Just how different and special is your business anyway?

    In this series, we're examining the foundational thinking and behaviour patterns that set a business apart from its peer group.

    I call this the 'ignite' process, and this process has three catalysts to take a business forward:

    1) A mission or passionate purpose

    2) A belief system or values

    3) A difference or your unique abilities

    For this article, we're going to dig down into catalyst #3: your unique abilities.  

    It’s true the idea of a USP, a 'unique selling point' or alternatively a 'unique service proposition', isn't a concept that immediately lends itself to financial services.

    Over the last 30 years, very little has emerged from our sector that we - or more importantly, the public - could portray as unusual, and certainly not unique.

    And yet, perhaps as a response to regulation or changing consumer expectations, financial services has started to create leaders whose thinking is breaking with the past.

    I believe it’s now possible to create a business that is notably different to others within this sector. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly essential.

    I recall glancing at Jack Trout’s book on marketing, Differentiate or Dieand thinking: "Isn’t that title a bit extreme? Will a company really die, just because they don’t differentiate themselves clearly from their competitors?"

    However, seeing the number of firms that continue to sail on blissfully in the grip of mediocrity - and towards a long, slow demise - I’m now convinced Trout had a point.

    I’m becoming a believer in this simple but elusive idea that differences are a crucial element in being able to ignite a business.

    Seizing a different idea, dramatising it, making it your own - these are ways to carve out your space in an overcrowded marketplace. 

    Of course, the question then arises: what exactly is so different about my firm?

    And if the answer is “very little at all”, then the next question becomes: how do I change that?

    Since the impact of getting this right is so considerable, allow me to share some simple principles.

    How to be different

    When meeting a firm for the first time, what I look for is an unusal combination of factors.

    Is there a set of skills that – when combined – could distinguish this organisation from others around it?

    If this unique combination doesn't exist yet, could it exist within one to three years, with some new thinking and behaviour?

    Let’s look at some possible components that could create such combinations: 

    • Location 

    You probably prefer working with clients in a particular location: say, within a 20-mile radius of your office.

    • Client type

    If you’re commercially savvy, you’ve come to realise that focusing your resources towards a very specific type of client pays huge dividends, and ones that are both tangible and intangible.

    • Skillset

    Rather than be a generalist, you might have discovered clients pay far more attention to those whom they regard as experts at something.

    • Services

    You might have designed services that best serve a particular type of client, or you might deliver these in a way that never ceases to delight new and existing clients.

    You get the idea. I’m sure there are other components I’ve missed that are obvious to you.

    Now, what would happen if you carefully combined some of those components into a unique combination of your own? 

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