Successful strategy requires being different.
When you focus on what everyone else is doing, when you try to fit too well into your industry, you become more and more like everyone else—with less and less for a customer to base a choice on other than price.
Soon, you find you need to lower your prices, offer discounts, or put more work into every sale and subsequent project, just to keep your head above water.
Even so, it takes an awful lot of courage to step outside the status quo and do things differently.
Keynes once wrote, “worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for our reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”
And isn’t that the truth? The people in our lives can often be so much more supportive when we’re struggling in ways they understand, rather than succeeding in ways they don’t.
But to see the success we dream of, rather than embrace the middling results of convention, we must be different.
The purpose of marketing is not to blend in with everyone else. Why pay for marketing if you don’t want to get noticed? Why put the work in if you don’t want to stand out? If we’re honest about our goals and intentions, we’ll see that being different from our competition and standing out in our industry is absolutely necessary.
It’s okay to recognize that it’s terrifying. You’re not wrong for feeling sick about it—that’s to be expected. Being different, trying something new, doesn’t feel safe. It feels dangerous, because we know we’re making decisions other people think are wrong—otherwise, they’d have made the same decisions.
But, to some extent, we must simply push through that feeling until we see the results on the other side—which “creates its own courage” according to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Of course, don’t become reckless or hasty in your pursuit of change. We still have to make the right decisions, choose the best path, and think things through all the way to the end.
Because, as a 19th-century general put it, real courage is “a perfect sensibility of the measure of danger, and a mental willingness to incur it, rather than insensibility to danger.”
But if we do measure the real danger, we’ll see that the status quo may be much riskier than a new approach. If the current trajectory is sideways or downward, doing nothing may be the riskiest path. Standing out, getting noticed, and setting ourselves apart—while scariest—may in fact be the safest thing we can do.
So use courage to define a position in the market that’s unique to you—and what you want out of your business and your life—not what everyone else wants, or thinks you should want.
Then create a strategy to reinforce that position and set yourself apart in all of your activities.
And make sure that even if you lose, you win, because you’re consistent and focused on that position.
It will always be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun or fulfilling.
As Eleanor Roosevelt also said, “there is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely...
...and then act boldly.”