how to stand out online

How to Stand Out Online: 5 Questions to Ask to Know What Makes You Different From the Rest of the Pack

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”

Thank you, Oscar Wilde, for the inspiration.

But this doesn’t just apply to individuals.

It applies to businesses and brands, too.

As the creator of Express Writers, I have learned that we are successful because we have embraced our individuality and refuse to focus on what our competitors are doing.

Along with dancing to the beat of our own drum, from the beginning, we focus on building the best services for our clients and original thoughts that build elite and unique levels of service.

From my own life experience, I know how hard it is to find out what makes you different in an industry everyone seems to be in.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and building a content marketing and writing agency was a natural next step for me. But it hasn’t come easy. Through the ups and downs, I discovered my greatest successes on the heels of failures.

(It’s a longer story than this, and you can read it all here.) In short, my failures helped me ask a ton of questions and ultimately embrace my flaws and stand out from the rest of the content-marketing industry.

So,  how do you find out what makes you different from your industry?

Here is a number of questions to help you and your business know just how well you’re standing out — and making a real difference online.

Answer these 5 questions to know if you're standing out and making a real difference online, vs. adding to the noise. @JuliaEMcCoy #ContentDifferentiationFactor Click To Tweet

how to stand out online

How to Stand Out Online: 5 Questions to Ask to Know What Makes You Different from the Rest of the Pack

Let’s dive into the five questions every entrepreneur and business owner should be asking.

1. What is Your Content Differentiation Factor in Your Industry?

how to stand out online

I teach this concept in my Content Strategy & Marketing course and have written extensively on it in my book. To summarize, your content differentiation factor (CDF) is what separates you from the billions of other content on the web.

Ask this question:

“Does my business communicate topics with people that the rest of the web doesn’t?”

Maybe it’s exclusive content you provide that no one else does, a positive digital experience clients can’t get anywhere else, etc.

Your CDF is how you present your brand/business, and how you communicate industry topics to your audience.

So, understand what separates you from the rest of your industry and go from there.

oscar wilde

2. What Makes Your Selling Technique Different from Everyone Else?

Everyone in your industry is selling something similar, right?

For example, if you’re in the marketing industry, you’re probably doing some content marketing.

Why? Because content marketing provides one of the highest ROIs.

From our last post, 6 Major Content Marketing Trends from CMI’s 2019 B2C Content Marketing Research Report

If you understand that, a number of other people in your industry know that too — so, how do your content marketing services stand out from everyone else? Or any of your other services for that matter?

Remember, your unique selling proposition (USP) is different than your CDF.

  • Your USP is the factor that makes your services and products different than competitors. (Different in terms of by choosing your services and products, they are receiving a higher value.)
  • Your CDF is how your business/brand is presented. (When you acknowledge industry topics you don’t just give a generic response. You provide an individual and valuable experience that will educate and benefit your customers.)

Make sure you’re asking this strategic question:

“How do I present my services/products differently?”

Remember though, don’t focus only on your competitors.

By focusing on what your competitors are doing, you’re losing focus on your own ideas.

Understand what your competitors are doing and how you’re different from them, but don’t focus too much on them.

Look inside you, your team, and your own environment for your best ideas. Make sure you have a valid reason to give when your customers ask why they should invest in you and your services/products.

3. What Does Your Business Do for Your Customers?

This is part of your USP: understanding what your business/brand provides your customers.

If you’re having a hard time pinpointing what your USP is — don’t worry. You can start narrowing it down by asking yourself what your business does for your customers.

For example, Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, said that he sold hope, not makeup.

how to stand out online

Revson’s promise to his customer was that he was going to provide a product that gave women hope to receive the look they wanted.

So, when you’re thinking about what your businesses do for your customers, don’t just think about the products/services you sell. Think of the feelings and solutions it provides.

4. Are You Comparing Yourself to Your Competitors Too Much?

I mentioned earlier when I talked about asking yourself what your USP is how you should understand what your competitors are doing.

But, don’t focus on them too much.

Once you start focusing on your competitors more than you start focusing on your own ideas, you lose your own sense of creativity.

Trust me.

I used to use templates for my emails, and veered too close to copying and pasting while going off “best practices.”

Then, one day, I sat down without distractions, only armed with inner inspiration.

I had the idea for a great email around my Content Strategy & Marketing Course, and wrote it out.

It turned into one of my most high-converting emails to date:

how to stand out online

If you think you’re losing the original “you”, simply ask yourself, “Do I compare myself to my competitors too much?”

If the answer is yes, then I have a few tips to get you to stop analyzing your competitors and start going more internal for bigger and better results:

  • 1. Unglue Yourself from Social Media
  • 2. Get Some Fresh Air and Exercise
  • 3. Indulge Your Creativity

Read more here: Why Focusing On Your Competitor Could Be Killing Your Business

If your answer is no, that’s great! 👏🏻

Remember, it’s important to study what your competitors are doing, without fixating on them. After all, there are millions of people in the world and a lot of them are studying what you’re studying. They’ve made mistakes and have crossed roadblocks you haven’t gotten to yet.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to recreate it.

1. What is your content differentiation factor? 2. What makes your selling technique different from everyone else? Ask yourself these five questions to see if you're standing out in your industry. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

5. What Brands Do You Love?

What are a few examples of well-known brands that resonate with you and your business? Make a list of your favorite businesses and look into their business models.

They don’t have to be in your industry.

In fact, if they’re not in your industry, then it’s not as easy to compare yourself to your competitors — which, remember, you don’t want to do.

Well-known businesses haven’t always been well known — they had a starting point, just like you.

Well-known businesses haven’t always been well known — they had a starting point, just like you. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

Here are three examples of well-known businesses that are prime examples of not fitting in.

1. Netflix

It doesn’t matter what your industry is: Netflix is absolutely killing the whole “doing something the rest of the industry isn’t” thing.

They can be used as an example for just about any business.

Not only were they one of the first ones in the streaming video industry, they started using all kinds of data to give the people what they want.

[email protected] @dove @airbnb are examples of brands busting through next levels by NOT fitting with typical competitors. Click To Tweet

how to stand out online

Netflix understands their audience better than any other video-streaming business — and some could argue businesses outside of the video streaming industry.

People want more options of movies/TV shows to binge watch, Netflix started making their own original videos and people are definitely not complaining.

Your business might not be a video-streaming business, but you can use Netflix as a leader — study your audience and go after them.

2. Dove

In the early days of fashion, the only models that were good enough were super tall and super skinny.

Until recently.

how to stand out online

Dove introduced a “Real Beauty Pledge” that uses real, everyday women as their models and help women build self-esteem confidence.

how to stand out online

Not only was this campaign revolutionary for marketing in general, it increased their entire business by 2 BILLION dollars.

Yeah, billions — that’s a huge increase.

Dove shows us that businesses can become the voice of the unrepresented — even if it hasn’t been done before.

Can you just imagine the conversation in the boardroom about this?

“Hey Bill – I want to do a campaign with eleven every-day women that look just like the moms I hang out with at my school PTA meetings.”

“Uh, Sarah, I had supermodels on the Cayman Islands at the top of my list.”

“But every woman will relate to mine and we’ll grow by at least $1 or even 2 billion.”


“Hmm…yeah, you’ve got a point about our audience there. Okay, Sarah, you win this one.”

👏🏻 The campaign idea may have sounded crazy at first, but with a campaign most women can relate with, it was a huge success.

3. Airbnb

If you enjoy traveling, you’ve heard of Airbnb, and even if you don’t like traveling, you’ve probably heard of Airbnb.

Airbnb is a travel company that is revolutionizing the hotel industry by giving people a home anywhere around the world while also giving them a local and unique experience without breaking their bank.

how to stand out online

Airbnb’s business model is targeted to get people to list their real-life home for a few days, weeks, or months, so more people have reasonably priced places to stay while also experiencing local culture. They advertise a great message: customers can become business owners just by renting out their homes, or, if they don’t want to rent out their personal home, they can be renters where they can experience a unique place that is theirs for the time that they’re visiting.

After seeing the most popular locations and types of homes users wanted to rent, they introduced AirBnb Plus. Airbnb Plus is their way of presenting specific areas and homes that are “extra special.” The Airbnb team even studied real data to showcase the best cities and homes around the world for amazing customer experiences.

how to stand out online how to stand out online

Although Airbnb studies their data thoroughly, ultimately, they treat their customers as business partners.

If you as an Airbnb customer book an apartment for a week, you deal with the person that owns that apartment/house — not Airbnb. Airbnb only steps in if the home does not meet the listing standards or you (as the customer) do not feel like you belong. Plus, Airbnb promises to reimburse customers for homes that do not live up to listing standards, or on the flip side, they’ll help the homeowner if customers damage the home. That’s a pretty amazing guarantee level.

A good goal that Airbnb has uniquely captured, that you could also work towards: treat both your first-time and returning customers so well, they want to start referring your service freely to others. But the way you do this must be unique, like Airbnb’s above-and-beyond guarantee.

Start Asking These 5 Questions and Stop Same-Old Syndrome

It’s hard to stand out, especially in a world where everyone is doing what seems the same thing.

I mean, just look around the Facebook ad-o-sphere. Or the marketing universe in general.

Everyone’s quoting “best practices” and then looking over the shoulder of their competitor just to end up doing same old, same old.

What if we authentically focused on creating a truthful message, connecting with our audience and solving problems instead of just selling things?

Need some help creating content that reaches your audience in a powerful, impactful way? We’re just an email away.

content differentiation factor

How to Find Your Brand’s Unique Content Differentiation Factor and Use It to Your Advantage

Every brand has at least one unique “thing” that sets them apart.

The “it” factor.

If you’re involved in building your own brand or a business, you absolutely need to make sure you’ve identified that “one thing” that individualizes your message and your content.

That factor that differentiates you from your competitors. The one essential element everybody else is missing.

Without it, you’ll risk blending into the masses.

You’ll turn into another blip in the content sea. Seen and heard today, forgotten tomorrow. A scary, but true, reality.

So, my question for you today is:

What is your content differentiation factor in your industry?

First, let’s define.

What do I mean by “content differentiation factor?”

definition of content differentiation factor

This is a concept I teach in my Content Strategy & Marketing course and have written about in my book.

Your content differentiation factor (or CDF) is that one, unique thing – the it-factor – that separates you from the billions of other content pages on the web.

It’s the angle you present that provides a slightly different, new spin on topics your readers have seen before.

Joe Pulizzi of CMI calls this your pivot in the industry – more specifically, your content tilt. Joe talks about this concept in his book, Content Inc., which I highly recommend reading. He says:

definition of content tilt

When you have a solid differentiator, you stand out in a great way. Your voice rises to the top and gets heard. People want to hear what you have to say because it’s unique, useful, and valuable.

It’s how you not only reach your audience but reach them powerfully.

For today’s topic, let’s start by looking at a few perfect examples of brands who have it and use it to their advantage, and then get into how to find YOUR content differentiation factor.

What is YOUR standout brand content differentiation factor? Read more in this guide, with examples. #contentmarketing #CDF Click To Tweet

content differentiation factor

Two Examples of Brands Killing It With a Solid Content Differentiation Factor (CDF)

Here are two amazing brands are doing a killer job at using a CDF that aligns them to their audience.

1. Society6

First up, a brand with a solid CDF that perfectly caters to their audience – Society6.

This is essentially a printing service where you can get custom-designed items such as wall art, mugs, notebooks, t-shirts, phone cases, and even bedding, shower curtains, and furniture.

society6 and its content differentiation factor

The differentiator which sets Society6 apart from similar printing services is the artist community that serves as their foundation.

Instead of offering pre-designed patterns and templates, Society6 sources designs from independent artists all over the world who receive a cut of the profits.

society6 uses content from artists who get a portion of the profits

Their content ties into their CDF perfectly. They regularly feature original pieces from artists selling designs on Society6.


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“Message from the Sea” by Christian Schloe / Link in bio @Society6

A post shared by Society6 (@society6) on

They also have a blog with more artist features, tips for creatives selling their designs on the platform, and home décor tips using their custom-printed goods.

society6's blog for artists

Finally, Society6’s huge following and high content engagement speak to how well tapping into their content differentiation factor has played out. On Instagram alone, they have over half a million followers, and each post averages thousands of likes and comments.

society6's huge following

Society6’s unique artists are their greatest asset, and they use this CDF to reach out to both consumers who want to support small businesses as well as creators looking to support themselves with their art.

How are you differentiating yourself from others in your niche? What makes you stand out? @JuliaEMcCoy's guide talks about content differentiation factor, plus examples, and how to do it. #contentmarketing #cdf Click To Tweet

2. Taste of Home

Another brand nailing their content differentiation factor: Taste of Home.

Originally a magazine dedicated to showcasing favorite recipes from home cooks, Taste of Home now has an online presence chock-full of content catered to their readers.

For example, their website serves as an extension of their printed compilations of reader-submitted recipes. However, what sets the brand apart is the fact that only the best of the best get featured because each is tested by the Taste of Home kitchen beforehand. Every recipe comes with tips, anecdotes, or secrets from the cook who submitted it.

vintage recipes from taste of home

Taste of Home leans into their CDF online and carries over the main mission from their print magazine: “foster[ing] a strong and loyal sense of community among like-minded home cooks of all ages.”

taste of home's about page shows its content differentiation factor

user-submitted content from taste of home

Along with user-submitted recipes and food-related blog posts, Taste of Home also populates their social media feeds with eye-catching video content.

Finally, their engaged community speaks to how well Taste of Home has used their CDF to their advantage. They essentially tap into the heart and warmth of home cooking.

How to Find Your Content Differentiation Factor (and Why It’s Different from Your Unique Selling Proposition)

It’s easy to mistake your content differentiation factor for your unique selling proposition, and vice-versa.

Your unique selling proposition is NOT the same as your content differentiation factor. What makes you stand out in your industry? Click To Tweet

But, remember: They’re not one and the same.

  • Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the factor that makes your products or services better or more valuable than your competitors’.
  • Your content differentiation factor is the unique angle you present as a brand/business. It’s how you approach industry topics and write about them from your individual perspective.

In short, your CDF is more akin to your motto, your mission, or your mantra. It’s how you approach connecting to your audience. To do it, you need to present them with an angle they haven’t seen before: your angle.

Here’s how to find it:

1. Don’t Over-Focus on Your Products/Services

This great blog from Jay Baer represents the pitfalls of what can happen when brands only focus on their USP, or on what their products/services do.

unique selling proposition is different from content differentiation factor

The key mistake, like Jay says, is when brands forget to be unique and only focus on the selling proposition:

“When marketers lean on unique selling propositions (USPs), they position their products as effective – but forgettable – solutions.”

Sure, your product is good and effective… but so what? Why should your audience care?

In contrast, your content differentiation factor is the thing that makes you memorable. It gives your audience a reason to listen to you because it’s about how you help them differently than the other guys.

How you help them differently – that’s key.

How do you help your customers differently than all the other brands out there? That's your Content Differentiation Factor. #contentmarketing #cdf Click To Tweet

2. Consider Your Audience

You can’t stop at uniqueness for your CDF. It’s not enough to try to be different in your industry. Why?

Different doesn’t necessarily equal better. It doesn’t always represent a better choice for the customer.

Instead, frame your CDF in light of who you’re helping, what they need from you, and how you fulfill that.

To reference one of our above examples, Society6 does this by honing in on their artist community. Their mission is to empower independent artists and give them a platform for their work.

That very mission is reflected in their content:

society6's cdf continues to make them stand out

Aligning your CDF with your customers and readers is a great way to make sure it’s effective.

3. Ask Yourself How You Help Them BETTER

Maybe you help your audience in a very similar way to your competitors. If that’s the case, ask yourself:

  • How do you help them BETTER?
  • What unique angle of their problem do you solve?
  • What makes that angle possible?
    • Where does your industry expertise come from?
    • What piece of your background helps you help them?

4. Think About the Benefits

Again, stay audience-focused when coming up with your content differentiation factor. What benefits do you offer them when they interact with your brand, read your content, and buy your products/services?

It doesn’t have to be complicated, either.

5. Remember Your WHY

Finally, it always helps to think back to your original “why” – why you got into your business or industry in the first place.

  • What do you hope to do for your customers that no one else can?
  • How do you want to change the world?
  • What positive impact do you want to have on customers in your industry?
Remember your why. This & more on how to differentiate yourself in your industry via @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet

Discover Your Content Differentiation Factor and Get Heard for Profitable Results

It’s hard to stand out online.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. With your CDF firmly in hand, you’ll be well on your way to positioning yourself advantageously online. That way, your content will get read and shared by the right people, and your brand/business can continue to grow.

Just remember that it starts and ends with your audience, and how you impact their lives for the better.

Now get out there and differentiate yourself! And if you need some help with your homepage copy, content differentiation factor homepage slogan, or the blog you’re struggling to produce every week, we can help. Send us a quick line here.