I enjoy reading fantasy books, but much like Science Fiction or TV shows, you can discover formulaic writing which makes the reading predictable and bland. Lately I've been re-reading the Shannara series. The first book, The Sword of Shannara, is an example of Formulaic Fantasy Writing. What’s a fantasy book formula? It’s a formula of writing that has specific character types, a specific type of plot, and specific actions that occur in the course of the book. Businesses can learn a lot from Fantasy book formulas, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
The Sword of Shannara is based off the Tolkien fantasy book formula. You have a mysterious dark lord with evil minions. You have a magical object that only a specific person can wield, complete with a wizard and a trusty sidekick, plus you get other people, Dwarfs and elves, to come along on your quest. You find the magical object, you lose it, regain it, and then you defeat the darklord. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an established fantasy formula that many authors use, and The Sword of Shannara is one such example. Fortunately the author only uses that formula once. The other books of the Shannara series go in different directions. A lot of fantasy authors use the formula another author developed. Tolkien is usually the most copied author, but there are other fantasy formulas as well. The best authors, however, might initially copy a fantasy formula, but then they differentiate themselves. They write a different story and that’s what helps them stand out from all the other authors out there. And there's a lesson that can be applied to your business.
When you first start a business it may be tempting to set it up according to the formula that someone else has already used. It can even be a good idea to do so initially while you still figuring out how to run your business. But you should only rely on someone else’s formula for so long. Then you’ve got to do what Terry Brooks (the author of the Shannara series) did and that means discovering your own formula. Brooks developed unique stories and characters that deviated from the Tolkien formula he followed in the first book. The same principle applies to business. You want to develop a unique business, or at least one that is differentiated and to do that you need to look at your business formula and change it by looking at what you can do that is different from what other people are doing.
When you stick with the business formula that someone else created you copy them and you are only a shadow of them, because what you've copied is what you have access to. You look like a clone, and much like any other kind of clone, the genetics for your business are not the same quality as the business you've copied your formula from. To change your business you need to change your branding and marketing, and the services and products you offer.
If your service or product looks the same as someone else's, it is very hard for people to determine why they should choose you over the competitor. So how do you differentiate yourself? Part of it occurs by bringing your personality forward. For example, I'm a business coach writing an article about the importance of business differentiation. There are other business coaches who have written similar articles or could write such an article. How I make this article different is bringing my personality forward and drawing on one of my non-business interests (fantasy books) and showing how that can connect to business development. Doing that allows this article to stand out and may even make me stand out a bit, because most people don't write about fantasy books and business development. I've drawn on my personality for this article (and my business in general) as a way of making me stand out.
Personality helps, but having an angle also helps. If you don't have an angle for your business, then you face that blandness I mentioned earlier. You develop an angle by doing something I learned in Academia: You find the gap that isn't covered by your competitors. A gap is an opening that your competitors don't over. They may offer similar services, but because they don't cover the gap you cover, you offer something different, something more than what they can offer. For example, in my coaching practice I don't focus just on business coaching, but also business-life balance. From what I've seen most other coaches don't cover that topic, so it provides me an angle that I can use to differentiate my services from someone else. Take a moment and look at your industry. What's an issue that you feel passionate about? Do the competitors in your field discuss that issue? Even if they do, what's your angle on that issue? If you have a different perspective, that can make your business stand out from your competition and help people understand its relevance to their problems.
Differentiating your business also involves taking a risk by choosing to describe your business on your own terms. What makes your business unique is how you can describe it. While you need to consider your message in terms of how your audience will understand it, you also need to be willing to write your message in your terms. Going back to my original example of the Shannara series, there is a clear difference between The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara (the sequel to the first book). The characters in the second book come alive in a way that the characters in the first book simply don't, because they aren't part of a fantasy formula. The characters in the second book are distinct because they are on their own adventure, instead of someone else's adventure. This applies to your business as well. Are you on your own adventure or are you on someone else's adventure? Can you describe your business and what you offer on your own terms or are you using someone else's?
It can take a while to discover your business terminology and descriptions. It's taken me the better part of a year to describe my business in my own terms, and I'm still working at it. But your discovery of how to talk about your business in a meaningful way will energize your marketing and help people understand its relevance to their problems and lives. Until you do that, you risk being bland and easily forgotten. Make your business distinct by taking a risk and differentiating yourself through your personality, a unique angle, and your own language.