If you happened to study business in college, or are a corporate strategy junkie, you’ve probably heard of Michael Porter. If you haven’t heard of him, Porter is an esteemed Harvard Business School professor, served on Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, authored nearly 20 books (Amazon carries thirteen of them), and has published countless articles. Most would agree that Porter’s prophetic work has laid the foundation for the last 30 years of competitive strategy. I’d have a poster of him on our bedroom wall if my wife would let me. While Porter’s work has spawned numerous books, essays, and academic articles, I want to concentrate on one key piece: core competency.

Simply put, a company’s core competency is what only that company can do best. Ideally, this particular factor is not easily imitated by its competitors, and can be leveraged widely through many products, in many markets. For example, ADP was able to adapt its payroll technology it developed in the 50s for use in multiple industries, in multiple markets, and plays an integral roll (like it or not) in the car business. The better a company understands and develops its core competency, the more dominant position it will have in its market.

A lot of things happened long before you got into the car business. Slow, unreliable, cars made a dealership on every corner practical during the time franchise laws were written. An onslaught of foreign competition flooded the markets during the seventies because the domestic car business wasn’t prepared for rampant inflation and a decade of oil crises. The widespread suburban sprawl of the last twenty years has only paved the way for upstart competition that never existed across town. Oh, and that Internet “fad” happened, too. You can’t count on your location, your OEM, or having the most/newest/cheapest/bestest cars in town. In a 100-year-old business, it’s all been done before.

What hasn’t been done before? You.

You are an individual. You’ve collected years of rich life experiences that make you unique. Nobody can replicate you (scientifically, maybe,The new You shoes will make you run faster, jump higher, and more awesome to the opposite sex. but not your personality), just like you can’t copy anyone else (unless you want to be known as a fraud). You are not the cheapest available option (and neither is Apple, Nike, Ducati, or John Deere, by the way). You have values, you add value, and people gravitate towards you because you possess certain qualities. Understanding these qualities not only allows you to transact with customers, but it will allow you to mentally connect with them, as well.

Many of us fall into the of trap copycatting. We feel that if we follow in the footsteps of someone we know, or a brand we admire, we can achieve the same success. How did Microsoft do with the Zune (you’ll never get that $200 back)? How’s IBM’s PC business working out for it (congrats, Lenovo)? How’s Buzz doing for Google (that buzz you hear is Twitter laughing)? Even the best companies can fall short when they fail to connect with the customer by straying too far from what they do best.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to read articles, attend webinars, attain OEM certifications, and comb through blog posts. Reading and retweeting the latest Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki post only takes two clicks. Simply following the pack doesn’t create any hurtles for someone who just wants to copy you. In fact, it makes it much easier for them to follow. If everybody is following best practices, you aren’t creating any distinction to set yourself apart to the customer.

Instead, use best practices to create a foundation for you to build on. Understand the philosophy of the author or presenter. Frame it in the context of who they are, where they’re at, what they know, and more importantly, what they stand to gain. Now focus it through your lens. Apply it using your words, your emotions, your experiences, your research, to your customers, in your market. Measure your results (every variable you can think of, not just what’s required), and discover where you excel. Use these strengths as the bedrock on which to build your core competency.

Unfortunately, Michael Porter is too busy solving global issues (seriously) to turn his attention to the auto business. It doesn’t mean you can’t. Understand those qualities that your competition can’t emulate. Don’t count on someone else to carry you to success. Dedicate yourself to recognizing and measuring your strengths to feed your core competency. Be proud of what you do. Blaze a trail that no one can follow, create an unbreakable bond with your customers, and build a fortress that no one can knock down.