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6 Admitting We Have a Problem Is the First Step

One of the most fulfilling moments in my consulting work comes when a client finally flashes a hint of realization that they do indeed have an affliction.

And that affliction is – that they desperately need to be exactly like everyone else in their industry only older, bigger, and more results oriented, cost effective and partner centric.

The treatment for this is not pretty, but it usually starts by showing them a series of test results like the ones listed below that include comparison results from other patients with the same disease.

After the denial phase fads some are ready to move on to a treatment that involves the radical process of asking their clients what they do that is actually worthy of turning into a core message of differentiation.

Friends don’t let friends die a slow boring death of sameness.

This has been a public service announcement brought to you by your friends at the Duct Tape Council.

30 Better is Only Better if it’s Different

I believe that the most important marketing consideration is an effective marketing strategy.

asgw via Flickr

Now, I’m not talking about the empty academic exercise kind of strategy. I’m talking about the discovery and communication of a core point of differentiation that informs and drives every tactical aspect of marketing and, in many cases, the overall business strategy of the organization.

And guess what, being better than your competition isn’t a strategy, it’s an expectation. There’s nothing wrong with striving to be the best at what you do, it certainly will make for happy customers, but it won’t attract that kind of easy buzz that being different generates.

I’ve not done this scientifically, but over the years I’ve rarely encountered a firm that didn’t think their products or services were superior to those of the companies they directly competed with. In most cases, those same firms also believed that something along the lines of “we provide better service” was their core point of differentiation.

While it may indeed be true that your service is better, striving to communicate this belief as a central marketing message is what keeps firms stuck in the rut of commodity with every other firm that is saying the same thing.

Firms that build substantial marketing momentum through strategy don’t strive to do things better, they strive to do things that no one else in their market is doing or to do the same things that everyone else is doing in different ways.

  • A remodeling contractor creates and promotes something they call the “One Week Bath” – an unheard of proposition
  • A law firm provides the same legal services as their competitors, but packages them in fixed price bundles. – heresy with the bill by the minute set
  • A screen printer crowdsources t-shirt designs and shares sales profits with the successful designers. – wow, incredible designs and rabid loyal community

Now, being different for different sake isn’t enough. You’ve also got to uncover a way of being different that solves a current frustration, eliminates a problem, enhances an experience or dramatically alters a well worn industry given.

The most powerful marketing strategies are therefore:

  • Something that is both unique and beneficial
  • Something you can actually pull off elegantly
  • Something that your competition doesn’t or can’t do

Where to look for differentiation

Ways to differentiate lurk in every corner of a business and industry and your hunt for differentiating strategy start by answering the following questions:

  • What could we do that no one in our industry is doing?
  • What is the greatest frustration of our ideal customers?
  • Are there innovations in other industries we could adopt?
  • Are there unique ways to package, price or deliver our products and services?
  • How could we create a totally unique customer experience?

Here’s the funny thing though. There’s a good chance you’re already doing something that is unique, but you just don’t know it. In working with small businesses over the years, I’ve uncovered stunning marketing strategies by simply going out and interviewing a handful of an organization’s loyal customers.

Customers often appreciate the little things you do differently: clean up the job site each day, explain accounting in plain English, return phone calls promptly or provide recommendations of other service providers.

The key is to find these differences and make them your core marketing strategy. Sometimes this takes guts – maybe nobody else in your industry is promoting those little things, maybe they don’t sound that sexy, but your best customers told you that they make a big difference to them and that should give you the confidence that it will make a big difference to others.

You don’t have to revolutionize a product or service category to be different in ways that matter to your customers. You just have to innovate in ways that make sense to them and make your brand easy to talk about. Sometimes simplifying what you do can be the greatest innovation of all.

Human strategy

Once you find your strategy of difference you must go to work on building it into everything you do.

Use your strategy of difference as a filter for every marketing decision.

Evolve your language internally and externally to communicate your core difference.

Bring every member of your staff into the discussion and help them link their function to the delivery of your strategy of difference.

4 Make Your Own Brand of Music

musicI had a music teacher growing up that you used to say, “it’s fine if you mess up, just mess up the same way when you get to that spot again.”

I think that so many business people so strive to act just like they see everyone else in their industry act, that they never show off their own unique sound.

It’s OK to experiment, do things that others don’t, in fact, it’s the secret to breaking away from the pack.

Purposely look for ways to play off key, showcase your quirks. Hire rebels and freaks. Let you customers know you’re not perfect and then give them a glimpse of a practice run. Set your business up like a teaching studio and host open mic nights for your customers and staff. Focus all of your attention on building an audience that loves your unique and sometimes offbeat style of music and they will find you and tell their friends. Celebrate your gifts!

To round up this music metaphor I’ll draw on the Oliver Wendall Holmes quote, “most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.” Don’t let that be said about your business.

Tell me about the lovable quirks your business has embraced.

Image credit: Nic’s events

11 Be the Red Leaf

So I come back from my chilly morning run and am greeted by the site of one lone red leaf popping out of a sea of green ivy and decaying brown leaves – and I can’t help but take notice.

Stand out – can’t help but take notice – of course, I immediately think marketing strategy.

Small businesses must be the red leaf. The market needs a way to differentiate all the green and brown leaves from one another so it uses price. Smart small business marketers, ones that can become the red leaf and place themselves squarely among the rest, stand out and compete on value.

Now, having said that, standing out is not simply about making more noise of being different for difference sake, standing out is understanding an innovation that a market needs and values and creating a brand that represents that message of innovation in every possible way.

Their are three kinds of research you should do right now if you aim to discover the best way for you to be the red leaf.

1) Study your competition – likely this will verify that everyone is saying the same thing and the opportunity exists for you to say something different.
2) Study difference makers in other industries – what do small business brands that you may already admire do that you don’t? Hire a coach who works with a different industry.
3) Talk to your customers – ask you ideal customers what you do that they value. Chances are it’s not what you think and greater chances are it’s what you need to tap as your essential difference.

Let me see if I can say this in dramatic enough fashion – you absolutely must tap or create a valuable point of differentiation and then build your marketing strategy around communicating that difference or your business will struggle to rise above the competitive noise.

Differences are everywhere waiting for you to claim them. They exist in the way you market, your products and services, in packaging of those products and services, in the delivery of those products and services, in narrow market niches, in your processes, and in your people.

When you find your red leaf and can honestly say you have no direct competition to speak of, you’re probably on your way.