A Publication of WTVP

Differentiate your business…and leave your competition in the dust.

In the past, if you did as well as your competition, you might split the customer base evenly, and that was probably enough to keep your business afloat. But to survive now, you need to make your business stand out, and to do that, you have to lead, not follow.

If you are a business owner searching for how to stand out in a marketing landscape crowded with multiple messages, you may be picking up the phone to call your local advertising agency. While that is an excellent step, I want to encourage you first to do something no ad agency can do for you: run your business in a distinctive manner.

One of the roles of an ad agency is to communicate your “differentiators”—that is, to tell customers how your business or product is different or better than that of your competitors. If they can’t find a difference, they will create one.

But as both a viewer of local advertising and as a marketing professional, I know that your prospective customers want real differences. They want substance. They do not want to read weak ad headlines, lame promotions or hear “blah, blah, blah” ads that say the same old thing.

To be honest, viewers tune these spots out because they have no real message.

Is Your Business Really Different?
Can you honestly look at your business and your competitors’ businesses and tell me how you are different? Can you write it on the back of a napkin? Would your customers confirm it?

Too often, there is little or nothing that really distinguishes one business from another. The reason? Running a business is difficult. Just competing head-to-head is a daily challenge. I invite you to move ahead of this day-to-day cycle. The following ideas can help you distinguish your business.

Idea 1: Fix a Problem
Find out what your customers’ (or your competitor’s customers’) biggest complaint is and fix it.

EXAMPLE: Progressive Car Insurance provides multiple insurance quotes online, both from their own company and others! This saves prospective customers time, and possibly money. It gives consumers a reason to call Progressive, and keeps them from calling the competition.

Did someone at the company say, “We can’t do that! We might lose business”? Probably. But in general, any idea that attracts more prospects means more sales.

Idea 2: Get In Front of a Trend
Figure out what direction your industry is traveling in (the trend), and then get out in front of it.

EXAMPLE: Apple’s Bakery has a new focus on baking and distributing gluten-free foods. The trend: increased screening by doctors is resulting in many more diagnoses of “gluten intolerance.” (Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, corn and oats.) With many more individuals looking for “gluten-free” options, Mary Ardapple’s bakery is ahead of this trend, selling gluten-free, ready-made baked goods—as well as distributing them to other stores! Do you know what the trends are in your industry or what new things your customers are looking for?

Idea 3: Right-Size Your Product
In a world of shrinking budgets, find a new way to offer your product to people in a “size” they can afford.

EXAMPLE: While car sales have been shrinking, we are seeing the growth in a new business called car sharing. ZipCar is a subscription-based business that allows members to lease cars hourly or daily. Gas and insurance are included. This hybrid business exists in a new place between car sales and car rentals.

Idea 4: Add Value for Your Best Customers
Streamline your business for your most profitable customers—this will attract more of the same!

EXAMPLE: National Car Rental’s Emerald Club adds value for frequent travelers. If you have ever stood in the long line while the Emerald Card traveler walked directly to his car and drove off the lot, you’ve seen a business that has identified its most profitable customers.

Which customers are your most profitable? It is worth your time to identify what each product or service costs and then evaluate which customer types provide the most profit for your business. Only then will you know how to attract more customers just like that.

If your industry is in a death spiral, do you fight it or embrace it? It may be time to ask, “How can I reinvent my business so I’ll be on top of the tsunami, not under it?”

These ideas can put your business into a leadership position by doing something new or differently than other businesses. All of these take some research and testing. And they require courage! But good business leaders are both smart and courageous. If your business isn’t where you want it to be, it is time to lead, not follow! iBi