How Do You Differentiate?

Are you just another commodity?

Are you just another commodity?

It’s the one question that every prospective customer is thinking – or, asking you outright.

If you’re making a presentation to a potential client, or introducing yourself to a potential new employer, the “buyer” wants to know – in a sea of others, why you?

In other words: How do you differentiate?

Do you stand out? Or are you JAC (Just Another Commodity)?

Since you don’t want to get in front of those who will pay you for services wearing a JAC name badge, let’s take a look at one key perspective that we each need to embrace if we’re to rise above the commodity noise in our marketplace(s).

You are NOT a commodity.

Our legacy educational and corporate environments tend to create a commodity mentality – conform to this set of expectations to succeed in school; and then park yourself into some slot provided by a company that can swap you in or out of its employ at will. In other words – here’s the mold. Make yourself fit. Employees, vendors, consultants – interchangeable parts.

Pardon the language, but…that’s bullish*t.

You have unique DNA, as an individual or as a company or brand. You have unique strengths and experiences. You have 7-10 things you can do, but one or two things that are truly your professional sweet spot. Typically, we have a narrow band where we can add outstanding value. The key is identifying it and owning it.

Clarity provides the basis for differentiation. We need to make ourselves clear on where we best fit.

The rebellion against commodity-working starts here: as time goes on, we’re not going to make ourselves fit someone else’s mold. We’re going to discover the contours of our fit, based on our DNA and purpose and strengths and goals. Then we’ll approach the marketplace with our fit, not vice-versa.

Because that is where we will do our best work, right? And don’t we want to know our value enough to “pitch a fit” with potential clients and employers instead of just trading hours for dollars?

I’m not against revenue by any stretch, but I don’t believe we’re in an either-or situation here – suck it up and do whatever you can to get dollars, vs. pursue what really fits you and be a broke idealist. No, I think we’ll maximize revenue when we’re working at 90% of our true capacity, in our sweet spot, rather than just trying to pay the bills and settling for square hole work when we possess round peg talent.

When I do discovery with clients on finding their differentiators and crafting their go-to-market message around their ideal fit, a huge weight is suddenly lifted off their shoulders about 2-3 hours into the consulting engagement when their DNA and best-fit opportunities come into focus. Part of that lifted burden is this little-recognized but very heavy weight we all tend to carry – commoditization.

Liberation from JAC Syndrome can be just the trigger for a business or career re-boot.

What makes you different? Let’s work on that together, shall we? One more day of living in the swamps of commodity business is one day too many!


  1. Great thoughts Steve. I like the site (saw it from a tweet from Chris Brogan).

    I whole heartedly agree with you on being unique and having a specific 1-2 things where we’re very good. It’s hard to nail down those couple of things often though because we get caught up in the everyday grind and try to spread our focus around to the 8-9 things we’re decent at.

    Looking forward to reading more from you on this. Thanks for sharing your insight!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jared! KEEPING focus is a continual challenge for just about every business I’ve run into. We all get distracted – I also need people to smack me around a bit when I try to do too many things…


  1. […] how you differentiate. Find your fit in the marketplace. And remember: not all business is good […]

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