Onlyness equals client loyalty

Onlyness = client loyalty

Why are some clients loyal while others just flit from design agency to design agency on a whim? Onlyness equals client loyalty when you explain the personal attributes, experiences and learnings that make you unique. The term onlyness was invented by Nilofer Merchant, an author, and leading authority on creating business strategy to achieve success.

Nilofer has honed her unique, collaborative approach to solving tough problems while working with and for companies including Adobe, Apple, Nokia, and HP.
This is how she described coming up with the word.

I was writing an economics, business book, and I was trying to describe how the way we create value has changed, and I was trying to say “that thing that only you do.” I was twiddling with words like “uniqueness” and “distinctive,” but none of them told the full story, so I said let’s make up a word. It refers to that spot in the world that only you are standing in. It’s such a distinctive point of view. It’s your creative source. It’s the perspective that allows you to challenge convention. It is that idea that only you have.

Onlyness is the thing that only you can bring to a situation. It includes your life journey, education, upbringing, perceptions and passions. It’s fundamentally about honouring each person. Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies.

Explaining your onlyness equals client loyalty when they see the unique attributes you bring to the relationship.

Consider the uniqueness of your agency if you bring your team together and uncover each person’s onlyness. Then you have identified the competitive advantage of your business. You can move the onlyness to your Vision, Mission, Values and Purpose statements which in turn lead to your design value proposition.

Personal journey map

To start identifying onlyness and develop client loyalty you can use a personal journey map. Carol and I have used this method with hundreds of designers to help them uncover their onlyness.  See an example Carol prepared to show her personal journey and work out her onlyness.

Once you have a series of theses maps for the team it gives the key messaging for your business. It also helps everyone understand each other better and then you’ve built a culture in the business. This means everyone in the business embodies the collective culture.

In this way it will lead to everyone building your competitive advantage and that gets more and better clients. Add the idea that you are now selling design value and you have a very successful business.

It all starts with your onlyness. Onlyness equals client loyalty.


This is an interesting 7 minute read Medium article from Nilofer Merchant.

A detailed article from the Norman Nielsen group about customer journey maps. Well worth a read to see where a personal journey map fits in.


Greg Branson

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Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.

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