When you think of giant sequoias, you may be at first impressed by their grandeur. Sequoias can stand hundreds of feet tall, with trunks up to 25 feet thick. They can live for 2,000 years.
Sequoias are a big deal in this country. National park rangers wear the image of a sequoia tree on their hatbands and belt buckles. Smokey Bear frequently appeared with sequoias to tell us that only we could prevent forest fires. But, until recently, we didn’t know something important that makes this American icon really different from other trees.
Sequoias thrive on fire.
Fire actually helps sequoias reproduce and grow taller because it eliminates competing firs and cedars and exposes minerals in the soil that allow tiny sequoia seeds to take root.
For more than a century and until very recently, we’d been protecting sequoias from fire, thinking that they were like other trees. It took an uncontrolled wildfire to put scientists on the right path.
Why am I going on and on about giant sequoias and fire?
Because seeing burned sequoias recently at Yosemite got me to thinking.
One, new discoveries can unseat the wisdom of the ages. Of the thousands of species of trees on this planet, the sequoia turns out to be different.
Two, there’s a marketing message here.
No, I’m not telling you to burn the competition! For pity’s sake.
I’m saying that the mighty sequoia can teach us something about differentiating ourselves in the marketplace. If you’re unique, unlike other trees if you will, you’ll virtually eliminate the competition that competes for the same dollars and attention that you do.
Thirty years ago, L.L. Bean made itself a sequoia by offering no-questions-asked returns.
Costco became a sequoia by virtue of word-of-mouth marketing. Costco has never run an ad of any kind.
Harley Davidson capitalized, quite literally, on its family of customers – bringing them together through rallies, festivals, and promotions to celebrate bikers’ freedom of spirit. As a result, HD has a spectacularly loyal customer base and is a huge sequoia.
Zappos positioned itself as the best online customer experience, finding and keeping a hip customer base using YouTube and other social media. You have a full year to return Zappos’ shoes, among other fabulous benefits.
So, whether you’re a seamstress or a sales coach, if you’re competing for scarce nutrients in this economic climate, make yourself the ONLY ONE who offers a specific something. You can do this in one of two ways: specialize or offer a unique constellation of talents.
One company I know specializes in CD and DVD replication, a process that creates an exact clone of the original, not just a duplication, improving quality and accuracy among other benefits – the only such company in my region to do so (it doesn’t hurt that they also throw in free pick-up and delivery). A local finance director specializes in setting up and running nonprofits. My favorite CEO launches and revitalizes companies involved in alternative energy and agriculture. These are busy people because the right clients can find them, thanks in part to proper branding and search engine optimization.
Instead of a specialty, you can also offer a unique constellation of talents. Be the “green” landscaper. Be the “networked” lawn service, distributing to your clients a list of other trusted, local household resources. Be the “added value” video crew that burns a time-coded DVD of the footage right on set. Be the sales director who knows how to leverage e-learning to train her team. Things no one else in your competitive region is doing.
I admit that for years I believed my value was in my flexibility as a jack-of-all-trades writer, producer, and director, and perhaps this flexibility did keep me alive during dry times. But I found that that kind of thinking also kept sales in general on a flat, not a rising, line. I simply moved between skill areas, for comparable pay.
I was, simply, a tree among trees. I had to clear away the competition, which meant becoming more specific, more different if you will, about what I did for a living. I want as many economic nutrients as I can get!
When I began to market my unique constellation of talents – including knowledge about science, health, medicine, museums, e-learning, and storytelling, among others – the right clients began to find me and I could use many of my skills simultaneously. Ultimately, I’ve leveraged a better product for my customers. I sell myself as the top new media writer and producer in several specific fields within my competitive region. Next, I might consider handing out hatbands and belt buckles embossed with my logo.