differentiationIf someone asks you why someone should choose your business over your competitors’, how do you respond? Distinction Expert Scott McKain explains that most people say they have great customer service; people are their biggest asset; their products make a difference; and/or they care about their customers (McKain’s article here.)

Does this sound familiar?

If both you and your competitor(s) tout great customer service, products, and priorities, then no one is standing out by making these claims. The key to catching attention in your industry is to be different from your competition and make sure people know it.

Entrepreneur.com has several articles on this topic, and they focus a lot on having a unique selling proposition (USP) or major sales advantage (MSA). For example, in “Distinguish Your Business From Your Competition,” David Meier discusses Enterprise’s MSA “We pick you up.” Enterprise was the first auto rental business to offer this service. Not only did it distinguish the business from others like it, everyone knows about it.

In “Differentiating Your Business,” entrepreneur.com’s Brad Sugars examines some successful USPs like Fed-Ex’s overnight delivery and Domino’s Pizza’s 30-minute guarantee. Whether you consider it a USP or MSA, every company must differentiate itself rather than make vague claims that are identical to everyone else’s. The question is, how do you do that?

There are many articles that cover this, and while most are different, some patterns are evident. Here is some of the most useful advice in distinguishing your company from others like it:

  • Research your competition. Don’t just find out what they do; uncover the things they don’t do. Study websites and contact or visit the businesses as a potential customer. If the first person you speak with can’t answer a question that everyone at your business can answer, that’s a great thing to highlight about your customer service. If each of your staff has over 20 years of experience in the field, and your competitors don’t make such a claim, own it. Figure out what unique thing you do to make your customer’s lives easier, and let them know about it.
  • Identify a shared pain or oppression, and resolve it. Apple has done a marvelous job with this since its 1984 commercial suggesting that the Macintosh computer will save humanity from conformity. More playfully, the company ran numerous ads featuring two actors personifying Mac and PC. The humorous spots identified common problems with PCs, like crashing and susceptibility to viruses, and demonstrated that Macs don’t have these issues. Figure out what problem or common enemy customers face that your product solves. If your product or service doesn’t solve a problem any differently than your competition, consider what your business does that is different. Do you offer free shipping? Is your employee training superior to that of other businesses? What problems do your customers encounter when using a competitor, and how are you the solution?
  • Continue to focus on your customer service, but make it stand out. Sugars wrote about a dentist who created a country club atmosphere for his patients. “The foyer has a $5,000 coffee machine, 18 different teas served in fine bone china from a silver tray and an oven baking sugarless muffins to mask the medicinal smell. Patients are greeted by their ‘personal care nurse,’ ushered into treatment rooms with their name and photo on the door, offered a choice of DVDs to watch on an overhead TV with headphones and given a buzzer to press if they experience pain.” Of course, you don’t want to overdo it with too many bells and whistles that detract from the core of your service. Simplicity works just as well so long as it makes your customers feel like you genuinely care. For example, Progressive Insurance Company lets you compare accurate rates against theirs, even if another company’s rates are cheaper. This gives people convenience and sends a message that Progressive genuinely cares about them.

Advice on how to distinguish your business is abundant, but these three ideas should be at the core of your strategy. If you can’t find something that makes you different from your competitors, create something. That’s what the dentist in Sugar’s article did. Take a close look at what you claim to offer. If you simply say that your auto repair shop cares about your customers, you won’t stand out. If you offer to perform an oil change in the parking lot of a customer’s workplace, you show how much you care.

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