Uniqueness and Innovation: What Have You Got That I Haven’t Got?

This is part ten of 13 in the Experience Design 101 series. For links to all the articles in this series, click here.

What have they got that I haven’t got? Courage.”*
—Bert Lahr as The Cowardly Lion in the movie The Wizard of Oz, 1939

Let’s turn that question around. As business owners and managers, it is more important for us to know what we have that others haven’t. This can (in part) be accomplished by discovering what others have. To really capture prospective customers, focus less on offering what others have, or find yourself trapped:

Innovation Trap #1: NONE

Is there anything less creative than “Jamie’s Discount Liquors”? How about “A Cut Above” hair salon? Okay, it’s a tie. [These are made up, but typical. A sign I drove by today, not at all made up: “Expert Car Repairs.” What does everyone else offer, inexpert car repairs?]

Why do some business categories seem to invite the uninspired, in naming and in concept? These companies are doing the same thing everyone else does, at the same price and hours, in the same way. They may issue such taglines as “Our Difference Is Our People” or “Your Neighborhood Source,” but they engender no loyalty at all, because everyone’s “difference” is their people, and because if I’m in another neighborhood, I’m sure not going to travel far when I need a commodity I can get in any neighborhood. This creates price-hunting customers who literally can’t recommend you, because they can’t remember anything remarkable about you.

Why handicap yourself by being one of hundreds, right at the start? Discover your uniqueness, and reinforce it every chance you get.

What have you (the business) got that I (the consumer) haven’t got? What should I buy from you?

Rethink the same question: What have you got that I (a competitor) haven’t got? Why should the consumer buy only from you?

How can your firm, starting up or ready to re-invent, escape the trap of clichés and tired, expected concepts?

  1. Research
  2. Evaluate
  3. Innovate

Lots of entrepreneurs skip right to number three. Don’t do this, or you may fall into:

Innovation Trap #2: TOO MUCH

This trap is filled with clever, meaningless names of firms which are often light on business concept. Their owners didn’t want to be tied down to a definition.

“Burnt Orange,” “Omnitia,” “The Smiling Face.” Are they bars? Graphic design firms? Grocery stores? The only thing were sure of is that they’re not law firms, which almost always fall squarely into Trap #1 (Weatherby, Weatherby, and Jones, anyone?) [Again, all are made up but typical, to my knowledge. If I gotcha, sorry.]

Having chosen not to define themselves, these companies may find themselves on a very slow growth curve, working overtime for simple name recognition, and being defined by outside forces. Eventually Burnt Orange, with their four-star chef, may find the bar crowded with beer and munchies lovers and their beef carpaccio with caviar tapenade untouched. The chef, feeling useless, wants out. Omnitia, art-printers, has a line at the 10¢ copier; The Smiling Face, “handymen,” find themselves doing estate cleanouts.

How to Avoid the Traps

1. Research

You know the field you want to pursue: arranging snowmobilers’ vacations; tailoring bespoke men’s suits; developing software for telecommunications. Learn all you can about the field.

Check out the competition—what they are successfully doing gives you an idea of what the public is already paying for;

Consult with (talk to) this public—holes in what is currently available may show the niche you alone can serve. My favorite technique for this is a six-to-ten question interview, open-ended (no questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”), to quickly get raves, gripes, and ideas from potential customers. Insider’s tip: Customers and prospects LOVE to be interviewed for their insights!

2. Evaluate

What can you, uniquely, offer that is wanted and needed, but is an itch your customer doesn’t know how to scratch? Evaluate the results of your research, looking to be just beyond what others think is possible. This step should really tax your creativity. Dream about the farthest edge of possibilities, like Henry Ford, who said,

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

You’ve done your research and perhaps heard a similar answer. As you evaluate, stretch these answers… faster transportation… Less constant upkeep… mass availability… Cars!

Remember when a “7–11” was a big deal, because they were the only place you could go so early or so late? What a perfect name to highlight the edge they found for their business concept!

3. Innovate

Look at your abilities and passions in light of the needs you’ve uncovered and the holes in the current market. In your evaluation, you brainstormed and dreamed about the potential uncovered in your research. As you refine your concept, tell the story of What You’ve Got That I Haven’t Got. Don’t dream about being just another corner café, just another barber, or just another convenience store. Keep pushing your ideas. How can you reinvent the traditional model?

Remember that your name is the most important ad you’ll ever write, and do NOT settle for less than the best name to position and grow your innovative firm. When your business concept is as fresh and innovative as you can make it your name should be clear, to draw your prospects in, not crazy, to leave question marks above their heads.

Demonstrate your unique position in the marketplace. Don’t choose a name:

(a) that I could substitute with anyone else’s name or location with no loss of meaning (Don’s, Violet’s, or Harris Street Discount Liquors)

(b) that could fit in any other profession with no loss or gain of meaning (The Smiling Face… dentists, martini bar, plastic surgeons)

(c) that does not inspire, provoke excitement, or create curiosity ABOUT WORKING WITH YOU (Yes, I wonder what Omnitia does, but not long enough to remember their name, since as far as I can tell it has no relevance for me)

Innovation is difficult but not impossible to come by. Your packaging of innovation is what will make your firm unique. Offer more than an incremental improvement. Aim beyond faster horses—with solid research and time spent evaluating the field and your prospects, solve deep, underlying needs.

Convey your very specific offering in your naming and in all other aspects of your business, avoiding the traps, and your firm will get a jump-start in the minds of your customers.

So, what have you got that we haven’t got?

Leave a comment about what makes your business truly unique.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*Spoiler: That wasn’t really true about the Cowardly Lion.   😉

P.S. For more on innovation, you can’t do any better than The Innovator’s Solution, by Clayton Christensen. It’s a mind-expanding book that aims to make innovation into a repeatable process.


Next up in the series: Part Eleven: Are you ready to be a Visionary?

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