Harness the power of weird.
Three times a year my family and I visit a friend’s static caravan in a remote part of Argyll.
Castle Sween, it’s called. No-one’s ever heard of the place. It’s one of Scotland’s best kept secrets.
Arriving there is like exiting a time machine. Back to the 70s. You know, when people passed the time of day with each other, smiled, said hello, and stopped for a chat.
From “the van” it’s 25 minutes’ drive to get a mobile or (reliable) wireless signal.
Ninety-five per cent of people are there because of a family connection. Usually their parents owned a caravan. And they keep coming back for more.
I know this because when I’m shooting the breeze at the village hall coffee morning, or chatting with someone leaning over their caravan decking, I invariably ask them.
This Easter we were on our favourite walk.
Taynish Art Trail (a short bimble through a forest, past an old mill, to the edge of Loch Sween and back).
On the water’s edge, there’s a wooden box. Lift the lid and you find a map case containing a comments book and an anthology of poems about trees.
And a William Blake verse inscribed on a stone:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the Palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.
We were sitting on a bench taking in the view when two families appeared. They’d come from different parts of the UK to holiday together.
I started speaking to one of the blokes. He came from Brighton. And eventually asked: “So what brought you here on holiday?”
We googled ‘ancient oakwoods’.
(As you do, I thought, amused). The conversation drifted off and we said our goodbyes. But the exchange stuck with me.
What a marvellous, leftfield, different way of planning your two-week family holiday.
Not a brochure, Center Parcs, family connections, or TripAdvisor for this guy.
He took an extremely niche interest (unsurprisingly, Google tells me no-one is searching for this term), googled it, and chose one of the few areas of Europe where these trees grow.
Meaning a 12-hour drive for the Brighton guy's family (the others were from Durham).
Now that is out of the ordinary. A little bit weird. Different.
Fast forward to the present and I was reminded of this exchange when I wrote a post last week.
One of which is:
“Don’t be afraid to be different."
My point was that solo businesses have the advantage of not being hidebound by bureaucracy and shouldn’t be scared to try new, different things.
To stand out from the crowd.
And this applies to SMEs as well.
Being different, hey, maybe even a bit “weird”, is good.
Who wants homogeneity?
Who wants people speaking at you like they're dictating a press release?
Who wants to read about what you’re going to do “going forward” or the “thrill” (nay “delight”) of some corporate semi-bauble.
Not me. Not any of my clients. Nor anyone I want to be doing business with.
Because we’re all weird, different, unique. We all have our own idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies. So why not celebrate that?
Don’t agree with me? Perhaps you’re NOT a solo practitioner (whatever your field), or you don’t work for an SME?
It’s easy for me to say, but this sort of stuff doesn’t apply to you. You’ve got that monthly board meeting to prepare for, your main competitor’s just launched a new service, and your sales are down this month.
Let me bring in an expert to persuade you otherwise.
I read a book recently (I read a lot; mainly business books – you can sign up for my monthly reading list email here).
What if working like crazy to beat the competition did exactly the opposite – made you mediocre and more like the competition…rethink your business strategy, stop conforming and start deviating, stop emulating and start innovating. Because to stand out you must become the exception, not the rule.
Sounds a lot yeah? Not when you consider Microsoft’s rumoured to have offered 10 times that amount back in 2008.
Going back even further (1995) when I was in my final year at University, Yahoo!
Of how each of the world’s most popular information superhighway navigators began – like the pigs in Animal Farm – looking the same.
…within a few years all of them had evolved into online smorgasbords offering a swollen buffet of information and services.
Then Google came along, offering this:
They said it wouldn’t work. Google gave customers less not more.
Google didn’t (at that stage) try to be all things to all men. And it didn’t meet its customers’ expectations.
Who wants a search engine portal where you CAN’T find out about the weather, news, horoscopes, shopping all on one handy (albeit slightly crammed) webpage, they said.
The rest, as THEY say, is history.
But the author doesn’t leave her thesis there.
She cites, among others, IKEA, JetBlue, Cirque du Soleil, The Simpsons, Swatch, Birkenstock, Red Bull, Mini, Apple, Benetton, Dove, Harley-Davidson, Marmite. I’d add Innocent, Skoda, Freeagent, and BrewDog to the list.
All brands that are different. That don't follow the herd. That shook up their area of the business world. And staked out a little corner to call their own.
These are not examples of clever marketing (albeit marketing, in each case, has played an important part in their success).
These are companies that stand for something. That ARE different. Now household names, for many years they were considered, well, “a bit weird”.
No matter what size your business, there’s gold in being different, being a trendsetter, finding your “guns” and sticking to them. Plough your own furrow, be authentic, and believe in what you offer. BE DIFFERENT.
Moon finishes by making three predictions for companies that will be successful in years to come. The new Googles, so to speak.
Let's hope she’s right.
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