League cricket. As a very ordinary off spin bowler, my role model was an extraordinary leg spin bowler called Tom.

Tom managed to deliver sumptuous leg breaks and gigantic googlies while bowling like a demented octopus, arms and legs flailing in all directions. To say that the batsmen had difficulty in picking his googly is an understatement. In fact they seemed to have just as much difficulty in deciding which of his wildly gyrating extremities would be delivering the ball.

The consequence was, of course, that he gained a reputation of invincibility in the League and he eventually went on to bigger and better things in his career. Sadly it was cut short by physical problems but the memory remains.

So what is the point of this tale? The point is that even though he had talent, enthusiasm, drive and commitment in abundance, his greatest attribute was that he was different.

I don't mean different just for the sake of it or to make an impression. I mean rather be different so as to impact on people's thinking, to help them to change in a positive sense and to stand out from that crowd which seems to be growing ever bigger.

Our education system in the UK from GCSE through A-levels, to University and then on to Post Graduate studies can lead to a standardisation of the eventual outcomes with an emphasis on conventionality.

Will and Kenneth Hopper in their wonderful book, The Puritan Gift, quote the late Professor Russell L Ackhoff, formerly of the Wharton Business School in the USA, as saying that there are three principal achievements of a business school education which are

"To equip students with a vocabulary that enables them to talk about subjects that they don't understand, to give students principles that would demonstrate their ability to withstand any amount of disconfirming evidence, and finally, the give students a ticket of admission to a job where they could learn something about management".

It is not a surprise to me that seemingly a significant proportion of Managing Directors and CEO members of Vistage CEO peer groups, at least in the UK, did not go to University but found their success through a burning desire to succeed, through humility, a voracious appetite for learning and above all, through being different.

It is that difference that ensures that competitive advantage in the market place, that encourages the market to buy and to stave off the attacks of the competition.

Never be in the position of worrying about competitors; make sure that your success makes them worry about you.


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