When you are writing for business, there is this terrible temptation to “be professional.” Unfortunately, being professional is often the equivalent of being really, terribly, horribly dull. Think about suits. Suits are not interesting. To tell an expensive one from a cheap one, you have to look at subtle details. You don’t want your business blog to be like a suit because readers are not going to look for the subtle details.
Several years ago, when Smiling Tree Writing was just beginning, a new client told me to look at her biggest competitor’s web site to get ideas for her blog. Then she suggested I could save time and she could save money if I just “copied everything they did.” Aside from the obvious copyright issues, I tried to explain why that approach wouldn’t work. She insisted that her company did the same thing as this other, bigger company and since they clearly had a marketing department, the best thing to do would be to copy them. In her mind, it was like getting a marketing department for free.
Although this client was not sophisticated in stating what she wanted to do, she was also not unusual. If you choose any industry, in any particular location, then look at the web sites, blogs, and other marketing materials of several, you are going to see commonalities. I am not acquainted in any way with these three businesses, but take a look at how this establishment, and this one, and this one are visually similar. At one time, pretty much every photographer in Chattanooga had music and a flash intros on the landing pages of their web sites. Real estate agents tend to have lists of tag words longer than their posts on their blogs.
It makes perfect sense to look at what someone you admire is doing and emulate it. But, it makes more sense to evaluate what the others are doing, then do something a little different.
Stand out from the crowd. Distinguish yourself. Show your personality.
Standing out can be tricky, though. If everyone else is wearing a navy blue suit and yours is gray, you might stand out. If your suit is purple, you will definitely stand out, but it might not be a good thing. So, there is a balance to be struck. Most people try to stand out in some small way, and it turns into the equivalent of wearing a novelty tie when everyone else is wearing a solid color tie, and that might be enough, depending on your industry and audience. When I was researching photographers a few years ago, if I found one that did not have music that automatically played when I landed on their site, it was enough to make make me look at them closer.
All of this goes back to your uniqueness – your USP, or unique selling proposition. What is special about you? What makes your widget better than the widgets for sale down the street? Why should I choose your business out of a list of forty results on the first couple pages of Google results? You don’t want to copy the marketing department at Competitor XYZ because they are not you, and being you is one of the biggest advantages you have in the marketplace (even when it doesn’t feel that way).
Have you observed any industries where all of the copy reads the same, or all of the web sites look the same? Do you purposely toe the line that exists in your industry in order to be professional? When you are shopping for a good or a service, are you more likely to look for the business that is different, or do you find comfort in working with someone who seems to know what the standard for his industry is?
*NOTE: Just in case you are wondering, the first interview with an independent writer will be posted on Thursday. YAY!