I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Joey Coleman, Chief Experience Composer at Design Symphony last week during a full-day workshop called Experience Remarkable Growth. We were fortunate to have a full room of top-tier professionals who were engaged the entire day.

One of the topics was what an organization could do to stand out from the crowd. The theory is that when everyone in your industry is saying the same thing, doing ANTYHING different helps you stand out. One of the talented executives pointed to a promotional item that he developed for his clients that helps him stand out from the noise. The other participants loved the item he showed. People started asking “where did you get it?”  “How much is it?”  Half of the room liked the idea so much, they wanted to do it, too. Not so fast.

The challenge with creating a unique concept is that you can’t start with the question “what are others doing?”  The only reason to ask that question is to know what to avoid.

Years ago, my company attended a trade show for the pharmaceutical industry. It was a huge show, and we wanted to meet with the right people.  So, we installed a popcorn machine in our booth.  We ran it all afternoon. The smell permeated the room.  People beat a path to our booth.  The other vendors said “next year, we’re doing the same thing.”

Sure enough, the next year, four vendors had popcorn machines. We were not one of them. Instead, we had logo bottled water. As people visited our booth, we told them “when you see people with popcorn, tell them how to get here to quench their thirst.”  The popcorn was not a big draw for any one vendor, but the water was a big hit. Of course, with so many popcorn machines, the show organizers banned popcorn from the next year.

The next year, when making our hotel reservations, we learned that the hotel had Internet access, but not wireless. The hotel cautioned us that they had a total of 5 network cables to loan to guests (it was many years ago). We gave away retractable network cables that year.

For those who watched the show Seinfeld, you’ll recall the episode when George did the exact opposite of what everyone expected. Each time he did the opposite, people took notice. If you have forgotten the scene, I tagged it on my YouTube Channel here.  I’m not suggesting to model your business after a fictional show, but staying above the noise requires different thinking.

I asked an executive recently why they were chasing a particular piece of business that we agreed was not likely to be successful for them.  He said “all of my competitors are chasing it, so we need to be in the mix.”  I asked him which vendor was likely to win. Fast forward four months, and the vendor he predicted to win, did.  If you are sick of shrinking margins, constant pricing pressure, extended sales cycles, and the feeling that you are viewed as a commodity, then invest time and resources to help you stand out from the noise.  The answer is not to do what others appear to be doing, but it might just mean doing the opposite. If not, you might just end up sounding like an adult talking in a Peanuts cartoon (which is also on the YouTube Channel).

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