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By Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster

You say you want to be different. You say you want to stand out from the crowd. You say you want to be bold. You say want to be noticed.

Sorry, but we don’t believe you.

Like alleged country music singers talking about how “country” they are, talking about being different usually means that you are rife with boring sameness. Or perhaps you are trying to be some slightly better version of sameness. Either way …

Here are some signs you are falling into the chasm between uniqueness and sameness.

  • You think your message to the world is some variation of “I help people get better.”
  • You say your target audience is “everyone.”
  • You believe you don’t have competition.
  • You believe in creating happy mediums, slogans and taglines for your businesses’ marketing.
  • You think a new logo fixes a stale or negative reputation.

The truth is your impulse to be different is stymied by your real, true case of FUD — fear, uncertainty and doubt. We aren’t saying you shouldn’t feel these things — they are evidence of being human. We are saying that if you really want to be different, you will find a way to push through them to the other side. In essence, you will break your addiction to sameness and safety and embrace what truly makes you different.

If you truly want to be different, start doing these three things:

Listen. Listening is evidence of security; of being grounded. This means the first thing you need to listen to is not: your brain, the data, your best friend’s boyfriend who is a marketing guru. The first thing you do need to listen to is your heart, your intuition. The second thing to listen to are your surroundings – what are the people who touch your brand saying? What are your competitors saying? What are the unmet needs in the marketplace? Simply reacting to these is not enough. You need to truly LISTEN to what they are saying. Stop saying, “I know, I know.” Just stop. Let the ideas settle in. Force yourself to ask three follow-up questions before making a judgement. For example, ask, “What’s missing?” “What would make this more valuable?” “Do you want this?”

Take Risks. People who are truly different take risks. They push back against status quo, they challenge norms, they agitate assumptions. We have lost a trio of these risk takers this year: Muhammad Ali, Prince and David Bowie. Before they were game-changers, they were threats. This might not be a role you are willing to accept right now. Be honest in examining your soul on this point. Are you at a place in your life that you are ready to espouse and advocate for something challenging or very new? Another soul-check is this: do you get a large portion of your value from the acceptance of others? We all need outside validation now and again, but to chase this means you are not ready to be different.

Say No. A basic but often overlooked rule of branding is this: if you narrow your focus, you broaden your appeal. This takes extraordinary discipline because an inflated ego sees opportunity to waylay your intentions in every distraction. It convinces you that by focusing, you are missing out on something. Like a greedy fisherman, it tries to catch all of the fish in the lake instead of just focusing on the first fish. As your brand grows, it also means saying “no” to anything that violates your standards – especially related to the kind of culture you are creating. At the most basic level, saying no allows your heart and mind to expand by rejecting that which does not serve you. It simultaneously strengthens your resolve to focus on your most vital purpose.

So here is a real-life test for you try:

Ask 10 – 15 people this question: what am I doing that is truly different?

If this question unleashes several powerful responses from your tribe, and you believe the time is right for you to take your coffee shop band to the main stage, we want to hear your music.

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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