Recently, I read a comment that got me thinking:

“Different isn’t always better, but better is always different.”

This struck me as a compelling sentence. In context, it claimed to reveal that the route to success is clear: to be better, you have to be different.

Looking at the Financial Service market at the moment though, this presents something of a challenge. There is an enhanced awareness of risk that seems to have become a general aversion to change. The concept of “risk” has been extended to include any change that strays from the accepted norm. How many times have you heard “but different isn’t necessarily better” signalling the end of a discussion, rather than the start of a new one?

It seems we all know that “different isn’t always better” but sometimes, in an effort to hold on to what we have, we tend to forget that “better is always different”. Perhaps, if we want to be better, we have to dare to be different.

Unfortunately, being different in a way that attracts customers and fights off the competition is not easy to achieve. It is estimated that since 2010 the number of Digital and Technology focussed companies in East London has grown from around 200 to 1300. All are aiming to be innovative, creative and, ultimately, exceedingly profitable. In reality, though, not one seems even close to an IPO on the major London stock exchanges. Worse, very few seem to have a sustainable and profitable business model. Sadly, many may not be around in 2020. And those who aren’t will offer further proof to us all that “different isn’t always better”.

That said, nothing worth fighting for is ever easy. The huge success stories like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter all managed to introduce differences that were better for their market audiences. How did they manage to stand out from the crowd?

  1. They became consumer champions – a good idea can plug a gap in the market and attract new customers. But the gap has to be readily recognised by consumers, there’s no point in coming up with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. Find out and focus on what the consumer needs, not what you think they ought to want. In too many cases, innovation seems driven by what a company thought was a great idea, but at launch it became obvious that the customers didn’t agree.
  2. They created evangelists – get people excited about what you’re doing and they will spread the word for you. In this world of social media, where we expect new stories and comment on-line and accessible 24/7, positive chatter about a different and better solution will hit the headlines.
  3. They earnt trust and loyalty – as consumers, we all look for products and services that we can trust. If you offer working solutions that fill a need, you can earn this trust. If you keep delivering what the customer wants, you can earn the loyalty.
  4. They engaged their staff – when employees are highly engaged, research shows that they are likely to be 26% more productive, have 20% fewer days of absence, and are twice as likely to be top performers. And what better way to engage your staff than to enable them to be part of something different and better in their market. People like to feel they are making a difference.

There is no doubt that being different in a way that is appreciated by your customers will deliver benefits. When you offer a different solution or service that stands out and addresses a real gap in the market, decisions are no longer based on price alone, but on the value of the proposition. In a market where so many products and services have been commoditised and price has become the main focus, being different can offer you a huge competitive edge.