Back in 1998—before Spotify was a thing—Derek Sivers started a company called CD Baby that allowed musicians to sell their albums online. If you purchased a CD on the website, you’d get a generic automated email letting you know that the order had been placed and thanking you for your business.
To Sivers, this automated email felt too sterile and out of touch with his mission to “make people smile.” So he took 20 minutes and wrote a new order confirmation email more aligned with that mission. Here are some highlights:
Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved ‘Bon Voyage!’ to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet.
This ended up being the most successful email Sivers ever wrote.
Customers loved it, posting it online and sharing it with friends. They ended up generating free publicity for the new company and created thousands of new customers. Even today, more than 20 years later, if you Google “private CD Baby jet,” you’ll get over 4,000 results.
Contrast the CD Baby email to the emails you received from dozens of companies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They inevitably included some variation of the same boring title (“Special Message from our CEO about COVID-19”) and repeating the same cliche phrases (“Dear valued customer”) and overworn soundbites (“In a time of unprecedented uncertainty”).
In business, as in life, most people work from the same uninspiring template. We’re wired to emulate others, especially in times of unprecedented uncertainty (see what I did there?). We tend to copy and paste from our peers and competitors, assuming they know something we don’t.
But if you’re doing what others are doing, why would a potential client choose you over someone else? The only difference becomes your price. And you’ll have a hard time beating Amazon or Walmart at that particular game.
Being different doesn’t work if it’s inauthentic. If it’s a gimmick. If you’re just trying to get attention or zigging simply because everyone else is zagging. The CD Baby email worked because it was uniquely Sivers and aligned with his mission to use every opportunity to make people smile.
Sivers knew what most of us neglect: In business, in life, and yes, even dating, if you hide your idiosyncrasies, 95% of people will think you’re just average. If you embrace your quirks, 5% of people will think you’re amazing. Aim for that 5%.
Here’s the thing: We notice things because of contrast. Something stands out because it’s different from what surrounds it.
If you blend into the background—if there’s no idiosyncrasy, no identifying marks, no contrast, no anomaly—you become invisible.
You become the background.
It’s only by embracing, rather than erasing, your idiosyncrasies—the things that make you spectacularly you—that you can become remarkable.
P.S. One way to become remarkable is to embed a purpose beyond profit into your business.
My wife Kathy created the Global Purpose (CSR) Strategy for adidas, a $22 billion company, encompassing everything adidas does to positively impact People and Planet. She now helps businesses use purpose to stand out in a competitive environment, attract the best talent, and gain consumer loyalty. You can watch this short video to learn more about her keynote speaking and consulting. If you’re interested in working with her or inviting her to present at your next event, please submit an inquiry at this link.