Not having to defend your product or service against the competition can be a sweet place to be. Sales are easier to make. There’s time to build long-term client relationships which can further lock out the competition. Many brands achieve these types of sales and customer relationships because they recognized what makes them different from their competitors. They differentiated themselves from the rest of the pack.
If our baker is any good at all as a businessperson he already knows that baked bread, alongside any other good you care to mention, has been commoditized. No matter how good you are at what you do there is always someone else who is either better, or nearer, or cheaper, or smaller, or bigger, or gives out lollypops with each baked bread loaf purchase.
This is the same virtually across the entire marketplace, and the point is that no matter what kind of business you are in these days you will have competition and a lot of it. If you are unable to differentiate yourself sufficiently from your competition, your business will go under. If you are unable to create an emotional connection with your customers, your business will fail.
An underlying problem is many businesses remain broad when they describe what they do. Brand differentiation narrows your focus on what you do best. It gives you a unique position in the market place so the right clients know why to choose your business.
The following process will assist you in discovering qualities that can set your business apart from the competition.
- Clearly define your business mission.
- Analyze your competitors.
- Review brand differentiation strategies.
- Ensure your differentiation matters to your target market.
Let’s go through each of these steps.
Clearly Define Your Mission
You have to begin here because your mission is the heartbeat of your business. It’s why you exist. Often, it is what makes your business unique.
Gina Fiedel of Fat Eyes Web Development has helped businesses discover their mission. Her experience has revealed a dilemma many businesses face.
We tend to be crystal clear about what we do and how we do it. But why do we do it? Why do we bother and what keeps us going? What’s our purpose? What’s our company purpose?
Gina’s questions will help you find your why and set you on your way to creating a mission that differentiates your brand.
Chipotle accomplished this with their mission of serving “Food with Integrity”. It sets the Mexican restaurant apart from fast food alternatives that don’t use quality ingredients.
Once a mission is established, you must look at your competition to make sure your purpose sets your business apart.
Analyze Your Competitors
Look at how your competitors are differentiating themselves. Review their website, search engine listings and sales brochures. Visit them at networking events. Look at customer reviews. Ask people in your market about them.
If the analysis uncovers a purpose which isn’t setting your brand apart, then your mission could be to broad. The following strategies will help you focus your mission without changing the core reason you’re in business.
Brand Differentiation Strategies
These are some strong strategies brands have used to gain a competitive edge.
1. Market, Audience or Niche
Focusing on serving a specific market is a common brand differentiation tactic. Your business can become a valuable service provider within a niche and you’ll build a devoted audience.
Whole Foods in my town of Boulder does a great job filling a gap for people on special diets. They were the first store in the area to offer food options for folks who can’t tolerate gluten. The gluten-free market has grown and many other grocery stores now cater to this special need. But Whole Foods remains a leader by offering the largest selection of this food group.
Delivering an exceptional customer experience can raise your brand above the competition. This is a powerful differentiator because so many businesses fail at providing great service. Successful customer-obsessed companies don’t just talk about placing customers front and center. They act on it.
Nordstrom is one brand who has successfully built a customer-focused reputation.
Our Customer Service Commitment
We have a long-standing commitment to provide our customers with the best possible service every time they shop and to continually maintain a strong and lasting relationship with them.
After watching a woman searching for a lost diamond from her wedding ring, a Nordstrom’s store security worker joined the search. They came up empty handed but didn’t give up. They continued the search inside vacuum cleaners and found the stone. The Seattle Times covers the story in depth.
3. Change the Customer Experience
Southwest Airlines solved a source of pain many travelers feel—paying for luggage.
4. Production or Creation
Don’t overlook the method used to create products and services as a way to stand apart from the competitive pack. This is an effective way to humanize your brand and make an emotional connection with an audience. Case in point – Google. The search giant gives mother nature a break by using renewable energy to power their servers.
Inventors make a memorable mark on our lives and pave the way for new markets. The combustion engine, printing press, transistor and electricity are just a few innovations that changed our lives and sparked new business into the economy.
The spring-loaded camming device (cam), invented by Ray Jardine, revolutionized the sport of rock climbing. This protection device opened up more terrain for climbers because of its versatility and ease of use. Unlike earlier protection devices, cams leave the rock unscarred because they are removed after use. Climbers tend to buy a lot of cams and replace them often!
6. Small Business Edge
You don’t have to be an industry giant to separate your brand from the rest of the pack. There’s plenty of room for small businesses to carve out a unique position in their market.
The resources in larger organizations can create inertia which slows responsiveness. Resources also increase overhead. This presents an opportunity for leaner companies to use nimbleness, service and value to stand out. That’s exactly what David Kutcher at Confluent Forms does to set his brand apart.
We focus on personalized attention, realistic expectations and quality delivery.
Differentiation Must Matter to Your Target Market
In his book Amerland offers important advice many companies overlook when working out how to stand apart in the market.
The thing that’s different about you needs to be something your prospects want or care about if it’s going to resonate and positively impact conversion.
Don’t assume that your differentiation matters to your market. Do research to verify it. Look for proof in customer testimonials, surveys or client conversations. If you’re a start-up or venturing into a new market, ask your target audience.
I’ve asked folks in my target market to rank differentiators and the results were surprising. By striking down preconceived ideas, audience feedback can remove blinders we often develop about our brand.
Take time to hone in on a focused mission that separates your business from the competition. In rushing through this process many companies fail to discover what makes them unique and ensure it matters to the market they serve. Doing the research to get this right will help you keep the competition at bay.