When you’re finalizing plans for the new year seems like a good opportunity to take a look at what makes your company different. This is especially true in case the marketplace has shifted. Maybe your point of difference has been taken over by a competitor, or changing trends allow you to move to an additional space, or better one.
Like many of you, we frequent farmer’s markets. We also have our favorites and the one we chose in Anchorage points to the importance of having a point of difference. Throngs of Anchorage residents head to the market each Saturday morning. We always made a beeline for Rempel’s Family Farm. (That is unless strawberries were in season as that vendor sold out super early.) I talked with head farmer Mark Rempel several years ago for a blog post. Some excerpts:
I spoke with Head Farmer Mark Rempel as he walked among the stacked plastic bins filled with his clean and fresh vegetables offering samples of snow apples and offering suggestions to customers who every few minutes called, “Mark. How do I…?” “What do you suggest for…” and other questions.
Mark said it wasn’t as easy to talk with customers as it appeared, but he enjoyed developing relationships with market customers. His success comes from a ton of hard work and a natural gift for marketing. But what really makes his business different?
His produce is top quality, clean and well packaged
I feel like I know him and his other family members
His family is friendly and obviously hard-working
So, how do I know it’s a family? They wear cool name tags that tell me where they fit into the family. Things like "Lorie farmer’s daughter" and “Mark head farmer.” The family's very nature and the name tags seem to invite customers to chat with them.
The younger family members also have their own little businesses they market somewhat separately from the larger farm. They learn independence, business skills and we all learn more about the importance of family.
There are many choices at the farmer’s market, but we created a relationship with the Rempels we didn’t have with the other booths. Notice I know the name of the “booth” I supported but not the others. If your company’s values aren’t in sync with your customers, you could be headed for disaster. Every business needs to determine and then embrace their point of difference. How do you do that?
So, how do you know if you’re going the right way? What can you do to make sure you’re where you need to be? Oftentimes it’s easiest to break things down into the answers to a series of questions.
What do you do?
Who do you do it to?
What do you wish you were doing?
Who do you wish you were doing it to?
Who is your competition?
Why are you a better choice for your key customer? Are you bigger, doing it better, faster or cheaper?
A caution here: Being bigger, faster and cheaper might not be the best for your business. It’s not always the reason someone is loyal to your product. So, ask your regular customers why they choose your product.
Is your customer service the best?
Do you support causes they care about?
Could you get it there less expensively, or on a guaranteed schedule?
So far, most of the questions we’ve been asking you to answer related to facts and quantitative aspects of your business. They’re important because points of difference need to be true, provable and relevant. At the same time, you can’t ignore the emotional reasons for support, or the more qualitative ones.
Studies show many of us make choices for more emotional reasons and that an increasing number of people are purchasing based on a company’s community support. Qualitative points of difference are especially true in the public relations world. My competitor might be the absolute best at reaching national television news shows but if you don’t like working with him or her, you might prefer to work with me.
You need to figure out why customers choose you. What are they saying about your company when you aren’t around to hear it? That’s the real answer to your difference. That’s why the questions we asked were so important. If your customers don’t care about what you say makes you different, it really doesn’t matter. So, let’s take another look at the questions to see if we can get at what matters to your customers:
Do you specialize in an industry, product category or service?
Do you focus on a specific industry segment?
Is your business model unique (relatively)?
Once you’ve answered the questions, take a look at your business within the broader context of the industry you’re in. What is the space you can own? Remember you have to prove you can/should own it. Also, take a moment to think about the businesses to which you’re loyal. It might make you realize something else about your own effort.
Before you tell your customers and others outside the company what you’ve discovered and where you’re going, be sure your employees are on the same page and in agreement. If they aren’t, you probably still have some work to do. And, remember to make sure any subcontractors know about your program so they are communicating to customers along the same lines.
What can you do to make sure your current and potential customers understand the space you own and want to own? Create a 2019 marketing plan that focuses your efforts toward that space, and that clearly and fully states where you’re going. Be sure your entire organization embraces the plan and will live it just as you do.