Are there any unique consultants out there, or is everyone doing the same thing with a slightly different marketing twist?
Twitter is not a significant marketing channel for me, and my audience and engagement there are relatively low. But a consultant, seeing my post on the 3 common traits of every great consulting offering, posed the following question:
That's a very intriguing question that most probably don't have a definite answer. I did my best to deconstruct uniqueness and identify some of its main components - sometimes we can find useful insights in such explorations.
We can start, as always, in the Cambridge dictionary:
- Uniqueness: the quality of being unique.
- Unique: being the only existing one of its type or, more generally, unusual, or special in some way.
Most of you would agree that when something is unique, there's only one of it. But I was surprised to see the inclusion of "unusual" or "special" as broadly accepted synonyms. Looking at those, we get:
- Unusual: different from others of the same type in a way that is surprising, interesting, or attractive.
- Special: not ordinary; especially great or important, or having a quality that most similar things or people do not have.
Our first conclusion is clear. There are two ways to define what's unique, one strict and one broadly accepted. And they are very different from each other:
- When we adopt the strict one, we can only say something is unique if there's one existing thing of its kind. We can call this "pure uniqueness".
- When we adopt the broader one, something is unique if it's somehow different from similar things of its kind. If you come back to the definitions, you will notice "special" has a much more positive connotation than "unusual". Let's leave any value judgment out, and call this "relative uniqueness".
Now that we have identified those two categories we can evaluate if and how you, your consulting business, and your offerings are unique.
Being a "unique thing of its kind" can sound almost utopian, as if something that rare is implied to be locked inside a safe. Some purely unique objects are, but we can find many examples around us in our daily life:
- Your genetic code: Each person's genetic code is purely unique, except for identical twins. You inherit two copies of each chromosome - one from your father and one from your mother. The DNA sequence on each of your chromosomes is unique due to the recombination of those. The human sequence consists of nearly 3 billion DNA base pairs, making it virtually impossible to find two living people with the same code.
- Almost every game of chess: After each player has moved a piece 5 times each there are exactly 69,352,859,712,417 possible games that could have been played. No one knows for sure the exact number of ways a chess game can unfold - the number is so huge (G.H. Hardy estimation was 10^10^50) no one will invest the effort to calculate it.
- Sunsets: The thickness of the atmosphere, and consequently the air and particulate matter (pollution and dust) in the atmosphere between you and the sun can influence the colors that you end up seeing. The sky is much more colorful if there are clouds overhead but none in front of the sun. The sun's position in the sky from summer to winter can cause more or less air between the sun and you. Even temperature and humidity play a large role and can cause further distortion of the light that's coming from the sun.
It's easy to notice that all of these examples rely on big numbers. There are so many possible DNA sequences, chess games, and sunsets that the chance of us finding two exact ones is virtually zero.
This makes sense because for us to label something as purely unique we would need to confirm that there's nothing else like it in the universe - which is not possible.
With that said, these are purely unique elements that every consultant possesses:
- Your life experience. Your life experience is composed of an insanely huge number of activities and moments, which occurred in different times and places. With different people, under different circumstances. That's as purely unique as you can get, and your professional experience is part of it.
- Your personality. Your personality is determined partially by your genetic code and partially by your life experiences, which are both purely unique. Your personality is, by consequence, purely unique.
- Your relationships. A relationship is how two or more people or things are connected. People with different personalities and life experiences will likely end up connecting with different people, in different ways. Fair to say your relationships are purely unique.
- Your decisions. People with different personalities and life experiences are likely to take different decisions. Even if someone tries to, it's impossible to mimic all you do. There are a huge number of decisions you make every single day - consciously or not.
Do you see where this is going? If your relationships are purely unique, so will be your consulting business. If your decisions are purely unique, so will be your work and the results you deliver to clients (as long as you're somehow involved in it).
Everything that exists due to your presence or existence is purely unique since it's virtually impossible to find a copy of you in the universe.
Some will say that based on that everything is purely unique, but that's not true in practice. Let's look at relative uniqueness.
In a broad sense, when we label something as unique we're really saying that it's somehow different from similar things of its kind.
Maybe it's surprising because the thing is not what we're used to encountering. Or it's interesting, because is new for us and makes us want to learn more about it. We can also say something is unique because it's somehow attractive and pleasing.
Here are some examples of relatively unique things:
- Very tall people: The male median height is 178 cm, and the female median height is 164 cm. Height is normally distributed, so if you're a man with more than 193 cm or a woman with more than 178 cm you are part of the 5% tallest people in the world. While it is not purely unique, people most likely will remember your height as one of your unique traits.
- Protected areas such as the Yellowstone National Park: The mountains, humidity, and rich ecosystem make it a unique area in the United States. It sits on top of a volcanic hotspot, which explains the big geothermal activity there compared to the rest of the continental country. In places like Hawaii, however, this type of ecosystem is the rule and can be seen as ordinary.
- Brazilian steakhouses in Europe: In Brazil, you can find dozens of thousand of steakhouses (or "churrascarias") where people eat a variety of meat in a very specific setting. While enjoyable, it's not seen as a unique experience. But if you change geography and move to Europe, going to a Brazilian restaurant is seen as an exciting, exclusive, and unique activity.
Those examples show how the uniqueness of certain things is very much context-dependent. Physical characteristics of a person or an object's design are compared to our standards of what's common. Products are compared to others in a similar category.
The relative uniqueness of something is strongly linked to a person or group's mental image and expectations around that thing.
With that said, these are purely unique elements that every consultant possesses:
- Your specialization and positioning. The position you occupy on your prospect's mind is always a product of comparison. The narrower your specialization is, the more unique you will be perceived by others. Do what everyone else is doing, and you will be seen as an ordinary/generic consultant.
- Your ideas. All ideas are essentially a combination of other smaller ideas, so you could argue they're purely unique. In practice, however, your ideas are not seen as unique if they are very close to what every other consultant in your industry or with your specialization is saying. Consultants can end up with "ordinary ideas" when they choose to go through the same courses and workshops, copy influencers, or draw from the same inspirational sources.
- Your info-products. Info-products like books, self-paced online courses, and industry reports allow you to monetize your expertise without selling your time. When you create a product, however, it can be easily copied or repackage into other products by competing firms.
Defending Your Uniqueness
When your positioning, ideas, and products can be copied by competitors and new entrants, is it even possible to protect your relative uniqueness? The answer is yes, and the solution is fairly simple after our analysis.
You preserve your uniqueness by transforming relative uniqueness into pure uniqueness, and you do that by embedding yourself (personal brand) into everything you create.
Here are some of the ways you can do that for the previous examples:
- Your specialization and positioning. Your relationships are purely unique, why not leverage them? Trusting and long-standing relationships with people in a specific audience or market vertical are the best defense you have against other consultants with the same specialization choice.
- Your ideas. Your interests and life experience are purely unique. When you come up with ideas, add images and analogies based on stories you personally went through. Follow your curiosity to draw gems from different sources of knowledge - read history, biology, fiction, or whatever else you enjoy.
- Your info-products. Your personality is purely unique, so add it to your products as much as you can. If you run a podcast, people can't copy how you speak. If you're preparing a course, film yourself or add some 1:1 coaching to it. This will make your products impossible to be perfectly plagiarized.