I'm getting bored now. If I read one more press release from a law firm trying to tell me how to avoid trouble at my Christmas party, I think I'll scream!
I know it's probably good advice, but it's just too much. The first time round it was simple, clever and different.. Now, it's the same story trotted out by a dozen firms year after year.
And like Christmas advertising and decorations, there now seems to be this mad rush to be first to tell us not to let anyone get too drunk and insult Mavis in accounts if we don't want a law suit on our hands.
It's the same message, the same top ten tips, the same advice from different spokesperson (although usually same suit and hairstyle!) , with just a different name at the bottom of the article to tell them apart.
But what these stories reflect is something that seems endemic in many industries, particularly professional services. Similar companies employing similar people, marketing similar services in a similar way. It's hardly surprising that there is little or no differentiation between them.
It's not just lawyers who are guilty of this. Why do all accountants send out the same little explanatory booklets after each budget? Why do so many utilities companies seems to use the same call centres employing people with identical scripts? While we're at it, is it me, or have most car adverts morphed into each other?
But most of these firms still insist that they are different from their competitors. Some may well be. But the challenge they face is not just about being different, but being dramatically and demonstrably different.
The best way to do this is to do things that your competitors aren't or can't do. Even better, do things you're your customers don't expect either.
I love seeing businesses that dare to go against the grain, do the unexpected, and break the rules – businesses that are revolutionary. It doesn't have to be earth shattering, either. Sometimes it's the little things that do it.
Take those little booklets sent out by accountancy firms. I asked half a dozen business associates about them. Five firms sent the booklet – the same booklet with a different cover - and nothing else. One firm sent four copies with the same standard letter to the same person. Three firms sent a booklet with a blank compliment slip. Another two sent compliment slips with an undecipherable signature at the bottom and two more sent a booklet with a standard cover letter.
But one friend received a booklet together with a personal, hand-written note that explained three key points that would impact his business.
The same changes had also been highlighted inside the ubiquitous booklet with a marker pen and some comments added. The personal note said: "there's not that much in this year's budget, but here are the key points that affect you – any questions, don't hesitate to call me."
Now, that was different. More work, yes, more effort, yes, but much greater IMPACT!
I came across one accountancy firm that washed your car when you parked in their car park. A design business I know doesn't send hampers or bottles of whiskey at Christmas, but buys key clients an annual subscription to a magazine that interests them.
Some organisations, meanwhile, have the 'dramatic difference' built in to the way they do business: Build-a-Bear don't just sell teddy bears, they sell personal experiences and help customers create a bear no other shop could ever sell.
Innocent Drinks offer nutritious fruit smoothies quirkily packaged that provide an alternative that the likes of Coke and Pepsi can't touch. They do it with a fantastic irreverence too – just read the packaging.
Malmaison Hotels publicly declare that they dare to be different. They do this through their décor, facilities, service and little touches. There are no 'do not disturb' signs here, instead they say 'I want to be alone'!
This all takes imagination, courage and a willingness to break the mould. Not everyone is capable of it. But that's great news for those that are.
Next Christmas I'd love to see a law firm not bother with the usual 'me too' reminders but come up with 10 great ways to have a brilliant Christmas party, or five festive games to play that will make everyone laugh. You wouldn't expect that from a lawyer would you? You'll remember them though.
So, what does this all mean for you? Is your business dramatically different or are you simply the same as all the others?
I urge you to make a New Year Resolution for your business - Do something that nobody would expect you to. Stick your neck out. It might just get you ahead.
Go on, make 2007 your Year Of Living Differently. I dare you!