doing great by daring to be different / breaking the rules


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The heart of strategic thinking is difference, few choose to be different

The heart of strategic thinking is difference.  In order for you to act strategically you have to have a particular foundation in place.  What is this foundation?  It is an existential quality you cannot buy it, yet you can choose to be it.  Be what? Be courageous: the willingness to leave the herd, create/follow your own path, be ok with the fear/uncertainty/doubt and criticism.

Few, in big business, choose courage over security.  Which is why for all the talk of innovation, innovation is rare, an exception, in big business.  Having given into and being gripped by the need for security, the Tops and Middles, in big business, love ‘proven’ formulas pushed by brand name gurus and consultancies.  The interesting thing about formulas is that they are available to everyone and if they catch fire they make you/your business the same as every other business.  That is the very opposite of what strategic thinking and innovation is about.

Meet Ling Valentine who is different and built a successful business on this difference

Ling Valentine has built a successful online business ( by daring to be different, breaking the rules.  You are confronted with that difference as soon as you hit her website.  In a world of blandness the website oozes personality – Ling’s personality.  And as a visitor you either love this website or hate it.  Before you read further go and check out the website.

You either liked it or hated it?   If you liked it then great because Ling’s focus is on ‘selling you a car’.  If you hated it then that is also great by Ling.  Ling doesn’t want you – you are boring – she wants people with a personality who are going to be a good fit with Ling and the way that she does business.  How is this working out?  As she says on her website “You can trust me! ….. in 2010 I rented out over £35milion of cars (RRP)”.  It occurs to me that it is working out great.

What can we learn from Ling and

Use the principle of ‘impute’ to attract the right people to you and drive the others away

One of the key lessons that Steve Jobs learned from Mike Markkula was that of ‘impute’.  It is clear that Ling is practicising ‘impute’ powerfully through the design of here homepage.  And thus narrowing down visitors to those that are a good fit for her business.  Put differently the design of the website is so bad that it is great at selecting the visitors who find this bad to be great!  Notice how the design conveys both Ling’s fun personality and comes across as ‘cheap’ thus living the promise of ‘cheap cars’.

Here is the bit that is really hard for big business: you have to turn away , filter out, the ‘wrong’ customers so that you can design and deliver the value proposition and customer experience that shows up as great, the best, for the ‘right’ customers – the ones that you are targeting. 

Focus on the one or two domains that matter – the difference that makes a difference

Did you notice Ling’s focus on Did it scream out at you?  Yes, it’s selling.  Ling is focussed on selling you a car. There are plenty of offers and sales messages on the home page.  Did you notice the livechat?  What you may not know is that Ling and her small team don’t necessarily wait for visitors to reach out to them, they reach out to customers and lead them through the buying process helping them to buy.

Now compare that with other websites.  The key question that most websites fail to answer well is this one: what is the fundamental purpose of this website?  As a result most websites end up being a ‘dog’s dinner’ of objectives and functionality – every powerful group in the business wants a say and real-estate on the website particularly the home page.

Educate customers and openly/effectively address the barriers (skepticism) to buying

As I spelled out in this post if people are hanging out at your website they clearly have a need and think you can help them with that need.  So you do not have to sell to them.  You have to help them to buy.  That means getting that people have to overcome concerns-worries-fear before they will purchase from you.

Leasing a car is a big deal and Ling understands this.  Importantly, she acts on this understanding – you’d be amazed at how many Tops/Middles fail to act as if insight is enough in itself.  LingsCars.comaddresses the worries-concerns about leasing a car head on.  How?  By being upfront about all the charges thus spelling out the total cost.  By explaining the charges – why they are there, what they cover.   In short, she addresses the skepticism through education and transparency.  Which builds trust – it occurs to me that she is practicing ‘Extreme Trust‘.  This is the opposite of what her competitors do.  Notice the difference:  Ling is not claiming to be different (marketing/PR) she is being different!

Want to learn more about Ling and LingCars?

Ling giving the keynote presentation at the Future of Digital Marketing 2012:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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