How To Be Different | PHOS Creative

How To Be Different

Written by Jon Saxton

Note: this is the first in a series about how to stand out and be a light in a saturated digital space. Read the introduction to the series here.


Consider this: there are 1.8 billion active websites out there. Right here in Florida, there are 2.1 million businesses. And in our hometown of Gainesville, 40 financial advisors in one city.

That’s what we call a saturated marketplace. Even if you’re the first in your industry, you’re competing against every one of those businesses as consumers or clients choose where to spend their money.

There can only be so many pages in a phone book. You can only build so many billboards on a road. Magazines can only be so thick.

But the internet is infinite.

And out of that infinity has come saturation.

Now consider this: nobody else does things the way you do, for the reasons you do. In other words, nobody else has the “why” that sits behind the “what” and “how” of your business.

Being different means being a light in that saturated space.

How To Be Different

Let’s explore two models for focusing on what makes you unique – how to stand out in a sea of sameness.

The old model was outlined by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in their 1995 book The Discipline of Market Leaders.

According to Treacy and Wiersema, there are three competitive strategies:

  • Operational Excellence – winning by efficiency. Having such good processes that you can deliver the highest standards in your industry, with high consistency.
  • Customer Intimacy – winning by relationship. Creating such a memorable experience that your customer feels they have a relationship with your business.
  • Product Leadership – winning by innovation. Investing heavily in research and development to be first to market on exciting new ideas.

Then, in 2009, Simon Sinek famously changed the conversation with a new model: Start With Why.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve read Sinek’s book, or at least seen his 40-million-view TED Talk. In a nutshell, he posited that “people don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.”

The key here is that your why is inherently unique. Your history, your team, your passion, and your vision all combine into something nobody else has.

The right way to be different isn’t to be unique based on who others aren’t, but to be unique based on who you are.

From there, your why drives your mission, which drives your message, which drives your marketing. From there, you’re free to invest in operational excellence, customer intimacy, and product leadership, all uniquely within your why.

One Decision

Deciding to follow your why is one decision that decides a thousand future decisions.
How many times have you heard business owners complain that they’ve tried everything, and nothing has worked? Maybe some things worked for a short time, but they never really stuck.

This complaint is applied to every aspect of running a business.

Applied to culture: last year, we tried X, but it didn’t work as well as we wanted it to. So we tried doing Y, and that kind of worked, but not really. Now we’re trying Z, and we were really excited about it but it actually caused big problems.

Applied to marketing: we were positioning ourselves as the budget option, but we got too many cheap leads. So we tried a feature-first approach, but nobody really cared. So we pivoted to this niche, but we’re losing customers in other industries.

This happens so often because businesses have endless opportunity. In theory, endless opportunity is a good thing, but one of two things happens: business go down different paths every six months and maybe make incremental progress before starting something else, or they suffer from analysis paralysis and never adapt or improve because they don’t know where to go.

If you have a strong understanding of your why, codified through your mission, vision, and values, future decisions become as easy as deciding whether your options align with those.

If you’re considering a new initiative or have a new opportunity presented to you, ask yourself: will this directly contribute to me reaching my vision for our organization? If not, it may be wasted time or energy.

Is this option in line with our mission as a company? If not, you may be diluting the value of your efforts.

Is this in line with our core values?

One of the best value-centered leaders I know, our CEO Brandon West, asks this great question when thinking about core values: if you left your company and came back in 20 years and were heartbroken to see how things were done, what happened? What so displeased you that it would break your heart to see at your company?

Going after opportunities that aren’t aligned with what you value as a company is what leads to going down paths outside your values that would eventually break your heart.

Of course, it’s ok to change direction and start new initiatives. Your business, your employees, your industry, your competitors, your technology, even your customers will change, and you need to be able to adapt to those changes.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to adapt. The right way is within your vision, your mission, and your values.

This is what Simon Sinek means when he says start with why. By filtering out all of the endless opportunities that don’t fit where you want to go, you can focus on the ones that do. It’s still not always easy, but it gives you the ability to focus.


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