Want to grow your business? Be different.

by Kelly Deis of SoundPoint Consulting

The odds are that there are a lot of other businesses in your market providing similar products or services. So what is compelling about your firm that sets you apart from your competition and entices potential customers to buy from you?

Many business owners will answer with the “soft” differentiators, such as reputation, good service and high quality. These are all great characteristics (and absolutely necessary!), but do they really set you apart? I’ll bet that if you ask your competition what sets them apart, you will get similar answers.

The fact is that highly differentiated firms are generally more profitable than their counterparts. Their overall market may be smaller than a less differentiated firm, but they have more of it (the proverbial big fish in little pond). And, they most likely charge more and spend less on advertising and marketing.

Developing a differentiation strategy doesn’t just happen (although many business owners wish that it would!). It requires a conscious decision on how you want to showcase your firm followed by management decisions that support and further the strategy.

If you are thinking of ways to differentiate, here are some ideas. But, to be worth pursuing they must be true strengths of your business, provable and important to your customers.

1. Focus on understanding a particular target audience.

Many brands define themselves by the markets they target, be it retiring baby boomers, nature-loving millennials, or women entrepreneurs.

2. Specialize in an industry

This is often a successful differentiator as customers generally value working with specialists in their industry, such as the accountant focused on dental practices or the pump manufacturer specializing in the oil and gas industry.

3. Specialize in customers that share a common characteristic

Many companies focus on customers that share a common characteristic, such as non-profits, high-growth companies, or start-ups. It is presumed that these firms face similar challenges.

4. Specialize in customers of a certain size.

This is another common differentiator for those providing goods and services to businesses. Perhaps you work best with large corporations. Contrast that with those serving mid-market companies, small businesses or solo-preneurs.

5. Have a specific geographic focus

Again, a very traditional differentiator. This can be important where local knowledge or face-to-face interaction with customers is important. It can also be important if you are reaching out to a traditionally under-served market.

6. Promote a social value

Promoting a social value that is important to you can be a good differentiator, be it the use of environmentally-friendly products, using suppliers with fair employment standards, or selling “Made in America” products. These values can differentiate your firm and attract a like-minded customer base.

7. Do business with a distinctive level of service

In most cases, good customer service is a given. Without it, you won’t survive in today’s market. So for this to become a differentiator, it must truly be extraordinary, such as a physician making house calls or customer service answering within 2 minutes.

8. Offer unique pricing

If everyone in your business bills by the hour or by service call, then consider offering a fixed fee or charging only after a successful outcome. Consider bundling products or services for a one-time charge or subscription-based pricing.

9. Offer a unique product or service

Offer a unique set of services that are hard to find. Services might be combined with a credential that is also a differentiator. Unique product offerings might include having exclusive distribution rights for a particular brand or being certified in Six Sigma.

10. Look or act differently than your competitors

If all of your competitors are staid, then a more relaxed and irreverent approach would be a differentiator. A different look and feel from your competitors might feel risky, but it might also be a welcome change for your customers.

Other differentiators you might consider include focusing on:

* Size of your firm: “We are the largest…. in the area”

* Relationships with partners: “We work with…. to provide the best….”

* The customers or clients you have: “Our customers include the most prestigious in the field including…. ”

* The benefit the customer will receive: “Our products are proven to help you….”


Kelly Deis is president of Soundpoint Consulting, based right here in Kitsap County. She earned an MBA at the Wharton School, and offers services as a Certified Valuation Analyst and Certified Exit Planning Analyst. She also helps clients develop a differentiating strategy. 

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