I wrote this blog a couple of years ago. Today it may even be more relevant as brands and businesses look for fresh ways to stand out in a busy and noisier marketplace. If you read it the first time, I’ve added some new ways to stand out that are worth checking out.

Stand out. Brand up!


Odd Fish Finish First

Imagine a big glass tank loaded up with hundreds of squirmy gold fish. Pick the one you want and in seconds you’ve lost it because they all look alike.
Suddenly, behind the coral tree, from within the school of many, emerges a slim, purple and orange fish. He quickly stands out from the group, his distinctiveness apparent. He swims around with a unique confidence and a bold identity, while the others just seem to fade away.

Odd fish are memorable. Odd fish command a premium price. Odd fish exude added dimensions of value. Odd fish finish first.
In business, understanding this metaphor is the difference between drowning in a sea of sameness and being a great brand. Jack Trout (speaking of smart fish) noted in his bestselling book “Differentiate or Die” that choosing among multiple options is always based on differences, implicit or explicit. Psychologists point out that vividly differentiated characteristics anchored to a product can enhance the public’s memory of it because they have added uniquely to the mind of the consumer. In other words, if you are promoting a product or service, give the consumer a reason to choose it. This concept is so simple, yet many business leaders
struggle with applying it to their brands.The problem starts with defining what distinction truly is and is not. Distinction is not that you love or care for your customers more than your competition does. It’s not that you are a one-stop shop or even that your product or service is of the highest quality. Those are all vital attributes, but they are also likely touted by 90 percent of the competitive players in your category.

Distinction in branding is something that you do so well and often that it is truly different and has become your asset—so much so that your competition would be unlikely to try to mimic your actions. It’s something that your buyers identify as really unusual and, as a result, award your brand extra space in their info-aged, over-crowded minds.

Developing a platform of distinction requires courage by leadership. Doing things differently can draw out herds of critics, from customers to employers to industry players. That’s to be expected, because new or different requires the adoption of new thinking and it’s human nature to resist it for some time. Have faith and believe in your oddness. Believe in your brand.

Take the test:
How distinct is your brand? Are you an odd fish that stands out or are you simply one of many in a school of fish?

• Visually, does your brand look different than your competitors?
• If you covered up your logo on your brochures and We site with only the content visible, would anyone know it’s your brand?
• Does everyone in your organization know how you’re different?

If you answered “no” to even one of these, you’ve got work to do. As you explore new points of distinction for your brand, ask yourself:

What’s relevant to the needs and desires of your customers?

Are there current events, social attitudes or recent wounds from an issue that would prohibit open acceptance of your point of difference?

Can someone easily copy or imitate your point of difference?

Will this point of difference be sustainable for a substantial period, get better with age, or quickly become irrelevant and out of style?

Does this point of difference have the legs to carry the brand? Can it be leveraged by other aspects of your brand?

49 ways to be an odd fish and stand out. Some of these can be strategic story platforms and others can be seeds for tactical actions.

  1. Share your unique history
  2. Create a distinct experience
  3. Do something backwards
  4. Design a delivery process unlike any other
  5. Let speed (fast or slow) be your unique thing
  6. Show off what you do
  7. Show off what you don’t do
  8. Pick an exclusive philanthropic cause
  9. Design a unique signature gift
  10. Coin a unique word 
  11. Produce a unique event
  12. Launch an advertising or memorable campaign
  13. Let your location/building set you apart
  14. Design your office décor/environment in a special way
  15. Partner with a distinct association
  16. Play off your unique brand name
  17. Tell a compelling story
  18. Introduce a new technology
  19. Leverage a Graphic icon/mark
  20. Combine two unique things to make an unusual combination
  21. Serve a niche market-A lifestyle, age, gender
  22. Offer a distinct pricing model/buying program
  23. Off unique products and services
  24. Own a special style
  25. Have a really cool theme
  26. Use an unexpected color
  27. Build a new system
  28. Tout an accolade
  29. Different ingredients
  30. Unique uniforms
  31. Save the earth while you are at it
  32. Use unexpected humor
  33. Package it in an unexpected fashion
  34. Give something big away
  35. Offer an unbelievable guarantee
  36. Gift often
  37. Be exclusive
  38. Create a mascot
  39. Charge a lot more
  40. Give it away for free
  41. Take alternative payments
  42. Use a metaphor
  43. Rearrange something
  44. Sacrifice something important
  45. Break a century old rule
  46. Conduct an annual poll (quirky, scientific, funny)
  47. Super-size it or exaggerate it
  48. Get nostalgic with something new
  49. Simplify a process

Consumers are smothered with more than 5,000 brand messages every day. The marketplace is cluttered, with many excellent options offered. If you want to make the buyer’s choice easy and finish first, you’ve got to be truly distinct and communicate those unique attributes at all touch points every day. The services and products space is very competitive. To find your distinct calling, you must look deep inside your organization and explore all your branding touch points.
Think about your processes, your communication and your services. The possibilities are endless.