“Paul I don’t agree with your idea that you have to be different to succeed” said a business owner I was speaking to last week.
His idea was that if he could make his business as much like the market leader as possible, he’d get some of the sales.
And his logic was fascinating because it was based on the idea that most of us would date a Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie lookalike (depending on your sexual preferences).It’s an interesting idea.
Since Brad and Angelina are busy keeping each other warm at night and if you have a big crush on one or the other, then the best you can do is to date a lookalike.
It’s not genuine of course… and you’d know it.
Nor would your life come with the money (boo hiss) or the celebrity lifestyle (happy to give that a miss).
So you can imagine that a Brad-alike or Angelina-alike would be very popular on the dating circuit.
But it doesn’t work so well in business for two very important reasons.
- Brad and Angelina are unique – each is a one-off.
- Demand massively exceeds supply.
That’s not the case in business.
If you have a resemblance to Brad or Angelina, then strengthening that resemblance should work fine in the local pick-up bar but things are different when it comes to customers.
Businesses don’t usually sell one-offs – they sell products or services that they can duplicate again and again.
And that means that supply isn’t so out of balance with demand.
In fact, if the star business isn’t working at capacity, it can keep on supplying because people prefer to buy the real thing rather than lookalike unless there’s a huge price difference. Why buy a $25 imitation Rolex if you can afford $10,000 for the real thing?
The lookalike strategy works if the star business can’t supply any more.
Buyers will turn to the next best alternative to what they really want.
But you’re in trouble if the real Brad and Angelina walk into the bar and have a blazing row in front of you and one dumps the other very publicly. The lookalike doesn’t seem so hot anymore.
So if the star business gets capacity (either because they’ve expanded because of the unsatisfied demand or trade turns down because of they economy), they win the business back because the lookalike isn’t as good as the real thing.
Do you want to bet your business and your future on the fact that your competitor who you’re copying is going to stay too busy.
Or do you want people to choose you because you’re unique – the best you can be.
Sure there may still be a passing resemblance to Brad or Angelina but you’re nicer, kinder, friendlier, more interesting…
Paul Simister is a business coach who helps small business owners to profit from differentiating their businesses, by being distinctive in the eyes of their customers and standing out in a crowded marketplace…. in other words, by building a business to be proud of.