Nowadays, it seems Google has the answers to everything.
If you go online, you will find a lot of articles talking about the importance of developing a ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP), how it helps you stand out from competition, and ways to develop your own.
This is true of course, but a lot of the time we miss out the essence of the business when developing your USP.
If you’re wondering what it is we’re referring to, then perhaps it’s a good idea to look into our previous article Dissecting the Golden Circle. It points out to the million-dollar question that many businesses fail to answer.
A problem with trying to be unique for unique’s sake is that everyone else is doing the same.
So in the search to be different, you end up doing things just like everyone else. Worse even, is when these things distract you from your main purpose. Swaying your business of its intended course, diluting your brand identity altogether.
Brand Identity : Problem of Identification Through Competition
We live in a world of competition.
Since the beginning of internet and the rise in eCommerce, we’ve only seen greater growth in this area. While in theory there is an unlimited demand, in business we know this caps off eventually.
Caught in the heat of everything, it’s hard not to look towards your neighbors and start adopting ways which have worked for them. After all, who says you can’t learn from other’s experience?
There’s also the fear of being blindsided by not knowing what they have to offer which threatens to steal your clients.
The frustration is real and the fear is even more real.
Who enjoys to see their work and sweat result in nothing all because you weren’t paying attention to your opponents? But be that as it may, if your brand is built upon such foundations, you have already placed yourself behind the pack.
Your brand identity should be the thing that pushes your company forward.
If instead your strategy is to look towards your competition, which is reactive in nature, you have then defined your brand through that of others.
The problem is that your brand becomes a directionless melting pot of what others have done. Through relying on competition and taking on whatever their focus may be, you end up going down a million paths, none of which is truly yours.
Ever played baseball or any sport that requires a bat and a ball? Imagine a batter who decided to start flailing their bat in every direction possible as it came to their chance to bat.
Yes, swinging at every angle means you’ll cover every possible opening but that doesn’t actually increase your chances of hitting. If anything, your chances are decreased immensely because of that - not to mention, looking like a complete ass and a fool while you’re at it.
To have your strategy based entirely on looking towards your competition is exactly that.
When all you really need to do was to focus on the ball and hit as precisely as possible.
The truth is, a company that truly inspires a following is always defined from the inside out. They stem from a firm understanding of what they stand for.
Indeed, a great leader is one that is receptive to it’s followers and the same applies to companies. You cannot lead without first understanding the people who follow, but leading in person and in business is also about being the visionary.
To over focus on pleasing the many needs of others -namely your customers, and succumbing to every pressure placed on you by your competition, your company ends up becoming the superficial people pleaser.
And though, you are still able to thrive among the group, they are never the ones people look up. Conforming to every whim without real purpose of meaning.
As stated by the Golden Circle, it is crucial to start with why.
That it should be at the center of everything informing your actions and behavior as a company. Your why is what differentiates your brand from all the others, communicating from the inside out.
Being in the infinite game of business ensues that there will be times of falling behind. But it’s not the small losses that you should be counting, it should be bigger picture of having the unique leadership quality that everyone inspires towards.
If your strategy is to look towards your competitor for your next move then what happens when you do become first? What then can you rely on for inspiration?
Don’t fret over what others are doing, in a world so interconnected these days, you can be sure that you’ll hear about what others have to offer. Intently looking towards what everyone else is doing actually stifles creativity.
It’s our psychological make-up. When we like something, an idea to a person, we subconsciously mirror their actions. So if you are to intently look towards everything your competitor is doing, you will end up adopting their behaviors, diluting your brand identity.
Instead, be your own self. The true leaders in business are the ones who take the risk to reach for what they believe in while cutting through the mist of distractions.
By focusing on your vision, you naturally attract the attention like minded people who will appreciate the things you do for your cause.
Finding Your Calling From the Inside
So what is your why?
With so much emphasis on starting with your why, it would be remiss to not actually address how exactly one can find their why.
Let’s be real here, Simon Sinek’s Ted talk on the Golden Circle is one of the most viewed Ted talks ever produced. So it’s not like starting with why is a major secret. Then how come not more companies are jumping on?
For the most part, it’s not easy to identify your why. It exists in the limbic system of the brain which is in charge of emotions, and the process of actually identifying and consolidating your why into words is a strenuous exercise.
Precisely because these concepts can be so fragile and abstract, it’s easy for them to collapse under the pressures of running a business.
Look back to small startups, that’s usually when their vision is clearest. A time when people didn't’ mind taking risks for the things they believe in.
As a company grows however, attention starts to shift and before you know it, the glimmer that once was is long gone. To continue the play in business, leaders not only have to have that clarity in their vision, but also the ability to infect others with your burning passion so that your legacy may continue on.
So as the leader of your business, how do you tackle the first part of actually identifying your purpose?
Simple, just look back to the roots of how you first started your company.
Your why is not something you can pull out of thin air. It is not a marketing strategy or a neat idea to better sell your company. If your why doesn’t have any practical value, then it is as good as not having a why.
Your why is a notion that’s burned into the DNA of your company. Under what settings and beliefs did your company come about?
Looking back to those first initiatives, you will begin to see a recurring school of thought that is inherent to your company.
Take AfterShip for example. Our mission is to enable small merchants to compete with giants like Amazon. A belief that anyone can make it big in business and a dedication to helping others achieve their dreams of succeeding through the use of technology.
All this can be observed in the very infancy stages of the company. Founded in a competition for startups, the idea of AfterShip was a solution for a problem observed in running an eCommerce. It was this mentality that grew into who we are now.
Whether you realize it or not, a leader who is passionate about their why will naturally behave in a way that demonstrates their cause.
A while back, I came across a post in Shopify forums of someone sharing their success in eCommerce. The post was an in-depth journal of their venture into business, a sincere attempt to inspire others who may also be struggling.
Catching my attention, I dug a little deeper into their story. Upon doing so it became obvious to me their purpose - and no, it wasn’t in the form of an obvious marketing statement aimed to lure people in. Quite the opposite actually.
The store I’m referring to is a TeaLife. An eCommerce dedicated to selling high quality tea from known and ethical sources, but it wasn’t what they did and how they did it that caught my attention.
What really intrigued me was their overall attitude, something that emerged from their why.
Looking into their story it was obvious to me what they believed in and the reason TeaLife came to exist. It was to help others get through times of stress, by sharing what worked for them.
Toby Gospodarczyk, owner of TeaLife (and author of the post I came across) decided to start this business after having experienced the benefits of tea in helping him combat his stress and anxiety. The idea was to make available good quality tea and to educate others of their healing properties.
And it was this behavior that consistently showed an empathy and care for others who are experiencing hardships that truly draws people in.
So what does this say about finding your why?
Examine your origins, what are the core values of your company that’s non-negotiable.Look at the qualities that you would like your company to demonstrate and eventually represent for a long time coming.
Re-evaluate your values and think about the goals for your company that naturally stems from these values.
Looking at your goals and values, start asking yourself what is the purpose/benefit of that. With every answer, ask the same question until you come to an answer that resonates with you on an emotional level.
Repeat the exercise with someone else for more clarity and when you think you’ve reached your purpose, ask yourself if it transcends revenue and whether it’s truly authentic - the last thing you want is something that sounds good but doesn’t hold true to your company.
Why is ‘why’ so important?
Your why (whether you’ve identified it or not) is the core essence of your company. It is the bulls-eye of everything you do. Identifying and following through every decision based on your why, then your business will become more than just a transaction but a statement of belief.
Your why also helps give perspective to the bigger picture at play. Looking not at the immediate gains of an action but the possible repercussions of a path.
Business is about taking risks, but not all risks are considered or appreciated the same. When you have a strong belief in the thing that you do, you are able to align your behavior with the values that you hold.
While this does not make your behaviors fail safe, it does mean that even when you do fail, you are not judged solely on the actions you take but also the reason behind them.
A solid understanding of what you stand for (your purpose) is like a solid foundation for which to build your next moves upon. A clear vision has the ability of aligning all that is important, presenting your followers with a transparent goal.
Taking ‘unique’ to the next level.
Think of the Golden Circle as a combination code. By participating on all levels, you are able to come up with something truly unique. After all, there’s only so many ways you can sell your product.
But through a unique combination, of what, how, and why, you are placing yourself in a whole different ballgame.
By doing so, you’re also not as vulnerable to the threat of having your competitors copy what you do for your product/ brand exists beyond the realm of its physical offerings and into a dimension of values and beliefs.
There’s a saying in Chinese that roughly translates to the following:
“If you know yourself and your enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Indeed, it is helpful to know your enemy, but before that you must first know yourself. The code of being that unites all actions, inspiring the like minded who’ll cross paths with you.
Communicating an intrinsic value through your passion for a cause that is goes way beyond the confines of a simple transaction.
Enjoyed this article? Make sure to also check out the other articles from the Golden Series!