Anomaly: How to Stand Out

One of the hardest things to do as a small businesses is to stand out.

In especially competitive markets, you’ll find competitors that offer similar services at similar prices with similar claims of quality to your business. We know your business is different. After all, you’re you, and they’re them. The problem is, it can be difficult for customers to see why you’re unique, and if they can’t see it, they’re less likely to remember you.

So, what can you do to stand out? This is where the principle of anomaly comes into play.

In design, anomaly is an interruption of a pattern. We use it to attract the eye to certain points and make those points memorable.

One example of an anomaly might be an interruption in a sequence. For example:


Even with exceptionally large amounts of data, people can spot anomalies quite easily.

A less fancy term for this might be “One of these things is not like the others.”

So, how can you use the concept of the anomaly to stand out?

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything differently. You just have to do one thing differently. The bad news, is that whatever you do differently, actually has to be really really different.

Let me give you an example:

I don’t travel a lot, but every once in awhile I hit the road and end up staying at a hotel. If you ask me for a list of major hotel chains I can rattle off a long list, but if you ask me for a list of hotels I’ve stayed at, I’d be hard pressed to remember if I’ve stayed at a specific hotel or not. The trouble is, whether it’s a Marriott, a Westin, or a Sheraton, I can’t really tell the difference. That’s not to say there are no differences. I’m sure there are variations in the threadcount of their sheets, the fluffiness of their pillows, the politeness of the staff, and the volumizing effect of their tiny bottles of hair conditioner.

They’re all nice places, but as an only occasional traveler, I’m not well versed enough with the long list of minor differences between each hotel chain (much less each individual hotel location) to tell you which one is which. Except one.

A few months ago I stayed at a hotel while on a weekend trip. I picked it because it wasn’t outrageously expensive, it looked nice enough, and it was close to everything I wanted to see. I was finishing up the check-in process and was about to proceed with my perfectly enjoyable, but utterly forgettable stay in their hotel when they did something that surprised me.

In addition to my keycard they handed over a warm chocolate chip cookie.*

More frequent travelers are likely familiar with this practice from this particular hotel, but as a novice, my mind was blown.

All they did was one thing that I’d never seen before from any other hotel. Just one thing. Whereas other hotels compete in my head on things like price, location, style, and dozens of other minute criteria, this hotel created an entirely new criteria that I call “The Chocolate Chip Check-In Cookie”** and they’re the only ones with that box checked.

Now, despite my stays at dozens of other hotels in my lifetime, I will always remember that I stayed at a Doubletree by Hilton.

As for anomalies, we can’t tell you what one thing to do differently here, but we can help you get started. Make a list of every criteria that you share with your competitors.

Done? The key to standing out is not on that list.

Just in case you’re not entirely sure how the principle of anomaly works, watch this delightful parade of animated cats and revel in how easy it is to spot the anomalies (the relevant portion starts at 1:03):