Is Your Business a Pork Belly

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My office is just a couple blocks away from the Kansas City Board of Trade so the commodity markets are often on my mind.

Pork Bellies are one of my favorites commodities, mostly because I like the name so much. I’m not entirely sure what one does with a load of pork bellies, but I do know, like all commodities, they are bought and sold exclusively on price. There’s no differentiating Bob’s Fine Pork Bellies from Susy’s Free Range Pork Bellies – all the bellies go in the pit and get snapped up for that day’s price – end of story.

A lot of businesses needlessly throw themselves onto something akin to the commodity trading floor by failing to carve out any discernible differentiating factor – or worse, attempting to fall in line with industry norms.

Some businesses actually have a core differentiator or they think they do, but it’s either undetectable or based on the same thing claimed by everyone in the industry. I’ll often ask audiences I speak with to raise their hands if they provide good service. This commonly held point of differentiation generally evokes a 100% hand raise – so, I’m guessing that even though lots of companies don’t really provide very good service, the fact that you say you do isn’t enough to differentiate.

If the market can’t find a difference, they’ll default, like the commodity market, to today’s prevailing price and, generally, the lowest price wins.

I know you’ve heard this all before, but I can’t stress it often enough or loud enough because it just might be the most important element of your marketing and business-building efforts. In fact, I believe that any business that nails a core point of differentiation, one that clearly allows them to stand out in a way that matters to a narrowly defined market, can promote that same business successfully using just about any set of tactics employed consistently.

On the flip side, a business with great products and services, but no clear differentiator, will struggle to some extent no matter how brilliant their execution of the latest and greatest marketing tactics.

In an effort to help illustrate the extent of the problem I challenge you to take the Pork Belly Test.

  1. Go to the Website of your top five competitors
  2. Copy and paste the lead paragraph from the home page of each to a Word document (include your site as well)
  3. Use the highlight tool to blackout company names or any other identifying information
  4. Pass the document around the office and see if anyone can tell what content goes with what company – including your own
  5. Bonus: Share this same document with a few clients and see if they can distinguish anything

I’m sure this won’t happen to you, but experience tells me that 99% of the time this test reveals that everyone in your industry is saying that exact same things about what makes their business special and the fact of the matter is, few are saying anything that would qualify as unique.

If, after taking this test, you happen to find this to be true for your business, then take this as a golden opportunity to do something different. Stretch your business and claim an entirely different way of doing business in your industry, pick a different color, package, delivery, pricing model, engagement type – just don’t continue to be a pork belly. (I don’t know what happens to pork bellies after they’re bought, but I’m guessing it’s not good.)

Heed this warning or continue to cling to the hope for success in the words of Dan Aykroyd’s character in the movie Trading Places – “Pork bellies! I have a hunch something exciting is going to happen in the pork belly market this morning.”


Kansas City Board of Trade

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  1. John-thanks, you have a way of cutting through the pork and getting to the point…it’s also critical to cite and interpret what our customers feel is our unique quality, rather than what we believe or preach..

  2. Great stuff as always, John. One approach might be to survey prospects & clients and ask “what’s missing” to try and include some fresh ideas into our marketing. Thoughts? Have a great Easter Weekend!

  3. What to do when the point of differentiation in your business has been the careful positioning of you the owner as expert, consultant, value creator – and you now wish to move beyond that limited, non-scalable model? The irony of that approach is the more successful you are at it, the more fiercely it limits you in terms of growth.

    1. Great point Jeff – it’s something you have to work at intentionally and precisely. I did the same thing and it required almost relaunching in a way. You also have to start changing your language to we instead of me, even it’s still just you.

      1. I concur with you John on the we part. People at some level want to think they are dealing with something more than one man’s expertise. I think the best part of your advice is that you cut away straight to the bones. The net is full of merry-go round articles that don’t pass any precise message.

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