As the people in charge of our brands, we want to stand out. We want our voices to rise above the lesser operators, the people who give our industry a bad name. We want someone to hear our message and reach out to us with a hearty: “I want to work with you!”

But two issues thwart us in our intentions:

  1. We are scared, to tell the truth. 
  2. We don’t know what to say. 

There’s no shame here. Fitting in, being accepted, feeling safe is all part of our primal wiring. While some people do seem to have a propensity for being daring and different, most of us are quite reticent to stand out.

Feeling safe and blending in may keep you alive in a survival situation. But that same instinct could also kill your brand. While sameness and undifferentiation feel safer, it is not. It is actually so much riskier to go beige when your soul says to go fuschia.

Instead of facing our normal fears of rejection, we rely on a well-established playbook of comfortable words, phrases, ideas, and tactics to compensate for really facing down those two issues. 

We’ll be blunt. None of the following are differentiators of your brand. They can’t be because they are too common (and boring). If you want to truly differentiate your brand from others, do not use these in your marketing or in your internal language:

  • Cheaper
  • Best
  • Better job, as in “We do a better job than the rest” or “our offering is better than their offering.”
  • We are passionate.
  • We have a secret sauce.
  • We are the best kept secret.
  • We are solution providers.
  • We provide great customer service. 
  • What makes us different is that we care.
  • What really makes us different is our people. 

All of these tropes show up in the sloganeering that is much of modern marketing and advertising. Every time a marketer uses this kind of lazy, undifferentiated language, David Ogilvy sheds a tear. And so do we. 

Here’s another blunt truth: it will always be easier to brand this way, using the above statements. It will feel fine. It might even feel slightly good sometimes to share these “warm bath” ideas with your audience. And it will please an established board who loves the status quo.

It will always, always be harder to brand from the truth — at least at first. That’s because when you brand using true differentiators, you are showing the world as you truly are, with what you truly believe. And you’re inviting them into a movement so that they can do the same. 

Vulnerability, anyone?

But if you feel disappointed with the clients you are attracting, if you feel let down by how you are expressing your internal culture, if the spiritual aftertaste of talking about your brand or your company is bitter and sad, then there’s an opportunity to do something much more daring. 

To find out what the truth is, and then to share it. 

One of us was recently in a meeting when it was suggested the first step toward finding out the truth was surveying the audience. 


It is not. 

The first step toward finding the truth is going within to discover what is weird, abnormal, truly different and wonderful about you as a leader and as a brand. Then, asking how that shows up in your brand.

Once you do so, you can take the words of description you’ve come up with and eliminate any common words or phrases, colloquialisms or cliches. 

You’ll be moving toward differentiation then. 

Here are a few differentiation statements from some of our clients: 

“None of our work is shallow.” — a coach

We work with the pragmatic creators among us to free them from the mundane so they can  imagine, create and grow.” — an IT professional services firm

“As we pursue our mission of cultivating good times for all those who visit us, we focus on three core white glove practices. We educate our customers. We embody excellence in all we do. We treat everyone with dignity and respect.” — an Arizona-based dispensary 

Ultimately, this comes down to courage and execution. Courage is non-transferable. We can guide you inward to the home of courage (hint: it’s in your heart), but you need to take the bold action of showing what makes you truly different. Then you execute. You share what makes you different every damn day: in your human experience, your language, your marketing efforts. 

You said you want to stand out. Stop using flimsy value propositions, trite brand promises and cheesy one-liners and start bolding speaking what’s true for you. 

We invite you to join Being Marketers. Being Marketers gives you a time and space to harmonize your marketing work with your soul.

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