Communicate What Makes You Different

by Marcia Hoeck

When I talk to creative firms about what makes them different, I hear a lot of what sounds like the same thing: “We deliver on our promises,” “We’re customer focused,” “We’re results driven, creative, and fun.” But these things can’t really be what makes you different if they’re the same as everyone else . . . can they?

What really makes you valuable to your clients? Do you know? Because we do so little to really market ourselves and we rely on word of mouth and referrals instead (which sounds great but has its own set of problems), most of us don’t really know what, if anything, we do that’s different, or why anyone actually should buy from us. We all say the same things clients hear from everyone else about what we do. And our websites all look pretty much the same, too – we design gorgeous sites and show our work. Just stop for a moment and put yourself in your prospective client’s place – how would you decide who to work with, when we all look and sound so much alike? It’s confusing for them, when we give them so little to go on. So can we blame them when they choose based on price? Or when they chose based on the fact that the designer is their son’s coach’s next door neighbor? Or some other surface thing?

There’s also a lot of fear wrapped up in communicating your difference, and it’s the same fear our clients have when we try to steer them towards narrowing their niche or putting a stake in the ground with their positioning. The fear is that if we say “this is what we do, this is who we serve, this is what makes us different,” we risk losing a portion of our audience — and wouldn’t it be better to appeal to a broader segment? You know better than that, you fight against it with your clients all the time. It’s difficult to design and market for a client who can’t decide what he is and describes “the world” as his ideal customer – and it’s no different when it comes to your own promotion. You know the more specific you are about what you do and who you serve, the more attractive you’ll be to that particular group, because they’ll really know you’re talking to them and they’ll resonate with you.

And yes, the others will fall away, but that’s a good thing. You can’t possibly work with everyone in “the world.” I’m sure you’ve been asked before if you’d rather be given a lukewarm reception by the masses or be loved ravenously by a few, and the answer is always “be loved ravenously by a few.” Because the fact is it’s a big world out there, and even very narrow niches have enough clients in them to keep you very busy and make you lots of money – if they love you. And they’re not going to love you if you’re still trying to appeal to the masses. But they will love you if you can communicate your true difference.

Marcia Hoeck has owned a Toledo marketing communications firm for 25 years, living what she now teaches. Now a consultant after having sold her business, Marcia shares her secrets, showing how it’s possible to create a business that works.

Potential clients are not going to love you if you’re still trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience. Even very narrow niches have enough clients and work to keep your firm busy, but only if they love you. And to love you, you need to be able to communicate your true difference.


Quick Tips
1.) Ask your clients what makes you different. Ask them what value they receive from working with you, and listen hard to what they say. I’ll bet dollars to donuts they won’t say you’re “results driven, creative, and fun.” But they might say they like the way you think and help them solve problems. Or that you’re an extension of their team. Or they like that you don’t whine when they make changes like the last group they worked with. You won’t know until you ask, and you may be surprised by what you hear. Then find a way to communicate that value.

2.) Go on a rant. Creative people are often the most articulate when ranting behind closed doors. So if you didn’t get that big project, close the door, turn on your recorder, and rant about how that client missed the boat by not hiring you, how you would have been the perfect choice for that project. You’ll be brilliant at describing your difference.

3.) What do people ask your advice on the most? What could you teach a class on – tomorrow? What could you write a book about in two weeks, if a publisher offered you a huge advance? These talents, skills, and experiences you already possess can shed a very bright light on what makes you different and valuable to your clients.

Dig Deeper!
Sign up for my OnDemand DesignCast, “Communicate Your Difference,” part of HOW’s Strengthen Your Business Bootcamp Series.