From the “You Won’t Believe What it Takes” Series: To Make a Difference – by Geri Seiberling

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a startup entrepreneur say, “I am going to do things differently,” I would not need my day job. Oh no, I am not faulting them. I am always inspired to see someone with a burning desire to do a great job. I am also quite aware that knowing your uniqueness in the marketplace is one of the most valuable tools in your marketing toolbox.

But what most entrepreneurs fail to realize is that most every business says exactly the same thing. Saying you are different does not make you different.

So we must differentiate our differentiation. We must diligently communicate, clarify, and defend this difference–and specifically so. To do this, we must have a clear idea of where we fit into the vast array of options that are clamoring for the money in the customer’s pocket. Is your offering priced differently? Packaged differently? Why does it matter? Could the difference be easily copied by your competitors?

It would seem intuitive that the entrepreneur that can clearly differentiate in a winning way would also win the most customers. But it is not always true. Why?

Unless the bells and whistles matter to your customer, you will have a ding but no dong. You may love love love the bells and whistles of your product, but the customer ultimately decides whether the difference is of value to them. Before you add that feature, make sure it matters to your customer.

If your customer cannot understand the difference, they will remain indifferent.If you try to be different for difference sake, your product may be so unfamiliar as to be irrelevant. Innovation is great, and being the first to market is great, but it can cause the customer to abandon ship before they buy, simply because it takes too long to understand it.

Unless you can easily demonstrate the difference, it remains only a hypothesis–and suspect at bestMany entrepreneurs say, “I’m going to do things right.” Or, “I’m going to do a quality job”. What exactly does “doing it right” mean? Can you express this in a scientific way, and can you explain the reason why you do it this way? Even if you can explain it, it must be important enough to your customer for them to pay the difference.

Claiming your product is “clearly the best” is a set up for a showdown.It is a difficult position to defend, especially if you are not the established leader in your industry. It is like the smallest kid in the neighborhood climbing to the top of the dirt pile, shouting they are king. Competitors will accept the challenge to bring you down. Better to choose a specific area where you know you can shine, than to engage in such a fight.

Marketing is more about being relevant than being different. Small business owners do not have to wait for big data to tell them what the customer wants. They can speak to the customer face to face. They can define and create new experiences, and initiate more personal connection than large companies could ever hope to deliver. These are never wasted efforts. The entrepreneur that takes the time to study their customer’s needs will be able to build a business that provides an answer to the problems and the issues their customers face on a daily basis.

Finding your competitive advantage is clearly one of the most important things you will ever do as an entrepreneur. Communicating this competitive advantage is one of the most challenging things you will ever do. One of the easiest ways to do this is with professional graphic design. Design can help you to rise above the chatter, and separate you from the pack. It can not only help you capture the essence of your brand, but can also help you communicate the difference. A professional designer can confirm and clarify your story with intuitive visuals, and help you voice the character, culture, and the personality of your Brand without a single word.

But one thing is clear: it is more important to learn how to make a difference than it is to be different. With this idea as your focus, I am certain you will never have a better marketing plan.


Geri Seiberling is Partner and Art Director at etc!graphics inc., a firm devoted to the evolution of the small business specie through intelligent design. You can connect with her at,  follow her on Twitter at @geriwithetc, or on Google+ at Visit etc! at, on FaceBook at, or Google+ at


Get your free preview of Chapter 1 from Selling Fearlessly.

Check out the 85 reviews for Selling Fearlessly at