Making your business stand out from the pack is hard. Competing for and winning new business is even harder in a competitive market. But that doesn’t mean you should resort to competing on price. Competing on price alone is not a viable strategy if potential customers have a lot of choices, and can land you into a price war. By not maintaining your pricing structure, you’ll lose profit margins and depreciate your brand.
Instead, differentiate on other aspects of your business and your operations to provide something your competitors can or do not. This will create entry barriers for competitors and make your business model difficult to replicate.
Here are several ways small businesses can differentiate:
1. Different Products and Services – Niches
Before either entering a new market or providing a new product or service, you must ask yourself: “am I offering something different?” If you are not offering something different – or something that solves a specific problem for a group of people better than an alternative option– chances are you will struggle to gain traction and your product or service won’t get off the ground. This goes to the core of your business model and your company’s ability to compete and become profitable.
Look for profitable niches with less competition in a broader market to find an audience. Own that space. Then see if you can cross sell or up sell products or services to them.
Make sure you are focusing on potential customers who have the biggest problems to solve and for whom there are fewer service providers.
2. Don’t Just ‘Be different.’ Project Something Unique.
Even if you sell similar or identical products to a competitor, your marketing alone can create a completely unique public profile. Differentiate through your marketing itself.
Use your marketing materials – images, video, promotional materials (not promotional offer), fonts/styling/color palette, and your brand voice (how you speak to your audience online and in what tone) – to stand out from the “me too” voices online.
3. Unique and Memorable Offer
Make your offer unique – period. For example, instead of free consult (which is ubiquitous), perhaps try distributing a one-hour onsite free strategy session. Instead of an “up to 70% off” message, try a free gift card with a minimum purchase amount.
Sometimes a hook or offer itself that can be of value to a customer can be the difference between getting a phone call or not. It is important that the offer is cost effective for you and is thought through as a calculated risk.
Only offer promotions that will build a closer tie to your business and not just attract people who will take the bait and leave. If you have an online grocery business, don’t hand out free iPads with your first shipments to customers because the iPad has nothing to do with the groceries. You want customers who are genuinely interested in and will be loyal to your business – not the perks.
4. Capitalize and Gain Share of Voice on Specific Marketing Channels
You can’t win everywhere because resources are tight and budgets must be allocated carefully to activities that will get the most ROI. You cannot win a marketing war on all fronts, so do not have a marketing strategy that requires consistent monitoring on a myriad of social media platforms and media outlets. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Competition may be steep in certain marketing channels (e.g. Google advertising or TV); however, you may find that your audience is on social media and your competition is not putting its resources there. If you believe you can capture and convert part of that audience, you are essentially getting a new segment of the target market hooked on your brand. This could happen if, for instance, you build a Facebook page and it really catches on. Remember, sometimes competition is not in a space because no customers are there either. Make sure you research demographics and understand the behavior and habits of your target audience.
Establish your presence on social media – this sounds obvious these days, but many small businesses do not perform well on social media. Your company can be different. You can lead in this space, even on a budget. The cost is time. Publicize news to fans and get your name out there while keeping fans engaged with your content. Having share buttons below your published content (which is important for content marketing) can help accomplish this. Boost important promotions on Facebook and consider some limited advertising on social media where it makes sense.
5. Execute a Content Marketing Strategy – especially in 2014 and Beyond
Part of web marketing is a content marketing strategy – something that is important to consider no matter what business you are in. Granted, a content marketing strategy is more appropriate for some companies than others. It all depends on what business you are in and what your target market is looking for (or not looking for).
B2C companies (e.g. retailers) constantly utilize content marketing to reach out to their target audience. From social media to website blogs, these companies publish market relevant content to not only remind customers of their businesses but, more importantly, to supply helpful content to them.
IBM, a B2B company, also utilizes a content marketing strategy effectively. Content marketing helps IBM display its wealth of knowledge and maintain its strong professional reputation. Recently, IBM published a document called P.O.E. (Paid, Own, Earn). P.O.E. “shows, explains, and teaches” businesses how to use IBM materials to market their businesses, according to hubspot.com.
Content marketing is not only good for customers and prospects, it’s great for search engine optimization (SEO), too. Rather than push a sales message and look to convert a sale, content marketing focuses more on building customer relationships and solving problems, etc. Quality content can generate sincere trust in your company/brand.
Publish relevant, optimized content (possibly through a blog) that will help your customers and not just bring in business. Blogs, videos, articles and eBooks are all potential low-cost tactics that can help elevate a marketing campaign without a costly advertising budget. While they can take more time to create and it takes time to generate results, the pay off can be big for companies who do it right.
For more information on content marketing, visit http://upsidebusiness.com/blog/2014/03/10/why-interruptive-marketing-doesnt-work-content-marketing-does/.
6. Present a Consistent Brand Across Platforms and Devices
Many small businesses do not effectively create a consistent marketing experience across marketing channels and devices. For example, fonts, styling, tone, marketing messages, promotional videos and imagery may be disconnected and too inconsistent.
Or, what may be viewable on a PC may not work on a mobile device. Creating a consistent marketing effort will make your business stand out and add to its public image. Most importantly, a consistent marketing presentation will help people remember your company. This is because they will associate a certain style or image with your product or service.
Conversely, a marketing mix that is inconsistent comes off as disjointed and haphazardly put together without care and effort. The result? You might lose current or potential customers because they find themselves unable to give you their trust.
Even on a small budget, you can make sure most marketing is presented in a cohesive, integrated way. Always be visually consistent – from press releases to your company website. This way people will always associate certain images, language and font styles with your company. And remember: have a company website that is functional and engaging on PC, tablet and Smartphone platforms. Website analytics programs can tell you what percentage of your visitors are on mobile.
Differentiating your business online is incredibly important for your brand popularity and, ultimately, success. By partaking in content marketing, presenting a consistent brand across multiple platforms and devices, capitalizing on share of voice, and distributing unique and memorable offers, you will be establishing an online presence. A product or service that serves a market niche and is inherently different will make all of the above much easier. “What about your product or service is ‘different and better’ than anything else out there? If yours is a “me too” product or service, nobody’s going to talk about it.” Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable