How can you figure out what makes your business unique? Make the invisible visible!

Whenever I ask a small business owner, “what sets you apart” or “what makes you different”, everybody struggles with that question. I tend to get answers like, “we’re local” or “we have good quality service” or something along those lines. Which is great, but it’s hardly unique or distinctive.

It’s a tough question to answer.

One way to deal with this question is a technique called “making the invisible visible”.

How do you make the invisible visible?

Before we go into that I’ll just show you a quick video clip from the TV series Mad Men, just to explain what I’m talking about a bit better. If you haven’t seen it, it’s is a TV series about an ad agency in New York. It’s set in 1960 so it’s pretty old fashioned by today’s standards, but the example in this scene will really help to illustrate what I mean.

So what’s happened here, is we’re in the boardroom of the ad agency, the client is a tobacco company, and the news that cigarettes aren’t actually healthy is just coming to light, and so they can’t make claims that associate cigarette smoking with health anymore. So they’re sitting in this boardroom and everybody’s at a loss – “Well we can’t say this stuff now, what happens…?” They’re about to get up and leave when Don Draper (our hero of this scene and the lead ad man) comes up with an idea.

(Mad Men clip plays here)

It’s pretty old fashioned but the main things I want to draw out of that is that as far as the tobacco guys were concerned, running through the things that they did seemed pointless. “Everybody does it.” And when they came to “it’s toasted” the response was, “but everybody’s is toasted, there’s nothing unique about that”.

The difference is nobody else was saying it, and let’s face it Joe Public doesn’t know how these things were made. I mean even the son in the scene, the heir apparent of the tobacco empire had no idea how it was done.

So what they were finding was something invisible but they took for granted – they didn’t give it a second thought. But the public didn’t know about it. And so the point was made, “Lucky Strike’s is toasted, everybody else’s is poisonous”.

So what’s that invisible thing you can find in your business, that then becomes associated with yours, and by extension, your competition doesn’t (do that thing).

There’s bound to be something. Break down what you do, the processes that you do, the things that you can take advantage of.

It’s also important to get an external opinion on that as well because you’re really close to it. You do all these things and don’t realise what gold is in there.

A line did anybody who’s spoken to me will probably heard me say before is, “you can’t read the label of the jar that you’re in”.

So get some outside perspective as well. What is a that you do that actually is interesting or appealing or something different, from the outside perspective looking in.

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