Are you trying to determine whether to pursue a startup idea, or to launch that YouTube channel or blog you've always wanted to get going? If you are, then you know how tedious it can be trying to determine whether the idea is worth investing time, money, and energy in.

Sure, you can conduct market research or hold a few focus groups, but in business there are always going to be immeasurable, unpredictable factors that come into play you can't plan for. Lucky for all of us, iconic entrepreneur Richard Branson has spoken out on this topic. On an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, Branson detailed the crumbling of one of his business ventures, Virgin Cola. 

Side note: Yes, you read that right. Back in 1994, Virgin did indeed enter the soda market. 

Virgin Cola, despite its initial success and intermittent victories, was eventually ousted by Coca-Cola. After this happened, Branson came to a concrete conclusion he would follow in all his business endeavors going forward: 

If the company he was considering launching wasn't fundamentally different from its competition, he wouldn't continue forward with the idea.

With future ventures, Branson would ask himself whether the idea was different from the industry leaders'. No matter how many funky colors, unique logos, and quirky commercials you can put together, at the end of the day, soda is still soda. There's not much room for creativity or differentiation in this space relative to others.

How to Apply This Principle

In today's market, there seem to be a million companies launching every day. Before spending your hard-earned money and valuable time on a business or project headed for rockiness at best, use Branson's question to determine what unique value your company will bring to the marketplace.

First, you'll need to pick a niche and ruthlessly stick to it. In Al Ries and Jack Trout's classic business book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, the very first principle they outline is the Law of Leadership. This law states that it's better to be first than it is to be better in terms of your product or service.

If you're not extremely specialized or you don't have an extremely unique angle within a non-specialized niche, it'll be difficult for you to break through the noise in today's marketplace. 

This principle can be illustrated well with creating content online. When speaking with my own clients who are aspiring or practicing content creators, I always help them boil down their niche as a creator by having them fill out the following statement: "I want to become the go-to authority on [insert your niche here] on [insert your social media platforms of choice here]."

For instance, when I first began publishing marketing articles online, I had to home in on a specific topic and platform to gain traction as quickly as I did. My statement was, "I want to become the go-to authority on social media marketing on Medium."

By filling out this statement and adhering to it, you'll be saving yourself loads of time by making your decision-making process binary. If creating a piece of content, no matter how large or small, doesn't get you closer to fulfilling your statement, then it's getting you further away from it.

The process of deciding on a niche as a content creator is applicable to ironing out your value proposition as a startup founder, a small-business owner, or anybody else. The key is being highly specialized in the beginning. Then, after you gain some traction, you can always expand your focus later, but it's very difficult to do it the other way around.

Richard Branson's advice on this topic is something countless people can benefit from. Whether you're starting a fashion blog or launching a startup, by being original and having a unique angle in the marketplace that differentiates you from your competitors, you'll be gaining a head start on them. Best of luck.

Published on: Mar 29, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.