I drove by a dentist’s office yesterday that had a sign which read “Dentistry with a Difference.” I smiled to myself and applauded their effort to differentiate themselves. In marketing, we work hard to come up with a U.S.P. (Unique Selling Proposition) or positioning strategy for our clients. We ask, “what is the one simple thing people know you for?” or “what do you want to be known for?”. We tell folks that if you don’t define yourself, your competition will.

The challenge is to come up with a meaningful differentiator. I could bill my company as the only marketing firm in Atlanta run by a red-headed woman who’s half-Iranian. That’s a difference, to be sure, but probably not a meaningful one if you’re looking to hire a marketer.

Which brings me back to the dentist. “Dentistry with a Difference” means nothing. How are they different? How does that benefit me, the potential patient? They could be different, as in weird. (And when I first told Terri about their sign, that was her first reaction.) Not to pick on them; I do admire that they are at least trying to market themselves. Still, imagine if they described their difference in a memorable way. Tell me what makes you the best. Tell me why your customers come back.

Just don’t tell me that you’re “different.”