Every creator I know struggles with copycat tendencies at some point. Sometimes this comes from insecurity, and other times it’s part of the learning process.
Try these four strategies to stretch your creativity and find your own voice:
- Express one idea at least five ways. Challenge yourself to go beyond your first thought. By pushing for at least five totally different ways to say something, you’ll learn how to say things your own way.
- Draw on your own experience, not your research. Tell your own stories, use your own phrases, come up with your own analogies and metaphors. Telling your stories makes it impossible to look just like someone else, and it’ll help you develop a unique voice and content no one can copy from you.
- Don’t look at other people’s stuff. What you consume is bound to seep into what you create. While you’re creating your own content, put away other people’s books, stop reading blogs, and say what you want to say.
- Use the BFF reality check. Would you say this to your best friend? If you did, would they say “WTF? Who are you??” That’s a strong sign you’re trying to be someone you’re not. If it passes the BFF test, there’s a good chance you’ve found your voice.
2. Come up With a Business Name That Speaks to Your Soul
This is one of the trickiest steps entrepreneurs face. How do you express what your business offers, who it’s for, and what’s special about it… in a name?
Figuring out what to call your business comes down to three factors:
- What customers in your industry will understand.
- How you want the company to look and stand for.
- Where you want to take your business long term.
You’ll find 14 fun ways to generate names for your business here — or you can start with this exercise below:
Business Name Generator Exercise: Make a list of words associated with your product or service — a thesaurus or OneLook Dictionary can spark some creative and silly ideas. Think about the objects, feelings, and ideas people associate with what you do. Now use those words and ideas, and write down at least 20 potential business names.
You’ll be surprised what you can come up with if you sit down and do this exercise. Once you finish you can test it out on your friends or potential customers, and see what feelings it evokes for them.
Remember, what matters most is that your business name fits your long term vision of who you’ll serve years down the road.
3. Find an Underserved Audience
If you’re trying to make your business stand out in a crowded space, one effective and heart-centered marketing strategy is to offer products or services to the customers your competitors have ignored.
Consider the problems your potential customers face that aren’t being solved by the products or services that already exist.
For example, if you live in a city and teach guitar lessons, the area is probably saturated with guitar teachers of all styles. You could offer online lessons to reach people in the suburbs or rural areas, who have fewer options or can’t travel to get to in-person lessons.
You’re still in the same business as your competitors, but by giving your service and branding a twist, you can reach a completely new customer. That cuts down your competition and lets you truly be of service to your target audience.
4.The 4 P’s to Unique Brand Messaging
Still struggling to find the secret sauce that makes your business unique? Let’s talk about messaging.
Thanks to the internet your customers probably see hundreds of businesses just like yours every day, promising the same amazing benefits. Rather than reinvent your entire business model, tweak your brand messaging to show how you’re different from everyone else.
When you’re finding it hard to sound unique, the best place to start is with what I call the four P’s:
- Purpose — your reason for being: Don’t just say what you offer, explain why.
- Principles — what you stand for: Do you make your products without common harmful ingredients? Offer services without unethical practices common in the industry? Tout it!
- People — who you serve: Which words would your customer use to describe your offering to a friend? What benefits mean the most to them?
- Pisses you off — frustrations about your industry: What’s missing in the industry that your business solves?
By infusing your P’s into different parts of your copy and design, your brand will be unforgettable to all the right people.
5. Look Outside Your Industry for Inspiration
If you want your business to stand out, don’t look at what everyone else in your industry is doing or saying. Looking at your competitors’ websites, programs, marketing, and content for inspiration pretty much guarantees that your website, programs, marketing, and content will look just like everyone else’s — even if you don’t mean to do it!
As a new business owner, you might think looking at your competitors is the best way to learn what you’re supposed to do. But it could actually hurt your business.
Instead, draw inspiration from the places that light you up outside of your business. That’ll guarantee no one can do it exactly the way you do.
I recently used this branding strategy for my Everything is Figureoutable book launch. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and personal development companies who launch books all the time. Instead of looking at what everyone else was doing, I took a note from the entertainment industry and had the most epic book launch ever in New York City. I highly doubt anyone is going to copy it — unless they want to spend weeks practicing this dance routine for their book launch.
Create something that only you can create.
Stay focused on what you want your business to be about, not what everyone else is doing. Bring in your other passions, philosophies, and interests to give it your personal stamp.
Because again, others might run the same kind of business as you — but no one else is YOU.
6. Showcase Your “Real” Personality… but Not Necessarily All of It
“Authenticity” is a bit of a buzzword right now. Everyone wants an authentic brand with authentic messaging and an authentic personality. I do too! But let’s be real, humans are complicated. I’m not sure if I want a company to be completely authentic with me all the time.
Sometimes you may have to rein in the potty mouth that takes over when your inner Jersey girl is sick of everyone’s sorry-ass excuses. Or limit the number of well-placed mankinis you use in a show. Or let go of the fact that some clown biscuits are criticizing you online for having fake hair when, in fact, it’s 100% yours.
Not just me? Yeah, I feel you.
Listen, our multiple personalities are like the facets of a diamond. You have to get clear on which facet of your diamond to showcase for your business.
For you, that might mean going full mankini on your audience, but you could totally keep that onesie to yourself and still create an authentic brand. To decide how revealing you want your business to be:
- Get clear on your dream. How big do you want the business to grow, and what boundaries are you willing to accept? Do you want to make it to network primetime, or are you okay with late-night cable? Any facet of your personality is authentic, but some might limit the directions your business can grow.
- Get clear on your audience. Who do you want to reach — and who are you okay repelling? Which facets of your personality are in alignment with your ideal customer, and which turn them off?
Any part of yourself that you incorporate into your business is the real you. And that’s what makes your brand unique. Remember that not everything about you and your business will be the right fit for everyone. So when in doubt, showcase the parts that will help you connect with the people you most want to serve.
7. Be Open to Unconventional Design
No one is ever bored into buying. Our eyes and our hearts are drawn to new, interesting, artful, colorful, and joyful designs.
Great design makes us feel something. We might not know what it is, but some brands just speak to us and make our hearts say, “Yes please!”
Just like your copy, your design represents your voice and vision. It lets potential customers know what you’re all about — and whether you’re the right fit for them.
When you land on that logo, web page, or book cover that reveals the soul of your brand, you’ll feel a full-body YES. You’ll know the thrill customers will feel when they discover your business and know they’re in exactly the right place.
Don’t be afraid to be unconventional — just be you. Your design should reflect how you want to be perceived and how you want your message to live in the world.
Fair warning: You won’t get the design right the first time.
The look of a brand goes through iterations over time. Your needs and your message will change as your business and the world around it grow.
Be willing to go on that journey. Don’t get stuck in the design phase trying to get everything just right — it never will be.
5 Examples of Small Businesses With Outstanding Branding
My business brain rarely turns off, so I notice a lot of branding do’s and don’ts in the wild. Here are five examples of branding I’ve fallen in love with over the years from brands that just get it.
1. Poo-Pourri: Don’t Give a Crap About People Who Say You Stink
This may not be the first time you’ve heard me talk about how stinkin’ amazing this brand is. When a company focused on poo leaves you feeling courageous and joyful, it’s worth a second look.
Poo-Pourri made a big splash in the marketplace when its “Girls Don’t Poop” ad for its toilet spray went viral in 2013. The company brilliantly set its sights on a single customer, not giving a crap about everybody else, and smearing the delight and humor of its brand in every piece of its copy and creative.
2. Marine Layer: Be Refreshingly Real
I stumbled on this San Francisco–based clothing brand a few years ago, and I walked away filled with branding inspiration.
Marine Layer is refreshingly real. They’re not afraid to be quirky, awkward, and flawed out in the open, and it doesn’t detract from their professionalism or success. They poke fun at the challenges in their journey all over their website.
The company is also totally honest and transparent about its products. It’s proud that most are made in California, but it’s also upfront that it works with overseas companies for some styles, vetting those companies for ethics and sustainability.
3. Help Scout: Know Thy Customer
I’ve never been happier to be on any website in my life than when I landed on Help Scout around midnight a few years ago in my search for a customer service platform. They know their customer so well, I thought they were tapping my phone.
From the second I landed on their homepage, I knew what this company does and who they are. Their copy reached through the screen and touched me right in my pain point. Even their CTA was clear and perfectly directed at me, their ideal customer.
Help Scout is boldly not for everyone‚ so much that they recommended a competitor right on their homepage. This is a perfect example that there’s always room for you — as long as you know what makes you unique.
You don’t have to be the first in the market or even the biggest.
You just have to know the customer out there who is crying and tearing their hair out, waiting for your company to come and save them from all the sameys that don’t understand their problems.
4. Muzzle: Show, Don’t Tell
Within two seconds of hitting Muzzle’s website, you know exactly what problem this brand solves — even though its home page has just one sentence of sales copy.
The free Mac app lets you silence embarrassing notifications when you’re screen sharing. It doesn’t need sales copy to tell you why you need it, because it does a brilliant job of showing.
Notifications pop up on the screen with the kinds of messages you’d be mortified to get in the middle of a work presentation:
- Facebook: “Jen added 32 photos of you to ‘BDSM’…”
- Norisete: “Ugh, we are NEVER doing blow again.”
- Calendar reminder: “STD Test tomorrow”
Seriously, I spent at least 10 minutes just watching these gems pop up. And then I told everyone I know, “You have to see this website!”
5. Artifact Uprising: Drive Desire
Artifact Uprising sells high-quality physical prints from your digital photos. What’s brilliant about their branding is that they know that’s not what they’re really selling.
This company is really selling a feeling of connection.
The images and copy all over its website show how meaningful it will be to get photos off your device and into your life. When you can connect with that kind of desire in your customer, you don’t need to waste time talking about photo specs and paper weight.
Let Your Business Brand Shine
Ultimately, how you brand your business comes down to three simple factors:
- What you do.
- Who you want to reach.
- What you envision for the company.
Simple. Set aside your beliefs about what a business should be, and embrace who you are and what you alone can offer the world. Your brand lies in that beautiful space.
Bringing your awesome dreams to life in the world in a way you’re proud of will take time, work, and patience. Your brand is bound to change over time as your business grows — and that’s okay.
You’ll know when your branding feels right. It’ll make your soul swell and renew your excitement to do the work — and your customers will feel that excitement, too.
Now, let’s turn this insight into action.
Take 5 to 10 minutes polishing a piece of copy you’ve written for your business so it aligns with your brand. Look at a sales page, an email, a tweet, anything. How can you inject a bit of your story and personality into it to make it something no one else could write?
No holding back. No playing small. Put your faith in yourself into action. You’ve got this.