As a business owner, you take great pride in your company, your employees and the services and products your team provides to your customers. There is unique value in what you do and how you do it. It is what separates you from your competitors and it is why your customers and prospects should be forming strategic partnerships with you versus your competitors. Only they are not. Why?
From a strategic marketing standpoint, one of the hardest things for a company to do is position and differentiate itself from the competitors in its market space. Unfortunately, failing to do so can reduce a company and its products and services to “commodity status”. When this happens, your company is often treated more like a dime a dozen vendor than a can’t live without strategic partner.
If this all sounds familiar when considering your business, it may be time to take a meaningful look at how you are positioning and differentiating your company. In other words, what is the factor or reason that your company’s products or services are different and therefore better than that of your competition?
The reason positioning and differentiation is so important is because people are hardwired to notice only what’s different. So, if your company is without a means to position and differentiate itself, it winds up looking and sounding just like everyone else. When faced with a purchasing decision, if all things seem equal, people will buy on price and since only one person can be the least expensive (and he’s probably not making any money) the need to position and differentiate your company from your competitors becomes paramount.
Positioning and differentiation are much like genus and species in biology:
Positioning puts your company in a category
Differentiation separates your company from others in that same category
An example from the retail world would be Nordstrom:
Nordstrom’s positions itself as a purveyor of upscale fashion merchandise. It differentiates itself from others in that category by characterizing itself as the upscale fashion merchandiser with unmatched customer service.
So while you can go to other stores to get the same clothes for less money, Nordstrom knows that you can’t get the same level of service elsewhere. They also know that people are willing pay more for that service.
While Nordstrom has done a great job overcoming one of the most overused phrases (i.e., customer service) in their brand messaging, generally, positioning your business as a leader in customer service will not set you apart.
There is no disputing great customer service is essential to business success, but it is also expected. It’s a prerequisite, not a point of differentiation. Additionally, everyone claims it, but not everyone delivers it. The result is a market space that has grown skeptical of companies claiming to have superior service.
Again, this is not to say that superior customer service isn’t important, it’s just difficult to use “customer service” as your unique selling point.
How Do You Make Your Business More Compelling?
So here’s the challenge: If an attribute, like customer service, is what differentiates your business, how do you transform it from a “me too” selling point into a more compelling concept to position your business?
You’ve got to dig deeper.
Conduct some research. Do some competitive analysis. Talk to your customers, your business contacts and other centers of influence and discover what really makes your business special from a customer service standpoint.
In doing so, you may discover the specific characteristic that truly makes your customer service approach, and thus your business, special. For example you may discover that you are:
- Great listeners
- Possess the flexibility to customize solutions based on what you hear vs. providing ridged cookie cutter answers
- Consistently taking phone calls from customers during “off-hours” because you know their business requires it.
- Accommodating to your customers’ unique needs. (i.e., drive to their location and hand deliver products when timing is of the essence)
These are all great customer service attributes, but specifically it demonstrates that compassion is what differentiates you.
As you look for the characteristics that define your business, stay away from the generic buzzwords (i.e., service, quality, commitment, excellence, etc). While they are important, they will not differentiate your business as one company after another seems to be claiming these characteristics as their own.
Better to look for concepts that are tangible, concrete, and vivid. Be specific. Don’t settle for bland, blanket phrases. Remember the goal is to be different.