Getting noticed as a small business in any market is no walk in the park. Chances are, you’re not the first to the market. It’s already packed with businesses offering what you do, so how on earth are you going to get noticed in all this noise?
Differentiate, Differentiate, Differentiate.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Your competitors offer everything you offer. In fact, because they’re longer in business, they actually have a wider range of products or services than you do and vaster resources.
How on earth can I offer something that they can’t?
No doubt, you’re up against it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t differentiate and offer an alternative for those in the market looking for what you offer.
The truth is, there are countless ways to differentiate who you are and what you do.
Rules v Strategy
Let’s get something straight. There are rules and then there is strategy.
Rules are pre-requisites of doing business and unless you can truly excel in one of these rules then you should probably look elsewhere for a differentiator.
If for example, you own a restaurant, then some the rules of doing business are:
Your restaurant is clean
Your food is fresh
Your prices offer value
Using the angle that your restaurant is cleaner than your competitors is not going to fly. A clean restaurant is assumed because no one with the notion that your restaurant is otherwise will dare walk through your door.
Creating a compelling differentiator is not a rule but a strategy and in order for your strategy to be effective, it needs to be based on information, that is; what are your competitors doing and what can you do better?
Your Differentiator is your X-Factor
Making a strategic decision to define your differentiator often requires a level of creativity. There are some obvious areas to look at, though many of your competitors will already have taken one or more of those positions. But that’s ok.
For the most part, the obvious areas for differentiation won’t be enough to turn heads and get you noticed. You need to be creative. You need to be remarkable. You need an X-factor.
Here are areas to consider for your differentiator.
So this is the most obvious one, but it’s also a dangerous game. If your price is your only differentiator then what’s to stop someone else coming in and undercutting you.
Many businesses have been brought to their knees by price wars and in today’s online world, you might be competing with someone who can afford to offer prices far lower than yours due to the economic environment in which they live.
Furthermore, lower prices can often work against you (depending on your industry) with many people associating low price with low quality. You might end up loosing potential clients if your prices are too low.
Everyone wants a quality product or service and being able to offer higher quality than your audience is a very strong position to be in.
Offering higher quality will often come with higher overheads, whether that is through better quality produce or better talent and so, your quality will often need to be reflected in your price-point.
This balance of quality and price is important. If you are offering a superior quality product or service, you need to be communicating that in the right way and often, your price-point is an important chapter in the narrative.
The range of products or services you offer can be a point of difference on either the broad or narrow end of the spectrum meaning you can go super-broad or super-niche with your offering.
If you’re in the car-wash business, for example, you might have an offer for Hatchback cars, Sedan Cars, SUVs and Sports cars. Each one of those offers might have a deluxe, superior and premium option. You might provide a lounge, a café, a deli, a gift shop or anything else that might enhance the experience for the customer.
A broad range can be the right offer for your audience but be careful. A brand that tries to mean all things to everyone can end up meaning nothing to anyone.
Instead, you might go super-niche and only offer a premium carwash service for sports cars. You cut out other potential business but position yourself as the go-to for the premium market.
If you’re considering this angle, ensure that there are enough sports cars in the area to sustain that business model.
#4 Technological Advancement
With more and more convenient apps popping up everywhere, the public is getting more and more used to convenience to the point that anything that makes their life easier, is definitely worth considering.
If you are able to bring to life an experience that enhances convenience through technology, then chances are, your competitors heads will turn.
A busy car wash might have a queue of cars on a Saturday morning that might be alleviated with a user-friendly app to reduce wait time.
In the mid 90’s, it was only big companies that had websites but the more people went online, the more small companies were drawn to the web. Likewise, there will come a time where every small business will be expected to enhance convenience through an app. For now, it’s still an area of differentiation.
If price, quality, range and technological advancement are out of reach as a differentiator for your small business, there is one area that’s not. Caring.
The opportunities and variables for you to differentiate your business through caring are so vast; there will always be something you can do differently with a little bit of creativity.
The low cost of entry means that you can introduce your differentiator to the market will little more investment than time, authenticity and a little TLC (Tender Loving Care)
The biggest advantage that the “Caring” differentiator has over all of the above is that it makes connections and builds relationships that a low price or a wider range could never hope to.
Advocacy is your brands Holy Grail
Customers that feel that a brand actually cares for them, have a deep emotional connection that breeds loyalty and advocacy. Advocacy is branding in its most potent form as it is built on trust and spreads via word-of-mouth (the holy grail).
So, how can you find your X-factor and differentiate your brand through caring? The more creative you can get here, the more attention you are likely to get.
You might offer a free coffee with every carwash and although that might be more than your competitor is doing, there is little emotional connection in the gesture as it’s seen for what it is… Marketing.
You want to make your differentiator something worth talking about. To leave your customer with an experience that makes them want to tell their friends.
They want to talk about you
So give them something to talk about.
Having a differentiator is not about being different for the sake of being different. You want your audience to have an experience they want to tell their friends and family about so people turn their heads and look at you instead of your competitors.
Think about the feeling when someone does something kind and unexpected that makes you feel cared for. That’s the emotional connection you want to achieve.
If you’re in the baking industry and you bake cakes for special occasions such as birthday’s, anniversaries, weddings, then people are entrusting you with a very special memory.
You are already in possession of an emotional moment, which you can enhance with a nice gesture (e.g. an unexpected batch of cookies with a hand-written note to wish them well for their special day).
It’s important to differentiate yourself from your competitors and give your audience an alternative to what’s already available. If you’re not one of the first to market, the obvious positions will most likely be taken.
Creativity and understanding are the keys to identifying a unique caring differentiator. There is no hard and fast rule or 5 step-process to help you be more thoughtful and show that you genuinely care.
Learn who your audience is, what they like and what their problems are and sprinkle a little sunshine into their day. If you make them smile, you win a loyal customer who may just tell their friends, family or social network.
Stephen is a passionate Brand Creator and Founder of Iconic Fox Brand Agency. With a background in both financial markets and design, he is well positioned on brand strategy and creative and is passionate about both. Stephen has been featured on Marketo, Hubspot, Inside Small Business, Creative Bloq and more for his expertise on brand strategy and creative.
He’s also a friendly chap so if there’s something you want to know about brand, he’d be happy to get into it with you