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How to build a brand you love by looking outside your industry

Everybody loves a classic combo.

Macaroni + cheese.

Ripped jeans + a white tee.

Harry + Ron.

Fast food drive-thrus and…ATMs?

Okay, I know that last one’s kind of confusing. But it’s a totally classic combo!

The ATM actually inspired the first drive-thru.

A restaurant exec was out and about one day and couldn’t help admiring how convenient those little automated money machines were.

“How nice,” he thought, “to be able to pick up cash without even getting out of your car!”

(Kind of like how I feel whenever GrubHub delivers ramen from my favorite place on the other side of town.)

That restaurant exec let the inspiration linger and explored how to bring that sense of convenience to his industry. And eventually, the drive-thru was born.

Pretty amazing, right? By looking outside his foodie bubble, the food industry was revolutionized. All thanks to a little creative thinking.

I first heard that story on the Young Entrepreneur Lifestyle podcast, in an episode about positioning yourself as an expert in your field.

Now, if you know me, you know how I feel about the word “expert.” It’s similar to the way I feel about the words “factory farming”, “consumerism”, and “lip injections”. Just…yick.

But despite my resistance to the term, I wanted to learn more about smart positioning. So away I listened…

They explained how most people tend to look to the successful people inside their industries for inspiration. Which makes sense; if it worked for him/her, maybe it will work for me. Right?

But it’s a mistake for two reasons:

1. Even if you successfully incorporate everything you admire about your competitor, you’ll become, at best, a glorified copy. And since a copy never hits quite as hard as the orig, it’s not going to bring you the results you’re looking for.

I mean, sure, you could be the Vanilla Ice of your industry.
But wouldn’t you rather be Queen or Bowie? (See video below…)

2. Copying just feels gross. Who wants to hide in someone else’s brand shadow? I’m all for smart UV protection and all (…she says while slathering on Kiss My Face SPF 55 and sitting under an umbrella) but not when it comes to your branding.

Instead of looking inside your industry, keep your originality and differentiate yourself by pulling inspiration from outside your industry.
 

3 steps to bring outside inspiration into your biz

 
Here’s a simple-but-brilliant exercise from the podcast to help you pull inspiration from other industries:

1. List three companies you think are headed in the right direction.

They can be large like Tesla or tiny like the Argentinian wine bar down the street. The only qualifier is that they are outside your industry.

For me, three companies I love are Whole Foods, The Little Market, and Anthropologie.

(Fun fact: the Anthro founder and I went to the same college. #lehighwutwut?!)

(Un-fun fact: So did Robert Durst, the dumbdumb who admitted to murder while still mic’d up after shooting his HBO docu-series.)

2. Write down each company’s major strengths.

Ask yourself…

What makes this company successful, in an objective, dollars-and-cents sense?

How do they interact with their customers?

What is the company’s brand personality like?

What do YOU (as a consumer) personally love about the company? What makes them stand out in your mind?

To keep going with my example, here are a few strengths of Whole Foods…

Ease — Not gonna lie, I use some funky ingredients in my cooking at home. Whole Foods is my one-stop shop and always, always has what I’m looking for. Plus, I know they’re persnickety about their quality so I don’t need to triple-check every label for sketchy ingredients.

Warm + fuzzy feels — I leave the store feeling excited about eating well and cooking with all my amazing, fresh ingredients. It’s like my love of cooking downs a shot of espresso every time I shop at Whole Foods…and I like that feeling.

Values — From guaranteeing ethical meat production to partnering with local growers, Whole Foods’ values align with mine. Do I sometimes cringe a little when I look at the cash register? Guilty. But I’m also happy to support a business whose values align so strongly with mine.

3. Brainstorm how you can incorporate similar strengths into your own business.

This exercise won’t do you much good without taking action so you can start small and just pick one strength, if you like. Take one of the attributes from step 2 and brainstorm how you can bring it into your biz.

One strength I’m really working on incorporating into my business is providing more ease for my clients. I recently welcomed a client support specialist to my team (though I insist on calling her my “client delight wizardess”) to add another layer of ease into the process.

She takes the big picture view to manage all the moving pieces inside a client project — from payments to deadlines to scheduling calls. She makes sure everything stays on track with the project calendar and makes the process as stress-free as possible.

Besides that, some additional ways I plan on bringing more ease into client projects are:

– incorporate Dubsado to house all elements of a client’s project (tapping into the one-stop shop idea)
– end each client call explaining what’s happening next, to keep communication crystal clear
– send quick end-of-week summary emails to each client to remind them of where we are

…And all that goodness is from ONE Whole Foods-esque quality!

Working through this exercise has given me tons of insight into how I can grow my brand to be even more of what I want it to be.

So the next time your brand is feeling meh, work through the three steps and look outside your industry for inspiration. It allows you to bring the best of ALL worlds into your business…without feeling like a Vanilla Ice copycat.

join the convo

What’s one business that you absolutely LOVE?

What do you admire about them? What do they do better than anyone else on the planet?

And what is ONE thing you can pull from their strengths and incorporate into your business?

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© Whitney Ryan LLC

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