When I was living in Peru studying Spanish for a summer, I learned a lesson on the power of differentiation that I'll never forget.
You’ve probably been to artisan markets like this one before…stall after stall of the same products, for the same prices, probably even sourced from the same manufacturer (and maybe even from China). A sea of sameness. Since I can’t ever seem to take my “marketing glasses” off, I wondered why every one of the store owners thought they had to be just like the store next to them. How did they think they were going to attract anyone to their store over someone else\’s? What would make me, their potential customer, stop to buy from them versus the dozens of other stores doing exactly the same thing?
Just as I was contemplating the marketing tragedy going on, I noticed a huge crowd all the way at the end of the long row of stalls. That one stall was bursting at the seams! Curiosity piqued, I walked down to the store to see what was going on. Everyone was so happy, oohing and ahhing and waiting their turn to hold and take pictures with a live sloth. A sloth. Who doesn\’t want to hold a bony, wiry, bristly, ridiculously ugly-cute and slooooow-moving three-toed sloth? Everyone does. It\’s the chance of a lifetime. Winning the wildlife lottery.
He had discovered the secret to standing out and attracting the masses — the sloth factor. He had created something so different, so unique, so special that everyone in that market was either there in his store or talking about the “sloth store.” And which of all the stores in the market do you think had booming sales? The sloth store, of course. Endorphins levels were high, lifetime memories were created and shared (even though Instagram wasn’t yet a thing), and customers wanted to support a store owner that cared about giving them an extraordinary brand experience.
This sloth (and the store owner) taught me a simple and powerful lesson I’ll always remember on the impact of differentiation. This was Seth Godin’s Purple Cow (and every marketing and entrepreneurship lecture I’ve ever had) brought to life. As you’re thinking about starting or growing your business, organization or family, consider asking yourself what I’ve asked myself dozens of times since this experience:
Whether you have brand influence over your company, department, organization, church, family or even your personal brand (that pretty much includes all of us), what are you and I doing to differentiate ourselves? To stand out? To be unique and special? Because we all are. Defining and embracing your sloth factor will be key to your success.
I’d love hear what your “sloth factor” is and how you feel it’s impacted your success. Please comment and share your story.
PS. Not sure what kind of rock I’m living under but as soon as my social media feed informed me early this morning of the importance of today, October 20, as International Sloth Day (really…it’s true. And yes, it’s proof there really is a “day” for everything), I had to share the impact this wildly unique animal has had on my life and career. So I humbly add my tribute to a (hopefully) growing list of homages to the sloth — like this scene at the DMV from Zootopia (“Flash” is perhaps the best casting decision ever made).