Five years ago, I took a sales training course from Blair Enns (Win Without Pitching.) The course focused on how to sell agency services at a premium. One of his criteria for an agency that could command higher pricing was their process. He said, “Your agency must have a process that is so different that it requires weeks of training whenever you onboard a new employee.”

I thought it was an odd characteristic.

Positioning and marketing are all about perception: how the world sees you. It makes sense that you need to differentiate from similar businesses in the market’s eyes. But underneath the hood, a UX designer is a UX designer the same as a grocery clerk is a grocery clerk. If you go into Whole Foods or Trader Joes, there’s a line of people who get their food swiped through a bar code scanner at check-out. The people and process are the same.

In hindsight, what Enns was recommending, in a round-about way, was for the agency to have a distinct strategy.

Strategy concerns not just looking different, but being different. Strategic businesses do things differently to create distinct value. That their position and marketing is differentiated is a natural manifestation of their choices.

When you think more deeply about it, Whole Foods and Trader Joes do not have the same process. They likely require some level of training for even their clerks manning the cash register. As some examples, In Trader Joes:

  • There are no conveyor belts to move your groceries to the register.
  • Clerks are trained to ring a bell over their head whenever lines begin to appear.
  • They don’t ask to scan your Amazon Prime account like they do in Whole Foods.

Each grocery store creates different kinds of value. And those differences are so well established that they show up even at the check-out.

If all you did was offer a one-time transaction, like a lead generation website, you might be able to get by on just seeming different. But even in that scenario, it’s hard to seem different without actually being different.

Being different requires sacrifices and risks that a non-strategic business won’t make. Like turning away 90% of customers because your pricing is way too high for most of the market.