The economy is booming – but not for everyone. That’s because we now have what is known as a winner-take-all economy, where few top performers take most of the wealth home with them.
The best examples can be found in the sports and music industries.
There are tons of talented artists out there. I think almost all of us know someone who plays guitar or sings beautifully. Yet few of them reach a Justin Beiber level of breakout success. The rest have day jobs (or starve).
This is because music is cheap and easy to reproduce (even before the internet). And an artist from Canada doesn’t have to travel around the world to get their music noticed. A vinyl record, a CD, and now a digital file can do it for you. As a result, competition for the coveted record deal with a major label is fierce. Since the Internet, the same phenomenon has happened to many other companies in other industries. And COVID has amplified that.
For example, tax preparation has largely been replaced by software. Legal Zoom has changed the legal services industry forever. Even doctors, teachers and therapists are now competing globally as COVID has forced even the most human-centered professions online.
I found out about the winner-take-all economy the hard way in Paris.
At the beginning of my career I was a fashion photographer and managed to get an interview with the coveted Vogue Paris. Other photographers slept in the lobby to get in. The interview went very well, but iconic editor Joan Juliet Buck said no one would remember my name (my legal name is nowhere near as memorable as “Gaz”). She asked me to give her a name that she would remember. The words “Gaz de France” (the name of a natural gas company) were popping up all over Paris, so I named it David Gaz. With that, my career – and my lifelong obsession with branding – was born.
Back to the winner-take-all economy.
Now you need to get noticed more than ever. Musicians do this by creating a unique sound. You can do this by creating a unique value proposition.
In plain language: Emphasize what you do differently and better than your competition.
I had an enlightenment a few years ago that changed my career and I am embarrassed that it took me so long to understand that. I was in a power meeting high up in the pointed section of the Trans American building in San Francisco. The view was spectacular, and I had been invited along with a few influential branding “experts” to discuss the rebranding of a soon-to-be-known startup.
Before the meeting, each of us was asked to share our onboarding documents. This is nothing new, but I have also been able to get copies of documents from other agencies, often a humbling experience at these levels. I was horrified. All of our documents were almost identical. This is not a good thing when you are trying to stand out. But worse, it was then that I realized we were all asking the wrong questions.
The questions were things like: What brands do you admire? Which colors do you like? Which websites do you look at? Plus a few stupid ones, like if your company were an animal, what would it be? Silicon Valley made a whole episode about it.
The questions we should have asked ourselves are: Which brands do your customers admire? What colors do your customers like? Which websites do your customers visit?
It is equally important to understand that what matters is not who your competitors are, but what your customers think your competitors are. A competitor is not a company that is doing the same thing as you – a competitor is someone who is taking your business away from you.
Once you know who your competitors really are, you need to figure out what they are doing well and what they are doing badly. You need to know what they are doing well because you need to be at least as good as they are, and you need to know what they are doing badly because that is an opportunity.
Now you can begin the arduous task of describing what you are doing differently and better than the people you have just learned about. And you don’t have to be completely different – just 2% different is enough.
Then narrow it down to a sentence or two. From then on, branding is easy. It’s just about shouting it out to the world. Fortunately, never in the history of the world have we had more opportunities to do this.
You can start by adding your value proposition to your LinkedIn bio. Use Sales Navigator to reach out to the people you want to do business with and just say “hello”. (Pro Tip: Don’t send offers. You don’t want your message caught up in the spam that sometimes circulates on LinkedIn.)
Your bio will do the selling for you and people looking for your special sauce will come to you.