What marketing method is more effective than direct mail, web sites, referrals, or publicity? It's differentiation from your competition. Use these tips to figure out what your competitive advantage is.
Quite often small business owners will ask me to reveal the most powerful marketing strategy I have seen. I can say without hesitation that the most powerful marketing strategy has little to do with advertising, direct mail, web sites, referrals or blogs.
No, before any of those things will really have any impact on your business you've got to uncover and communicate a way in which your business is different from every other business that says they do what you do. You've got to get out of the commodity business. You've got to stake your claim on a simple idea or position in the mind of your prospective clients.
Here's what I mean. I have a client that provides custom computer programming. Essentially, they use programming languages to build custom applications for businesses. What they do is often hard to explain and even harder to put a price on, making it difficult for a prospective client to compare different companies. As a way to differentiate their business, they have begun to offer something they call Perfect Coaching. Perfect Coaching is a unique blend of training and programming and, here's the key, no one else in their business is offering anything like it. Prospects like the sound of it and are asking to know more. It's too early to tell but I suspect this point of difference will open a lot of doors for them.
Ways to differentiate
Let's look at a number of tried and true ways to claim a unique point of difference.
Product - Can you offer a product that is so unique or even trendy that your business is associated with that offering? Or, can you extend a product and offer a valuable service to make the product more useful to the customer.
Service - Same goes for a service. Many times this can be the packaging of a service as a product. Consulting is often delivered on an hourly basis. Packaging a consulting engagement based on an outcome, with defined deliverables and fixed package price is a very effective way to differentiate a service offering. Don't forget to give the service a powerful name!
Market Niche - Carve out an industry or two and become the most dominant player serving that industry. A really nice bonus to this approach is you can usually raise your prices dramatically when you specialize in this manner.
Offer - Can you become known by an offer you make? I know an accountant that offer his tax preparation clients a 100% refund on their preparation fee when they refer four new clients. They are the 100% refund tax guys.
Solve a Problem - Is there something that prospects in your market fear or seem to believe is universal for what you do? If so, focus on communicating how you have the answer. Painless dentistry for example. I know a remodeling contractor who found that what his clients appreciated the most was the way his crews cleaned up at the end of the day. He began to promote the fact that he owned more ShopVacs then any other remodeling contractor on the planet.
Message of Value - Many times there are things that you do that don't get communicated. Extra that you provide or services you think should be included. Your positioning might just rest in more effectively communicating what you do. I know an office furniture dealer that has adopted the message - We Make Your Business More Valuable - to communicate all the things they bring to the party. Now, everything they do is focused on delivering on that statement. Everyone else in the industry sells furniture.
Unique habit - I know a financial planner who has his client's car detailed right out in his parking lot when they come in for their annual review. They can't help but rave to their friends about this unique touch.
Guarantee - Can you offer a guarantee so strong that no one else in your industry would dream of doing it. This one frightens some people but, you probably guarantee your work anyway, you just don't say so. Come out and boldly announce that you guarantee results and watch what happens!
Customer Service - Everyone knows the story of over the top customer service provided by Nordstrom's Create your own over the top customer response system and word of mouth advertising will flow liberally. One of the greatest ways to kick this off is to over deliver on your first customer contact. Give them something more than you promised, give them a gift, give them a related service for free.
Against the competition - Many times you can create your category niche by looking for holes in the offerings of your competitors. If every one in industry fails to address a certain problem, boldly grab on to solving that problem and use your competition as the point of difference.
Clues to uncovering your difference
Look at your current clients. What common elements exist among your best clients? Interview your clients. See if they can tell you why they chose to work with, why they stay, why they refer? Study your competitors more closely. What do they do that you could do better, what don't they offer they you could, how do they position themselves?
Communicate the difference
Once you find your chosen strategy or combination of strategies to differentiate your business, all of your advertising and promotion should be centered around shouting about that difference.
Commit to it, stay at it and resist the temptation to wander off in the next new direction. Building a brand, and that's what I'm talking about, takes time and patience. The payoff, however, is what differentiates the winners from the losers in this big marketing game.