So I come back from my chilly morning run and am greeted by the site of one lone red leaf popping out of a sea of green ivy and decaying brown leaves – and I can’t help but take notice.

Stand out – can’t help but take notice – of course, I immediately think marketing strategy.

Small businesses must be the red leaf. The market needs a way to differentiate all the green and brown leaves from one another so it uses price. Smart small business marketers, ones that can become the red leaf and place themselves squarely among the rest, stand out and compete on value.

Now, having said that, standing out is not simply about making more noise of being different for difference sake, standing out is understanding an innovation that a market needs and values and creating a brand that represents that message of innovation in every possible way.

Their are three kinds of research you should do right now if you aim to discover the best way for you to be the red leaf.

1) Study your competition – likely this will verify that everyone is saying the same thing and the opportunity exists for you to say something different.
2) Study difference makers in other industries – what do small business brands that you may already admire do that you don’t? Hire a coach who works with a different industry.
3) Talk to your customers – ask you ideal customers what you do that they value. Chances are it’s not what you think and greater chances are it’s what you need to tap as your essential difference.

Let me see if I can say this in dramatic enough fashion – you absolutely must tap or create a valuable point of differentiation and then build your marketing strategy around communicating that difference or your business will struggle to rise above the competitive noise.

Differences are everywhere waiting for you to claim them. They exist in the way you market, your products and services, in packaging of those products and services, in the delivery of those products and services, in narrow market niches, in your processes, and in your people.

When you find your red leaf and can honestly say you have no direct competition to speak of, you’re probably on your way.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Great post John. One question – do you think there are markets where differentiation is next to impossible? Do your tips about differentiating apply to even very commoditized markets?

    I often hear the response that “_____ won’t work in *my* market.” Most of the time that’s not the case, but I wanted to get your take. Thanks!

  • John Jantsch

    @Rebecca – one of things I have found is that standing out and being different is scary for most people. Nobody wants to be different. That’s what holds people back and makes them say “that won’t work” – in fact, there’s a pretty good chance that if they are saying that, then it’s a truly innovative idea.

  • John, Great Post
    We have coined a phrase around our shop; Break From Apartment Commodity and we live that directive. I am a believer that everyday, in nearly every thing you do can be a marketing and PR opportunity, and that we are all marketers. In our small business one of the mundane things we need to do each year at several of our properties is reseal and restripe the parking lots. By changing the color of the parking lot striping to bright orange or lime green, we have turned parking lot stripping into a marketing and branding tool. Everyone else uses either white or yellow stripping, but there is nothing in the rulebook that says you cannot change up the game.

    I would encourage your readers to think outside the box, because there are so many hidden marketing gems that collectively make a huge difference, and most of them have little to no cost.

  • John, this is a much-needed and appreciated post. Too many business owners fall into the trap of doing things the “safe” way. It’s sort of like a prevent defense in sports: all it prevents is a win. If you constantly play it safe, you’ll fall in line with everyone else in your industry. To really grow your business and become an industry leader, you have to take chances–albeit calculated–and differentiate yourself.

    I think the idea of looking to other industries for ideas is a great one. It’s exactly what Obama did in his campaign that was so successful: his marketing wasn’t unique, it was just unique for his industry. He looked to see how people in other industries were being successful and he followed suit. He differentiated himself from the competition and we all know the results.

    I make a habit of studying other industries for ideas, but this is a good reminder that I need to change up the industries I look at or the ideas will get stale once again.

  • This is a great approach in doing business……I guess some call it “thinking outside of the box”………be different and unique…….

  • YES! What a beautiful experience to have gotten this revelation through a red leaf. We are going to be part of the “red leaf” movement.

  • The main driving force in business is a good idea. I believe the main task businessman – to think that sell and how to sell.

  • The use of an image that you noticed during the day to make a point about competition is wonderful. We tend to act in a way similar to the way entities in nature act. I would say that part of being the red leaf is not getting absorbed into the generic practices of a business category, and staying on a path similar to the one that the creator had in mind before finding out about the competition.

  • Just couldn’t get this leaf off my mind; still haven’t, but I found some relief writing about it at my blog [email protected] Twenty-Two with my own photo!

    Your leaf is fancier.

  • I think you’ve brought up an excellent point on differentiation, which everyone talks about today but seldom few implement. Thanks for reminding us. Sometimes, as you point out, that differing point can be in the expectations you set with others in managing the relationship and deliverying on them. Great post. Thank you.

  • Vic

    Nice point. Sometimes we obtain great ideas on the places and moments we didn’t expect.

    Being unique and something extraordinary stands out others. With an unexpected idea, then a calculated procedures to achieve the goal of an idea is a great move.