One critical question I ask my small-business clients when discussing their marketing efforts is “What is it about your business that would make customers buy from you instead of your competitors?”
Too often, small-business owners don’t take time to examine this question. Their businesses end up blending in among the competition. Such businesses may survive in a robust economy, but when consumers become more particular about how they spend their money, blending in can spell disaster.
I find it often is very difficult for small-business owners to clearly define what makes their businesses different and even more difficult to communicate this to potential customers. Businesses that are able to differentiate themselves from the competition have a much better chance of success than “me too” businesses that bring nothing special to the market.
If you want to improve your chances of having a successful and growing business, spend time identifying what makes your business special. Determine what you need to do to make your business stand out among your competition in the minds of your customers.
For example, some businesses stand out by bringing innovative solutions to their customers. These businesses spend a great amount of time researching the wants and needs of their target markets and developing new technology and products.
Such businesses are known for solving problems and improving the quality of life for their customers. One example would be Apple, a company that regularly brings new technology to the market and has developed a loyal following of enthusiastic customers, who many times can’t wait to get their hands on the latest Apple product.
Other businesses are well-known for delivering their products or services to customers economically, quickly and conveniently. Their efficient operations produce consistent products at reasonable prices. Businesses such as McDonald’s have mastered this concept and serve millions of customers each day, customers who return because they know what to expect and how it will be delivered.
Another way businesses differentiate themselves is through outstanding customer service. Clients often tell me they offer excellent customer service, but they can’t get specific about how their customer service is really better than that of the competition.
What companies come to mind when you think of truly outstanding service? I am talking about companies that offer customer service that is not just excellent, but so remarkable customers often find themselves astounded by it.
Companies such as Ritz-Carlton, for example, focus on understanding and staying ahead of their customers’ wants and needs. They want their customers to have a worry-free, luxurious hotel experience where the hotel staff sees to it everything goes smoothly. Guests get what they want and don’t hear the words “no, we can’t.”
Of course, a business well-known for remarkable customer service cannot completely ignore efficiency and innovation. While you focus on developing and promoting what makes your business special, don’t let quality in other areas lapse.
Just realize your business cannot be all things to everyone. What is your business best at, or what could it be best at?
Develop a specific image for your business that emphasizes your unique offering. Consistently drive home this image with existing and potential customers. Do not assume customers see your business the way you see it.
Solicit feedback through written and verbal customer surveys. What do your customers perceive as different about your business? Why do they buy from you instead of your competitors? How do the answers to these questions change over time as you work to develop your image in the marketplace?
Being able to identify and develop a special advantage that stands out among the competition and effectively communicating this advantage to the market can be the difference between success and failure. Don’t let your business blend in and get lost in the crowd.
Know what makes your business special and make sure your customers know it, too.
Connie Edwards is a business consultant with the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at 912-651-3200.
Edwards, Connie (2009, September 28). Big Ideas for Small Business. Savannah Morning News. Retrieved from http://savannahnow.com/column/2009-09-28/big-ideas-small-business