Several things are special about this book. First is how I came to get it. For the five years that Chad Dickerson was CEO of Etsy I used Twitter to get in touch with him. It’s hard to make contact with a busy CEO, especially a CEO of a public company and especially when you’re just a blogger like me. But I write about Etsy frequently, and not always favorably, and I wanted him to read my posts. Although he never commented on them directly, he did acknowledge them and for that, I’ve always been so appreciative.
I’ve continued to follow Chad since he was ousted from Etsy and about a month ago I emailed him a link to a piece I’d written about Etsy’s change in direction. He emailed me back and recommended a book that he felt had shaped his approach to business. It was Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon. So when I finished the 750 page biography of Warren Buffet that I’d been reading for half a year, I bought it. I finished reading it last night.
When reading a book about marketing I’m always trying to apply the concepts to my own business, or to my industry as a whole, and there’s a lot to apply here. The thrust of this book is that in order to keep up with competitors businesses rush to add extra features, often the same features, and in the end we find ourselves within a sea of sameness.
Photo by my friend, Susan Yates, of a sign outside Selfie Coffee in Bangkok.
Herd-like behavior happens in part because we’re all listening to the same advice. If you’ve been paying attention to the online business space, for example, you’ve been told the following:
- Create an opt-in to grow your list.
- Offer a free webinar to market your ecourse.
- Start a Facebook group to build community.
Soon, everyone has all of these things and every site is the same. Moon explains that the more competitive a market is, the stronger the rush to sameness becomes. Think about sewing machine companies, for example. They all offer the same bells and whistles. Is there one brand that stands out for its willingness to stand out, to be alone in focusing on only one type? I thought maybe Juki because I associate Juki with being a bare bones, straight stitch machine with industrial speed and a wide harp, but then I saw that Juki offers all the other types, too.
Cotton + Steel came to mind for me, too. If you were involved in the online sewing community four years ago you likely watched the brand’s launch video.
“What if I helped a company like RJR build a brand new division, maybe do things a little differently,” founder Melody Miller says. “I described this epic brand I wanted to create…we’ve come in with a new aesthetic and are offering RJR something that they’ve not tried before.” Creating a collaborative brand in which five designers would work together with one color palette season after season was brand new and demanded that we all take notice.
Missouri Star seems to me to be another example. This is a local quilt shop made famous through its YouTube videos. At age 60 Jenny Doan must be one of the oldest YouTube content creators to have built such a wildly popular channel (she’s 52 in this early video that currently has over two million views). The business model focuses on selling precuts and the video tutorials show you how to use them. Missouri Star has become one of the largest and most successful companies in the industry with this unusual approach.
Moon makes clear that there’s risk involved in choosing to be different. “Idea brands are not perfect brands. Far from it,” she writes. “They are polarizing brands. They are lopsided brands. They are brands that are devoted to skew.” I thought of Merchant & Mills. This brand of patterns and notions is centered on timelessness. “I think timelessness is a very big thing,” says co-founder Roderick Field in their company video below, “so you can’t pin it down and say ‘oh that’s so 80’s or that’s so 90’s or so 60’s.’ It’s always good. We’re not doing anything revolutionary here. We’re doing what’s always been done…well and now.” This means they’re not for everyone, nor are they offering everything. Co-founder Carolyn Denham describes the brand as a lifestyle choice.
I found Youngme Moon’s philosophy in Different to be reassuring and motivating, both for my business and for me as a person. I have a strong internal sense of what I want to work on and what I don’t, and the business I’ve built is reflective of my varied interests. I realize that it often doesn’t follow today’s best practices for online business. For example, from time to time I choose to tackle industry issues that some find controversial and that’s not always been easy. After reading this book I feel reaffirmed in my own decisions to do some things differently.
“There is an opportunity here, there is an opportunity always, for brands to create value by offering a break from that which is profuse,” Moon says. “If there is one thing I feel pretty sure about, it is that there will always be a place for brands offering something that is hard to come by.”
Are there other sewing brands that stand out to you for doing things differently? How so?