• Bill Petrie

Why Outliers Matter

Are you pushing things forward?

When embarking on any professional relationship, it’s usually easiest to form partnerships with the most prominent company or one that has been around the longest. People often assume a business union will be beneficial simply because of these factors, which, honestly, foreshadow little in the way of success. However, it’s equally as important not to discount the value of the outlier.

As a result of conventional thinking, outliers are often overlooked, which creates an environment where everyone looks exactly like their competition. As one Fortune 500 CFO once said, “Our strategy is a good one. We know it because everyone else [in our industry] has the same strategy.” Unfortunately, it’s precisely this thinking that keeps outlier companies on the fringes and stagnates innovation.

While the vast majority of organizations are content to compete against each other with similar value propositions, marketing approaches, and delivery models, there are companies that seek to distance themselves from that clamorous crowd. These are the outliers. In every industry, the outliers are the ones who innovate, instigate change, and push an industry forward. Apple, Amazon, Zappos, and Google come to mind when thinking about outliers that have capitalized on being different.

They stand out because they don’t think like their competition – or anyone else. In the promotional products industry, most of these outlier companies are neither suppliers nor distributors; instead, they are lumped into the slightly pejorative group known as “service providers.” Think about how different the promotional products industry was ten years ago – before companies like commonsku, PromoPulse, Soapbox, and, dare I suggest, brandivate. Now, because of these (and other) service provider organizations, there is:

  • A cloud-based software specific to the promotional products industry making client management far more easy and efficient

  • A phone app that aggregates and distributes the boggling amount of content created by the industry

  • A virtual meeting platform that has transformed how suppliers and distributors meet while deepening those relationships

  • A marketing/branding agency that has made connecting differently with a target audience more effective than ever

These service provider outliers understand that they would blend in with everyone else if they don’t experiment. While they know that sometimes their experiments fail, the critical thing that outliers embrace is the need to continue to try something new. Outliers, like the service providers in the promotional products industry, are the ones who dream up solutions for problems we not only face today but will face tomorrow.

If you do things the way they’ve always been done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Outliers understand that by doing something the mainstream does not, they innovate how business is done and stand out from a boisterous crowd. This isn’t to suggest there aren’t distributors or suppliers who are outliers – there are. However, it’s the service providers that consistently move the industry forward and why they, as outliers, matter.


Next time you're choosing who to work with and where to spend your money, take a closer look at the outlier. The new ways they approach your problems may end up being more impactful and effective than anything offered by "the big guys."

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