• Keith Wells

Would you rather be unique, or the best?

There's a lot of wasted effort in chasing the wrong thing. Like 'differentiation'. I've not seen a wilder goose than a law firm's statement that "what makes us different, is that we're different" - and as they've since merged into anonymity, that clearly didn't work well.

It's not the desire for differentiation that's often wrong, it's the nature and definition of it. And, of course, the strategies and measures that follow.

There's always been something slightly troubling in the "U" part of "USP": what if, to be perfectly honest, you can't be unique? Or what if, equally honestly, the bit that makes you unique is irrelevant to your target audiences? (There might well be a gap in the market, but that doesn't mean there's a market in the gap.)

What if we take the view that the best form of differentiation is superiority? It shows true ability and delivery, it's demonstrable and it creates a constant objective. Perhaps that "U" could stand for "uniquely able". It might make businesses confess to their truths - be they competencies, values or culture - and determine how they might create a better business.

Now, let's take that thought into the world of 'purpose'. Again, it's not the desire that's necessarily wrong, it's the definition: I keep reading that a purpose should set out an organisation's "unique contribution to the world". But that feels like another hostage to fortune statement. How unique can 20 law firms, 30 accounting firms, 50 soft drinks (or, come to that, the groups behind them) in those terms? Would it be wrong for those businesses to accept that they share similar world views and similar understanding of their potential contribution, but to determine their own way of doing that better than anyone else?

Being the best can not only make you very different, it can make you very successful.

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