Can’t you remember hearing your parents saying that to you when you were in school? It’s a great rhetorical question with a point we all understand. But for some reason the truth behind it often gets ignored when it comes to business. I work in the financial services industry. Specifically at the community level. Having grown up around community banks, financial planners and investment advisors I have come to understand the effects of following the herd. We have fought against it at our own organization and watched as others have given in to the simplicity of taking path of least resistance.
There is a massive lack of differentiation in the financial services space, and that is a dangerous truth if you are a community based financial institution. In an industry with an already high yet still increasing regulatory compliance burden, the default psychology is to do what the other guys are doing. Here are a few reasons why this is dangerous for any organization:
It provides a false sense of security.
Being the same can be more dangerous than trying to change the game. Especially given that the game is going to change anyway. Safety doesn’t come from yielding the strategic reigns of your company to the creeping incrementalism of the crowd. If you know why you exist, how you are gifted and what the fruit of your existence should be, you then have the freedom to act decisively regardless of the pressures around you. This applies personally or corporately. Too many businesses characterize themselves in light of their peers. That is fine as long as you are ok with your customers doing that too.
It dulls the edges of your brand.
An organization with a galvanized core brand understands what makes it unique from competitors. That differentiator is translated into a strong competitive advantage in the marketplace. Clarity of purpose doesn’t come from following the herd, it comes from embracing a set of values distinct and personal to both the company and it’s team members. When you follow the herd its easy to forget who you are.
It endorses coasting.
I once heard a friend of mine describe himself as follows: “I live my life in sprints.” This obviously would drive many people crazy, but for me it resonates. I love the excitement of searching for a scaleable and repeatable model from which I can clearly communicate a vision that has the potential to transform a life, business or industry. I am very passionate about that. I believe Jesus has provided that model for people, and its an amazing story to tell. That is why I teach at my church. In the business world this search is found mostly in start-ups. The herd mentality that plagues many mature businesses stifles the passion of the best talent and endorses a mentality of passivity. If the implied goal is to stay within a comparable framework to your peers, why should we push to chart new territory? In this type of culture people speak of their ‘jobs’, not their ‘calling’ or their ‘passion’.
It is a race to the bottom.
In industries where there is a lack of differentiation between competitors, the consumer will, by default, treat you as a commodity. Price becomes the distinguishing factor. That is fine if your business model is built to efficiently scale and handle volume. And price relevance (aka: value exchange) matters even if you aren’t seeking volume. But of late, I have seen community banks who historically pride themselves in the attributes of their relational, local expertise be reduced to a commodity as a result of ineffective brand and business model differentiation from the big banks. If you can only win business because you are the cheapest or pay the highest rate then you are going to have to serve a very large number of customers. But the truth is that volume won’t help a business model that isn’t built to scale. Your community needs you to figure out what redeeming purpose you have for existing and then pour that into everything you do. Quit trying to compete as a commodity, you will loose to the big guys every time.
These are only a few of many challenges organizations face when they get comfortable coasting along following the crowd. If you aren’t known for something, then you’re known for nothing.