How can I differentiate my business?
Ask a lot of HOW questions
A lot is written about WHY you do what you do, WHO is your target audience and WHAT you offer. And these are all important, but the HOW questions are too often placed in the back seat. Maybe not so much for us creative types — after all, we have HOW Magazine — but it has been my experience that business owners struggle with this word and with this question. I believe there’s a good reason for it.
HOW is the creative person’s word?
How are you unique? How can you stand out? How can you make the customer experience more memorable? How can you innovate your services or products? “How” questions help us avoid being average and boring — in other words, they keep us from being forgettable. (More on how to stand out in a crowded business world.).
If you look out there at the sea of creative work, you’ll have visual proof of my point. Most design work is just OK. Most advertisements go unnoticed or are ignored. And I guess as creatives, we must take responsibility for it. After all, that’s our job and we shouldn’t really use the pressures of deadlines, budgets and easy fixes as excuses for not developing unique designs.
However, you—the customer—are also at fault. You go about looking to invest in marketing or advertising, betting that the newest technology or social media channels—or what you have to offer—is all you need to gain your audience’s attention. You do not realize that from the get-go, you need creativity to get customers to notice your products or services and that only through creativity can you make your product and customer experiences better, too.
Yet, in fairness, the ultimate guilty party and the catalyst of the whole debacle is our culture. We’re being programmed by free and low-cost design templates, cheap logos, cheap photos, and my ultimate favorite, prefabricated, ready-to-go blogs. All of it pushing cheap, quick, generic, one-size-fits-all stuff out there for us to see but does little in making us pay attention. Then you add to the mix the technology-savvy business owners who know how to use a few graphics tools, which results in the proliferation of mass-produced, forgettable design work. It’s served to us day in and day out. So, what are consumers to do? Ignore it? What are creatives to do? Ask more “How” questions.
Why ask HOW?
Every business promise, campaign idea, brochure, website or offer can be made better and more memorable by asking the right questions, and many of my personal favorites start with ”How?” How can I better convey my customer’s value proposition? How can I amplify its uniqueness? How can I make this website more engaging? How can color help me tell the story I want to convey to my customer? Creatives love “how” questions because they force us and our customers to create and imagine something new.
And “how” questions are not only great for designers and advertisers. They are also great for those who genuinely wish to improve customer experience or innovate an industry. For example, Uber transformed the way we moved around urban locales, Tesla re-imagined a whole industry, and Amazon changed how we shop for just about everything. You can bet these companies asked a lot of “how” questions, and yes, of course, they asked many other questions that started with why, who, or what, but “how” still remains the question that forces imagination. Want to know why? Because “why” questions bring about context, “who” and “what” questions garner specifics, but “how” questions leave space for coming up with non-specific answers with something new that hasn’t been created. As stated before, “how” questions leave space for imagining the unknown, for dreaming, for creativity.
Asking “How?” will help you differentiate yourself; it will help you create a unique design, a clever campaign, an innovative use of a marketing channel, a better brand experience or revolutionize an entire industry.
So, ask yourself whether your brand is unique enough to be remembered? If you aren’t sure, start asking “how” questions and allow yourself to find the unknowns.