This question, “How To Stand Out - How To Differentiate Your Business - How To Stay Competitive?” not only is this one of the most popular queries that I get, but it is the biggest excuse people have about NOT doing the damn thing.
"How To Stand Out In A Saturated Market" comes from a very scary place. It suggests that it’s impossible to succeed or be successful, and that you have to be 100% original to even think about standing out.
Here’s the thing, we are all standing on the shoulder of giants.
I am pretty sure Shakespeare covered every single literary theme, and use romance for the sake of this argument because ... who could beat Romeo & Juliet.
How about Don Quixote? Or the novels written by the Bronte Sisters. Or the THOUSANDS of trashy romance novels written just last year? Even, 50 Shades of Grey (had to).
Yes my friend, originality is hard to come by these days, but authenticity trumps originality everyday.
There is only one of you.
I know, cheezy, but here’s the thing, the way you think, create, work, make, and even the way you talk, is truly unique. There is only one of you.
So how do YOU differentiate YOUR business?
Double down on what makes you, YOU!
If you’re struggling to answer the above question, you're going through an existential crisis, or maybe you've just evolved beyond your existing expectations, that’s OK (and exactly what you should be doing).
I am going to talk about the three best ways to differentiate your business in a saturated market, how to ensure that your service or product stands out amongst the crowd and finally, how you can ensure your brand carves out awareness and recognition, even if you’re selling paper.
There’s a few tried and tested ways to truly discover, or evolve your business's competitive edge. But let’s start with the mechanics and then get into the theory.
This sounds simple but we can get pretty caught up in ideation, iterating, and improving, and never really letting the brand, our values, or even our mission show up. You, your business, your employees, your marketing, your contractors and vendors, your inventory or product, even your sales and follow-up need to be consistent.
Everyday, every single thing that gets done in your business should be done for the same reasons with the same metrics and the same commitment to your mission. We’ll get more into these values and theory but for the now, ask yourself - is every person, every social media post, every offering, even the clothing being worn, demonstrative of your mission.
Pick a strategy and execute it. Stick with it. Every day. Set goals and parameters. Measure progress. If something isn’t working, why not? Don’t just throw the baby out with the dishwater.
SO MANY OWNERS will try one new sale strategy and after a couple weeks when they don’t see the numbers, they’ll introduce a totally new strategy. This wastes HUGE amounts of money, time and energy. Instead stay consistent. Test one variable, one small thing you can change to learn more about the overall strategy. Pick a long enough timeline to actually test and learn (minimum of 90 days for a small business).
Keep it simple. If you’re committed, consistent, and strategic, then there is no need to over complicate it. Pick a strategy, one goal, one thing to change and then stick with it. If it doesn’t yield the results you expected, change one thing. Or let it go, and move on.
Finally, once you figure out a successful plan of attack and it’s giving you desired results, you’ll want to go into rinse - wash - repeat mode, systemize and automate it.
But how does this apply to standing out and differentiating your brand? If your business can walk and talk and jump and swim just like you would, without you, you know you have commoditized YOU.
This might not mean getting a bot, it could be having a simple checklist your opening manager can go through, it might mean having a slack update scheduled daily, it could be an IFTTT or Zapier program that schedules appointments, updates calendars, books service providers and orders supplies. It’s whatever your business needs to think and act and show up consistently, just like you.
Now we addressed the mechanics, you may not need anymore. I can promise you, you and your business are one-of-a-kind and once you double down on consistently showing your buyers what that means, you will stand alone. Here’s why, because YOU’RE A FREAK
Lol, sorry, had to.
But seriously. What makes you weird? What does your sibling / partner / best friend / social media stream say about what makes you different? If you are questioning everything, evolving at a faster rate than your current environment can compute, or simply exploring a rebrand, this is an amazing opportunity to discover and lean into your differentiators, and here’s how to do just that.
Firstly, as yourself, what do you stand for? Who are you? Again, what makes you weird? These nuances are EXACTLY how you stand out from the crowd.
More importantly, these characteristics are EXACTLY how your new buyers will find you, and why your existing buyers, buy again. They share these quirks, they are attracted to these qualities, or they want more of this in their lives.
When we honor our own uniqueness, and allow our businesses to showcase these, dare I say it again, differentiators, we easily grab a bigger piece of the market pie.
There are some incredibly cheezy examples of this, that are so simple and so damn effective, we miss our opportunity to emulate these branding strategies. This doesn’t have to be high-minded and snobbery.
I’m talking about Jake Jabs, the founder of American Furniture warehouse’s obsession with big game cats. What does that have to do with furniture? NOTHING. Why does every ad and every store have a big game cat (they’re stuffed animals in the store), because that is what makes AFW different!
What do you think of when you think of pink? Mary Kay Cosmetics. Mary Kay Ash used her favorite color to define every single thing in her business from labels and packaging to marketing and sales rewards.
The Nike Swoosh is famous in and of itself. Blue Ribbon Sports used the goddess of victory as inspo for the design. They committed to victory so hard, Blue Ribbon sports had to change its name to Nike, after the goddess that inspired the logo. They rebranded INTO their log?!?
I could go on and on, but the point is, when you highlight what you stand for, and you go all in on what makes you YOU, and your business is an expression of that trait, you stand out.
You might be thinking, every business owner stands for quality, how can I double down on that differentiator? And you’re right, it’s not that exciting when we use a ubiquitous business goal.
What makes things interesting is when you combine all your values and then use them to define your business.
The best quality, for the lowest price, with exceptional service, and every sale gives back 10% to our community and we offer college scholarships to our employees. Now that is something special.
People who share those values, desire those benefits, and live in your community are going to pay attention to what you do. When you align your top 5 values AND your business, things get interesting. When you prove you stand by your business values and consistently deliver, you stand out from everyone else.
You STILL might be thinking, “Come on - what business doesn’t give back, offer high quality for good value and blah blah blah!” Fair.
You might be more attracted to goal setting as a differentiator. Perhaps creating a successful business is the byproduct of building fresh food options in near-by food deserts. Or maybe you want to ensure your employees get paid days off of work to volunteer. These goals make your business unique to your customers and stake-holders.
By aligning your business brand with macro plans for improving the planet, hitting sales targets never reached before, even yielding zero-waste and being carbon-footprint free is another way of ensuring your people find you.
Finally, just let that freak flag fly. Owning your mistakes, sharing your stories, being raw and vulnerable, these are powerful ways of connecting with your people and potential buyers.
Be honest. Be real. Talk about the hard stuff. Ask for help when you need it. Let your community know you had a slow month and need some sales, or let them know they helped you become successful and you’re raising prices.
What would happen if you stopped filtering? Sure, some people may be turned off or even offended (if your filter is anything like mine). GOOD!
Wasting precious marketing money, or salaries, or even research and development on people and products that distract you from your values, your goals, and your character in all of its flaws and greatness IS A WASTE and will kill your soul let alone your business.
Stand for something. Go for your big goals. Share what is most important to you, and why. And let people in on your unique process. You’ll stand out like a unicorn. You’ll shine like the sun. No one will overlook your brand and business.
Yup, be OK. You have permission to aim high and land among the stars. There’s only one best.
What would it mean for your business to be in the top ten? It might be unsustainable growth, demand, and scaling. So aim to be better tomorrow than you were today. 1% improvement. The first few years in your business, aim to be good. Try to be better.
Solve one problem. Maybe you’re like Jim and you offer designer furniture stylings for affordable prices, or you're more of Mary-Kay offering make-up delivered to your door by an expert consultant.
These visionaries discovered one problem and they solved it. Sure, they then found a million other solutions but start with one thing and get really good at it.
Predictably good. Even boringly good.
In order to really stand out, you solve one problem for one person. It can feel incredibly limiting and counterproductive to only sell to one person. But here’s the thing, there are squllions of that one person who is chained to their office, who wants healthy fresh food, sourced locally, and doesn’t have the time or energy to go to whole foods let alone cook. That person is different than the stay at home parent who wants to give their family nutritious meals, and variety, but they hate cooking (and they’re super ashamed about that considering they’re the domestic partner).
You find them differently. You talk to them differently. You build their loyalty and trust differently. Sure, you may sell them the same thing, but think about the logistics of trying to create the same marketing materials and nurturing for these potential buyers.
Pick one, win them over, and then get all their like-minded, same-situation buddies on board. This will save you money, time, energy and ensure you master your success strategy. Then you expand your market. That’s how you stand out. You are the healthy executive meal maker extraordinaire. Then you become the stay at home hater of cooking’s secret weapon.
Get good at one thing, do that until you dominate, then add something else. This sounds a lot like the above, but here’s why this is different, above we’re talking more about solving a problem for a buyer. Here we’re talking about any single activity in your business.
McDonalds created the perfect french fry but used that process to create a supply-chain that was infallible, offering buyers the exact same product anywhere in the world. McDonalds replicates like nobody else in the business, and it wasn’t until they discovered how to recreate every single activity in their business eliminating any variations that McDonalds elevated beyond fast-food and burgers. In & Out have three things on their menu (to the uninitiated, I know jungle fries yo!). They decided to stick to their guns and do what they do best, a hamburger. If you told any business out there, just have one option, they’d laugh at you. Then they’d drive interstate to get an In & Out Burger. Or literally hijack a holiday to get a freakin’ hamburger.
Now this last point isn’t so much about differentiating or standing out, it’s about keeping your head in the game. Pay yourself. Pay yourself first. Pay yourself well. So many business owners invest so heavily into differentiating and standing out that they actually punish themselves in the process. I am not going to get into profitability and operating expenses and benchmarks.
I get fairly obsessive over these metrics in 1:1 client work but here’s the #1 assumption that business owners make to their detriment, and it kills their business.
Example: I need to invest 70% of my earnings into marketing and branding. I use the remaining 30% to cover expenses. I may even run at a loss, not pay myself and borrow to keep this effort alive.
Fast forward a few years, maybe the loans are paid off and there’s enough money to pay people out of the 30% while covering expenses, but if you scale your business you still scale 70% in marketing and investing in growth.
You’ll never get ahead. If you take profit out of your business, even 5%, from every sale, your business will be profitable from day 1. If you pay yourself and commit to investing less than 50% of sales into growth and marketing, your business is scalable.
Honestly, your total operating expenses should be lower, closer to 30%. This is a lean, mean, money making machine.
You’re getting paid for your efforts and your business has all the resources it needs to stand out from the crowd.