The same thing but different

Matt Morgan
Jul 19, 2013

As an aspiring producer (as with being a consumer), it can often be difficult to discern the difference between the goods or services provided by a bevy of options.

How many times have you driven by or heard from a friend about a business coming to town and thought, "Oh it's another X in town?" Or, perhaps, you have an idea for how to "finally do Y right in this town," but face a number of established businesses that already provide that good or service?

Let's help you be the same thing but different among your competitors! By no means is the advice here a magic bullet, but it should give you a good start on being unique in a meaningful way. We're going to presume you have already scouted a decent location and have a marketing plan in place, neither of which that won't interfere with your projections.

Having your customers take away a story from your business is what you want. It keeps your name, product, or service at the forefront of their thoughts and provides an easy seed to plant into others'. Hibachi-style restaurants like Nagoya or Samurai do this well. Can you think of other examples? How about the flair bartending at Kalahari? What about the colorful interior of Jo Wok festooned with original paintings? If I asked for two examples of a national chain like Cracker Barrel almost everyone would probably give the same two. Even fast-food places have toy giveaways to literally take home which make you think of it one last time when you throw out the toy!

The gamut above is only a small sliver of the creative things that restaurants can do, but what of other businesses? You don't need a lot of money to invest in skilled staff or unique inventory to leave a powerful impression. One of my distributors simply includes a couple Tootsie Rolls with every delivery along with a thank you note. There was a great example on Kitchen Nightmares  of a revamped seafood place having at each table a small piece of rope and on the back of the menu were instructions on how to tie nautical knots. It gave you as a customer something to do while waiting and was appropriately-themed to the service provided.

By the by, if you own or work in a restaurant and haven't watched that show you are doing yourself a disservice. Same if you are really in any kind of human resource or management position and don't watch Undercover Boss.

Are you in sales such as financial planning? I'd like to suggest making sure you have stories to tell as giving out a piece of candy to a policyholder may or may not be seen as professional. Tell stories not of the product you represent but of life, yourself, others. The news. Tie it in, make it relevant to your service. You are selling not just a paper but yourself. Are you an automated commission machine or are you a genuine human being who truly cares about what you do? Hmmm ... I must concede that State Farm's little tissue packs are clever and useful ...

To shift gears slightly before wrapping things up, we have explored various ways to make your service unique. But, what of your product if you manufacture? If we look at our region, there are many wine makers. If you want to make wine, too, how do you compete? How do you make yourself different enough to be memorable?

There are abundant places of creativity to help you out in this quest. One such is Pinterest. It has AMAZING, authentic ideas for creative ways to present otherwise common or mundane things. Also, if you are motivated enough to start a business where none exists or even go up against established ones, never lose your unique perspective. After all, that is what you want to share with others. That is what will make your business unique.

Bonus! Case study:

"Magic Moment" was a restaurant in Sarasota, FL that was unique not so much in its food selection, but its presentation. The wait staff would perform magic tricks at your table for both entertainment and functional purposes such as presenting the menu. It really was impressive. But, even with seemingly-justified reasons at the time, it changed what made it memorable and as a result ended up shutting down after many years of service. While the article is over 20 years old, the lesson learned is still valuable. Stick with your vision because even if it seems overdone to you who does it every day, the impressions you leave on others will continue to have them telling stories about your place for many years.