Different is Better Than Better

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My sister-in-law Kathie and her husband live a couple of hours away from us in Western Massachusetts. So, my wife and I occasionally get together with them for a hike someplace inbetween.

Such was the case last weekend when we met at Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, a place that, while certainly not paradise, is not hellish either. (Oh, I guess that makes sense then.)

In addition to the woods and trails that you would expect to find, it is also filled with interestingly named, natural rock formations, such as “Devil’s Corn Crib,” “Lover’s Leap,” and, I am not making this up, “Fat Man’s Misery.”

The thing is, while it’s a beautiful spot, we have been there several times at this point. There is no longer anything about it that is unusual or surprising.

But then, as we were nearly done hiking and almost back to the parking lot, we saw it. An amazingly rare find – something that stopped us all dead in our tracks.

Because there, right out in the open, was … a standalone, fully functioning, coin-operated payphone.

We couldn’t believe it. I ran over and picked up the receiver – there was a dial tone! We then took turns taking silly pictures with it, pretending we were making calls.

Different is Better Than Better

Isn’t that kind of odd?

Here we are at a beautiful state park on a perfect day, and we hardly notice the surroundings.

But when we saw something that at this point has become a rarity (even though 15 years ago it would have been completely unremarkable), it was all we could talk about.

Notice, too, that it’s not about which is objectively better. Even Alexander Graham Bell (look it up, Gen Zers) would have to admit that a rusty old payphone doesn’t compare with the natural beauty of Purgatory Chasm.

But when it comes to getting noticed, talked about, and remembered, different, not better, is what carries the day.

Your Marketing Needs a Twist

I interact often with lots and lots of small professional service firms and individuals. Make no mistake: these are smart, experienced, capable people.

But most of them, for the most part, look, sound, dress, behave, and describe their work in more or less the same way as do all the other professionals in their respective fields.

The financial planners … dress well and drive nice cars.

The life coaches … promise to, “help you get from where you are to where you want to be.”

The management consultants … have PowerPoint slides that describe their proprietary approach.

None of this is harmful; in fact it’s mostly necessary.

But like the umpteenth visit to Purgatory Chasm – we’ve all seen it before, so it goes unnoticed.

What if, instead, like attorney Deb Danger, the title on your business card said, “Secret Agent” and you offered a “5% discount to any Estate Planning client who makes us laugh”?

What if, instead, like all the employees at Trader Joe’s, you and your staff always wore Hawaiian shirts?

What if, if I may be so bold, you called your company Blue Penguin, prompting nearly everyone you meet to ask where the name came from and, at the very least, notice it?

Here’s the bottom line.

I understand. There is a risk in being perceived as too crazy or too unconventional by potential clients and others.

But from what I can tell, you are a long, long way from any of that.

Instead, you are facing a much bigger risk when it comes to generating word of mouth and referrals, the two things that drive your entire business: being invisible and being unmemorable.

Because as impressive, professional, and serious as you may come across, if you’ve seen one rock formation, you’ve seen them all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where is your favorite hike?
  2. When and where was the last time you used a public payphone?
  3. What is it about you or your business that is particularly memorable?

Share your answers below…

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11 thoughts on “Different is Better Than Better

  1. Carolyn Weaver

    1) Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. Kidding, I only made it 1/4 of the way and it was terrifying.
    2) Can’t remember when I last used a pay phone, would have been pre-cell phone.
    3) Business name is FunCPE, which of course is an oxymoron–it’s continuing professional education for CPAs and tax preparers, which everyone knows is pretty dull. But Boring CPE just didn’t have a ring to it.

  2. Glenn E Dornfeld

    Got no answers to your 3 Q’s…
    BUT: I was at that No Nukes show. Thanks for bringing me back – and for reminding us all that Springsteen at one time was actually only 30 years old.

    1. Ben Connelly


      My mom still has tickets from one of Springsteen’s early concerts (pre Born to Run maybe). It was like $7 and not nosebleed section. Guess maybe that dates me a bit.

  3. Stacey Shipman

    1. We have so many favorites. Last week we did a few short waterfall hikes in central MA and southern VT and that was different – haven’t chased waterfalls in a while.

    2. Oh boy have no idea. Late 90s?

    3. My Shed The Formality message definitely captures attention. And to your point is somewhat risky and unconventional. But I love it. (And so do those who experience it)

  4. Ben Connelly

    1. Cadillac Mountain in Acadia. Most anywhere on the AT in Virginia. Old Rag. Most anywhere in the Grand Canyon.

    2. Don’t remember – it’s been a while.

    3. I named one of my businesses Hardihood Books, which definitely wasn’t taken. I think it gives people the wrong impression of what it is, but Penguin doesn’t just publish books about Penguins and I like the sound of Hardihood Books.

  5. Dana Buske

    Some of my favorite hikes are Tinker Falls in Tully NY and The Trail of Ten Falls in Silverton, OR. Both have trails that go behind the waterfalls.

    The last time I saw/used a payphone was several years ago in Acadia National Park. We were so amused to find it that we called my sister to say hi.

    My business is focused on helping my clients maintain environmental compliance and I strive to make things easier for them.


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