“What makes you unique?” is a question that can cause most people to freeze in their tracks and spiral into some kind of identity crisis: Who am I? What’s it all for? What’s the meaning of life?
First, I want you to know…
You’re not alone if you struggle to answer this question. While we’re all special and unique unicorn creatures, it’s very hard to boil down everything we are and stand for — nevertheless the things that make us different from everyone else — into a simple catchphrase or value proposition.
“What makes you unique?” is a common interview question but it’s also something you need to get to the bottom of when branding your business online as well.
Part of the problem is that we think we’re being asked how we’re unique in all the world and that’s tough because there are a lotta people out there.
So the first rule in answering this question is to think about it like this…
Your customers aren’t comparing you to every possible option and competitor out there, more likely just a handful. So you really only need to be unique in your tiny corner of the world.
1. Reframe “What Makes You Unique?” and instead, think about the reasons you would hire yourself
I love asking my clients the reasons they would hire themselves because it gets them to brand clarity quickly.
You probably already know an awful lot about your main competitors. You know they have a support staff, they have lots of experience, they have a distinctive brand voice that’s captivating and cool…. whatever.
You’d still hire yourself, right? (Of course, you would.)
You would trust yourself to do the work because _____________.
The words you used to [fill in the blank] are the reasons why other people will choose to work with you too. This is your client experience and you need to tell potential clients what that is.
You may not be for everybody, but for people who are looking for that type of experience — they’ll choose you.
This is what we mean when we ask, “What makes you unique?” so no need to overthink it.
2. What life experiences have you had that bring depth to your work?
We all have life experiences that have nothing to do with the services we offer, and yet, those experiences give us wisdom, perspective, and strength that set us apart from our competitors.
Other people have different life experiences and their strengths are theirs, there’s no reason to “compete” on their playing field. Create your own playing field and invite your clients there.
Maybe you were a member of the peace corps or played the tuba in a marching band, spent a semester abroad or busted your butt to get your G.E.D. You might have a bubbly, outgoing personality or maybe you’re introverted and contemplative and prefer writing to speaking on camera.
Our personal stories give us power, but what happens is we tend to compare ourselves and think we need to be like everyone else. (Some of this is the tendency for “social compliance” — it’s instinctive.)
Whatever your experience is, don’t be afraid to explore the ways it creates benefits for your clients and then lean into those things.
3. Take the focus off of how you think of yourself, and find out what qualities other people appreciate about you
Internal exploration is tough. We’re hard on ourselves and sometimes we even have a warped perspective. My role as a brand strategist for entrepreneurs mostly comes down to getting to the heart of the “special sauce” my clients have and then pointing it out to them. (It’s great work if you can get it!)
I don’t have to invent some random positioning strategy, I just have to be observant. It’s amazing (and lovely) to watch someone realize — sometimes for the first time — what others see in them.
One exercise I like to assign is to go through past testimonials, reviews, client emails and conversations and look for the language your clients use to describe their experience.
This is is how others feel about you, and you should steal their words and turns of phrase to tell other people what to expect about working with you. (This, ultimately, is your brand.)
4. Brainstorm your professional wins
Think about all the times you felt on top of the world as it relates to your work. Challenges you’ve overcome, goals you’ve achieved, the recognition you’ve earned.
It’s easy to forget about all those things in the day-to-day running of a business — we tend to be more focused on what needs improvement and fixing.
Take a moment to write out everything you’ve ever been proud of in your work and keep going until you can’t squeak out even one more thing. Then, take a look at that list and give yourself a moment to feel the feelings that come with those wins.
Which ones are relevant to your clients? What stories can you tell that will help them achieve their own wins? What are your opportunities to pull back the curtains and get vulnerable so you can help others who might be struggling with the same things?
You’ve got a brand story that’s unique to you, be brave and tell it.
5. Get to know your brand personality — there’s only one like it!
Focusing on your personality traits is a great way to find your “special sauciness” because there’s only one person in the world with those qualities.
Brainstorm a list of all of your personality traits and then use this Brand Personality Exercise to find out which category you’re dominant in. It may seem counterintuitive to “categorize” yourself when the point is to figure out what makes you unique, but remember — you’re not required to be something that’s never existed before in all of history.
The point is to give your dream clients information that will help them decide that you’re the one for them (as it relates to all the other options they’re considering).
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.