Tired of Being Told To “Differentiate Yourself?”

Everyone tells you to be unique.

Find your USP.

Differentiate yourself.

(Meanwhile, you're all, “Stab, stab stab, I'm the same, I'm the same, I'm the same – how am I suppose to “differentiate” life coaching?)

And so you take a drink, because these are the types of things that drive people to drink, and you stare at some arbitrary chart you've made up in a sore attempt to try and figure this garbage out before EVERYBODY GETS AHEAD OF YOU AND THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD LEAVES YOU BEHIND AND YOU'RE LEFT WITH NOTHING BUT A BROKEN PENCIL STUB AND AND EMPTY BOTTLE OF CRYSTAL HEAD VODKA (because those guys are my favorite and this is my imaginary scenario).

Take a Motrin and siddown.

Because there's a cure to this insanity.

And that cure is this:

It's not just about being unique.

It's about finding a unique way to tell your story.

My writers and I are currently working on a fun copywriting project for Keuka College, up in the Finger Lakes of New York. (Jealous? Don't be. I don't get to swim in the finger lakes. I just get to look at drool-worthy professional photos of them.)

Yesterday, the marketing director and I had a talk that went like this:

Ash: I'm pretty sure we want to stay away from anything that features a white guy, a black guy and an Asian girl hovering over the quintessential chemistry beaker, saying things like, “Good job, Jake!” or “Way to go, Sammy!” Or…anything that sounds like this.

Keuka: THAT IS HIDEOUS. I hate everything cliché.

Ash: Well here's the thing: The advantages to coming to Keuka are the same advantages that going to any small school has: Small class size. Personalized attention from professors. A pretty little campus dotted with elm trees. (Or some other wholesome-looking tree that inevitably makes every other tree feel inadequate.)

Keuka: Yes.

Ash: So the problem becomes this: All of your competitors are touting those same advantages on their brochures, and their website, and their everything, too. So you become indistinguishable in the eyes of prospective students, who aren't just picking a college–they're picking a new home–and since everything else seems relatively the same, you're basically forcing them to pick based on some arbitrary detail like cafeteria selection. (Not what you should be competing on–especially if your chicken patty could use a little facelift.)

Keuka: Yes, Ash, wise one. Continue. (Just kidding. That was never said. But again, this is my version of the story.)

Ash: One time, a neat marketing agency worked with my alma mater, Wilkes University, to create a personalized billboard campaign targeting individual students at local high schools who had been accepted, but who hadn't yet decided. The New York Times wrote about it. It was very effective. It was a great way of not just saying the same thing as everyone else (we care! we give personal attention!), but actually demonstrating it.

Keuka: I love you. (Again, didn't happen, but who's keeping track?)

But as you can see, this is exactly what I'm talking about when I say it's not about being unique–it's about telling your story in a unique way.

How can you relate your truth in the most interesting way possible?

Wilkes certainly found a way.

Keep your eyes peeled for familiar messages, being told in new ways, and you'll suddenly start to notice this happening everywhere–sort of like what happens when you see a new car you've never seen before, and then suddenly YOU SEE IT EVERYWHERE.

Like that.

Only more educational.

Because when too many people become “unique,” their uniqueness isn't unique; it's commonplace.

So the new challenge isn't to be unique.

It's to let people see the real you, in a unique way.



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