The game of wasting money

Why we can’t follow the leader

Making choices is hard.

People agonize over their order at a restaurant, even though they won’t remember what they ate a week later.

They delay and delay on making major life decisions until the best moments have passed.

And they avoid making the necessary changes in their business because they don’t know exactly what to do—even if the current course isn’t working.

Instead of making our own decisions, we copy the choices others have already made.

We’ll order what they’re having.

We’ll spend fortunes redecorating our home to match the average of what we see on Instagram.

And marketers will spend countless hours and unlimited energy copying the current style of their industry.

But just like redecorating your house to match the prevailing trend on Instagram isn’t the same as having taste, matching your marketing to fit your industry isn’t the same as strategy.

In fact, copying the prevailing trend isn’t a sense of style—it’s a symptom of its absence.

The ability to make choices—real decisions about things that really matter—is what separates experts from amateurs, taste-makers from taste-chasers.

The problem is that, as humans, we fear making the wrong decision, because following the leader kept our ancestors alive. So, in business, we end up imagining that doing what everyone else is doing is somehow the right decision, even when that’s impossible.

While the fear of making the wrong decision might keep us physically safe from harm, it will prevent us from taking the necessary risks to succeed.

Your job isn’t to tell people your industry exists, it’s to let your best customers know that you’re the best option for them, given the multitude of choices they could make.

And your job isn’t to blend in or to look the way people expect a business in your industry to look. That’s the definition of business camouflage, the last thing you need.

Marketing that blends in becomes one big ad for your industry as a whole. And that only benefits the leader—the business in your industry most people automatically think of—and unless that’s you, it’s actively unhelpful.

In fact, there’s no material difference between copying your competitors’ marketing style and merely advertising for them.

That also means we don’t benefit when our ads or social media posts are just promotions for the concept of what we do, like a law firm advertising the need for a good lawyer. All that does is reinforce that I should get a lawyer when I need one, and I’ll contact the first one I think of when that happens.

And if your marketing doesn’t explain why that should be you, it won’t be.

So if you’re a law firm, don’t waste your time talking up the benefits of having a lawyer. Tell me why you’re the best firm for me.

If you’re a realtor, don’t waste your energy convincing people to buy a home. Tell me why you’re the right fit for my personality.

If you’re a designer, don’t waste a cent advertising the importance of design. Tell me why you’re able to make my look business look its best, because of your unique abilities and interests.

If you’re a tourism operator, don’t try to convince people to take a vacation. Explain to me how your business is able to make my vacation everything I’d hoped it could be.

And whatever your business, don’t just try to do the best version of the prevailing trend or style.

That’s not marketing, that’s making a game out of wasting resources.

But just like you can’t decorate your home your way unless you know what you like, you can’t market your business uniquely until you know what sets it—and you—apart.

Why are you better than your competition, for a specific customer set?

What do you do that’s different from your industry as a whole?

And how are you uniquely able to help your best customers make progress in their lives?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves, not “What is everyone else doing?”

Knowing ourselves—what we like, what we’re best at, what we value above everything else—is what makes us different.

And when we’re different, we offer something nobody else does. Which means, for a certain customer set, no other business will do. And isn’t that what we want?

So don’t fear making a choice. Beware the consequences of refusing to.

Find out what makes you special.

And focus your marketing there.

Let your competitors spend their time and energy blending into each other.

While you spend your time attracting your best customers.

The ones who couldn’t imagine working with anyone else.