Dare To Be Different

A couple of years ago, I left a company that I had been with for over ten years. At my going away party, my boss stood up and said just one thing: “I’d like to thank you for all the humor you’ve brought to our organization.”

Humor?! I’d been there ten years, held 7 or 8 different positions, been responsible for a number of high profile and profitable products, and all he had to say was, “Thanks for being funny.”

I couldn’t have been happier.

I didn’t take his remark to mean that they kept me around simply for my sense of humor (although it was a cable company, so who knows). I took it to mean that my sense of humor was what made me different. Everybody I worked with was responsible, intelligent, hard working, etc., and there would have been no point in his highlighting those kinds of things.

Take a look at your company. If you describe what you do with standard phrases such as, “providing quality service at competitive prices,” or, “making customer needs a top priority,” or any other motherhood and apple pie stuff, you are missing out on an opportunity to differentiate yourself. All of your competitors — or at least the ones that are worth worrying about — could describe themselves in exactly the same way.

You with me? Your company is already over the “good enough” bar. The way to stand out from the crowd now, is to shine a light on what makes you different.

Think about how other people describe your company:

“Oh yeah, they’re the ones whose founders are a married couple.”

“You should see her, their CEO speaks six languages, and can boil down the most complicated financial transaction into plain English in about 30 seconds.”

“Did you know that their entire HR department ran the marathon last year?”

“I love visiting those guys, they actually have a dog in the office!”

These are the kinds of things that make your company interesting and unique, and frankly, the things that make it feel human.

Many of you reading this newsletter work in industries where — for those of us on the outside — the products and services are indistinguishable from one company to the next. If you are a law firm, a financial services firm, a web site developer, a consultant or a banker (to name just a few categories), I’ve got news for you, we can’t tell the difference between what you’re selling and what the other guys are selling. What we’re buying when we do business with you, is you.

Keep that last sentence in mind while I show you a magic trick. Visit your own web site, read your company newsletter, review your marketing collateral. Abracadabra! The real people are suddenly gone. Vanished into thin air.

For some reason, when the marketing or PR department gets involved (and I’m a recovering marketing person, so I feel like I come by this honestly), they boil out all the personality. The warm, genuine, interesting people that I meet in person don’t show up in the “official” company communications to the outside world. They’ve been replaced by mission statements, service descriptions and jargon that could apply to any company in that business category.

Bottom Line: You are not sacrificing professionalism or future business when you allow yourself to appear more human to your clients and customers. Particularly in the wake of all that’s happened to the world in the last 45 days, people are more interested than ever in doing business with real people. Take the polish off, loosen your tie, and tell me something about your company that I’m going to remember at your going away party.

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