Have you ever thought something like this?  Business branding lessons from Olympians

“I can’t be the —– expert.
So and so is already the —– expert.”

When you hear those words in your brain, puh-lease stop and consider these two things:

1. You’re too close to see reality.

Because you spend hours each week, noting where your competitors are speaking, publishing and being featured, you are sure that the marketplace knows exactly what you know – that your competitor is the one who’s famous in your field. You see this other person in your industry as already “owning” a certain expertise, so you think you can’t claim expertise in the same topic.

Here’s a little story that shows how being too far inside the echo chamber could be distorting  your business reality.

Early this year, I was working with a women’s business and mindset coach. She’s incredibly talented at what she does – helping women business owners to discover their unique talents, along with what makes them happy and then to structure their business and life in a way that aligns with those values. She’s eerily intuitive and that plays a big role in the experience of working with her as a coach.
When we first began talking about growing her business by making her more visible, we focused on her positioning. In a nutshell, positioning is creating a certain identity in your target market’s mind for who you are and what you do. When I made a few suggestions as to how this business coach could position herself to attract her ideal client, her comment was, “I can’t be that…Blank is already that.”

Translation: she was saying that a competitor already owned that position in the marketplace.

My reaction? I didn’t know who Blank was. I’d never heard of her.
Obligatory Googling followed. I didn’t see any similarities between my client and this woman, other than they served the same very broad target market, women business owners.

Reality check: there are 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. More than enough for both of them.

Business branding lesson #1: even when you’re doing exactly the same thing – and face it, no one is doing exactly the same thing, unless you set out to imitate everything about the other person…if that’s the case, just stop it – your businesses, your marketing, your image, the way that you share your expertise, the experience of working with you…ev-er-y-thing is different.
Which brings me to Point #2…

2. Your brand sets you apart.
Ever since the 2012 Olympics, I’ve been aching to contrast Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte to illustrate the power of image and brand in the marketplace. While the media crowned Phelps the winner and Lochte as a disappointing failure, I think that ignores valuable business branding lessons.
The two swimmers created a great point-counterpoint. Are they similar? Practically identical. They are the two best swimmers in the world.
Different? Um, jeah!
First, let’s put the obvious front and center: Phelps is the much bigger star with more medals. He is the most decorated Olympian of all time. But despite one being clearly better, they are still the two best swimmers in the world.
Branding lessons from Olympians

What if Ryan Lochte said, “I can’t be an Olympic swimmer. Michael Phelps is already an Olympic swimmer.” Totally ridiculous, right? But that’s what you’re saying when you hold back because you think someone else already “owns” the expertise on a certain topic.

In a different Olympics, without Michael Phelps, Lochte would have been a stand out star. C’mon, the guy won five medals!

Now, that business branding lesson again: Lochte and Phelps, while being nearly identical in what they do, are different people with wildly different images.
And, they have different opportunities as a result of their different images. Wheaties box? Phelps all the way.
But, let’s say Hugo Boss is thinking an Olympian physique and a knockout grin is the association its brand needs…just call me Lochte.

There’s another branding lesson in the Phelps/Lochte brand-off that up-and-comers can apply, too. Don’t be fake.
I’d argue that Lochte’s publicity team went too far in trying to morph the laid back athlete into a media sensation.
The goofy catchphrase and cocky chatter made the swimming sensation seem immature compared to composed and focused Mr. Phelps. By trying too hard to create an in-your-face celebrity image for Lochte, it came off as harsh and fake. The Lochte of 2008 was much quieter, less flamboyant and generally more likeable.
Be yourself. When you’re not, it creates dissonance that repels people. Would morning radio disc jockeys have gleefully called five-medal winner Lochte a “loser douche” if he’d been more of himself in the media? I don’t think so.

The upshot is this: even when you do exactly the same thing as another business owner, who you are and how you do what you do is makes you unique.

Your fame boosting assignment:

This week, I want you to not do something. Don’t look at your competitors (people who provide a similar service to a similar target market.) Unsubscribe from their newsletters, don’t read their articles, don’t attend their sessions at conferences, don’t listen to their teleseminars or watch their webinars. Focus all your attention on your clients and how you can best help them. What you’ve got to share is valuable – the marketplace needs you.


  1. Claire on December 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Love this sentiment! Great reminder….

  2. Janine Sarna-Jones on January 7, 2013 at 9:48 am

    This is a great reminder to be true to yourself! Love the comparison of the 2 best swimmers in the world. There’s room for plenty more in the pool!

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Great analogy, Janine. Dive in!

  3. Maria Nikolaeva Angelova on January 7, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I love your assignment to unsubscribe from competitors lists. I love to learn from others and by nature I can not feel jealousy, but when the moment comes when I feel that the other one is so ahead and I am not, I feel urged to express my admiration to what the “competitor” have done and to try to be my best. Your suggestion is very valuable – not wasting any time but focusing on what my work is. Thank you!

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Great shift from jealousy to learning and admiration, Maria.

  4. Janet on January 8, 2013 at 9:00 am

    HI Lori! This article made me laugh because it’s so true! Your Olympian compare/contrast is so dead on! Also, I love your comments on how “so and so is already doing that.” I used to feel that way and that held me back for far too long. I then realized that as long as we’re really authentic and teaching what we know because we lived it instead of because we read it in a book and it sounded cool, then we’re all set and that we really ARE the expert. People can smell in-authenticity and it stinks. Thanks Lori! Janet

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Isn’t it funny, the kinds of things we let stop us from success?

  5. Lilia Lee on January 8, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Thanks for the great article….a good reminder about what being an expert means in any field. Like Janet, I laughed at the Ryan/Michael comparison.

  6. Laura on January 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

    This SO used to be me!!! Comparing to other’s both people who have been coaching about inner wisdom for a long time and even new coaches. Until I realized, just what you write about, that my OWN self is what creates that uniqueness of what I do and no one is me (thankfully 😉 Great words of wisdom!!!!

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      In business, just like in love, there’s someone who’s absolutely perfect for you.

  7. Nancy Tierney on January 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Nice! I think so many entrepreneurs (myself included) fall into this trap of denying their expertise, niche and ever their passion because someone else seems to be doing the same thing. When are we going to get it. It’s not WHAT we offer or do as much as it is WHO we are and HOW we serve others. Who you are in your business, why you do what you do, and how you deliver the goods is what allows you to dominate your field… because there is only one you, silly!

    Like you said, don’t be fake. As Judy Garland said, “Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      “It’s not WHAT we offer or do as much as it is WHO we are and HOW we serve others.” Beautifully said, Nancy!

  8. Linda on January 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I’ve so been there too, thinking that so-and-so is already doing that. You bring up so many good points too, like the idea that we are all unique and that there’s plenty of room and opportunity for everyone! An abundance mindset is helpful too, for focusing on the best ‘you’ you can be rather than worrying about what your competition is doing. I so agree with you about not paying so close attention to competitors. Better to not be influenced by them in what you’re doing. Thanks Lori!

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      “Influence” is the perfect word, Linda. That’s one of the major reasons that I unsubscribed from so many marketing/PR newsletters myself – it was distracting me from my own tribe and what they truly need. Thank you.

  9. Sandi Gordon on January 11, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I think being real is one of the keys to true happiness. Thanks for your post – I can’t unsubscribe from everyone (my guilty pleasure is blog-reading) but staying true to my own clients needs and my own voice? Yes, please.

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      No worries, Sandi! If reading blog posts makes you happy, do it. But if reading those of people you consider to be competition makes you feel anxious, unhappy or unworthy, cut it out, sister. Sounds like you’ve tapped into your authentic voice.

  10. Phyllis Harbinger on January 12, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Lori–this post is incredible insightful AND helpful. I am right at this very moment struggling with this issue as there is a colleague in Arkansas who is doing exactly what I am working on creating in my world. We are the same yet wildly different and your post has given me the fire I need to really look deep and not continue the comparative analysis. I am off to unsubscribe and vow to continue developing my plan with more conviction. THANK YOU!!!

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      That is awesome, Phyllis! So glad to inspire. Not reading/watching what others do in my same field is key for me – it helps me break away from the habit of doing things the way competitors (or colleagues) do them.

  11. Kelly on January 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Well written, thoughtful and intuitive! Love this piece… A lesson for all those who claim ” but she’s doing that” . A good reminder that no matter what, we all have our own unique gifts in the market place!

    • Lori on January 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks, Kelly! It’s a reminder for all of us, that in every industry, even every topic, there is room for many “experts.”

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