By Jon-Michail

A prolific children’s author once said during a conversation about writers’ block: ‘Steal an idea and make it your own.’ It has also been said that there’s nothing new under the sun. So why not apply these axioms to your search for business differentiation?

It’s true that many companies simply copy their rivals’ successful strategies or products. The internet is an excellent example of new businesses springing up, the founders just out of nappies claiming to be gurus of the universe having simply copied an established business… good luck to them.

But they will rarely capture the same market share as a company that is able to take an idea and improve it, or use it as a springboard for an entirely new product or service. True entrepreneurs understand what the public want even before even before they realise it themselves.

They understand when something is missing or has been under-explored and they apply that understanding creatively to bring about something new and compelling.

When you straight copy another product or process without adding value you are being lazy-minded. Consumers and clients are not obliged to purchase from you if there’s another the same down the road. If they are already satisfied with their source, there is no reason for them to come to you.

If you’ve simply been coasting along and want to improve your market share – and, quite frankly, to bring a little more excitement into your business dealings – investigate other companies and work out why they’re doing well.

What is it that differentiates their product or service from yours? Look beyond your niche and see what ideas you can bring to your own target market. It may be something as simple as gearing a profitable idea from another market segment to your own, tailoring it so that it becomes a ‘must have’ for those who want to be at the forefront.

It may not be the product or process with no value add that needs improvement. What about customer experience? Do you really know how your frontline staff interact with your customers or clients? How can you make those interactions a true point of difference that will bring the clients back time and time again?

Trust your instincts. There will be times when you will feel as though your idea is taking you out on a limb, but give it a go anyway. When you look further afield for ideas, be creative and bold about applying a concept that already brings value to an unrelated field.

For an example that keeps reinventing itself, look no further than the sports shoe. From humble 19C beginnings as the plimsoll, in 1895 the ‘running shoe’ was developed by adding spikes for greater traction and speed.

The introduction of rubber soles increased demand and production, leading to the development of basketball shoes and other sports, then separate ‘looks’ for men and women. During the 1990s, shoe companies concentrated on developing their fashion and marketing skills and marketing budgets went sky high.

The everyday sneaker became a fashion statement, and is now an embodiment of one’s identity and personality. For such a humble product, the sneaker has made a lot of companies a lot of money, and undoubtedly there is still a great deal more to be made.

Creativity is a key differentiator. Look for whatever is missing and supply it. As soon as one company provided a running shoe, it was evident that other sports codes would want their specialised footwear as well. That’s creative thinking.

Have you had a good idea? Give it a go. Add value and take a leap into profitability.

Jon Michail is Group CEO of Image Group International, an award winning author and recognised Australasia’s No 1 image coach. Image Group International supports executives, entrepreneurs and their organisations to become iconic and monetised leadership brands.

He has been a  regular commentator in international media including ABC, CNN, NBC, Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Success, The Financial Review and Vogue.

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