By embracing uniqueness and finding ways to stand out, you can attract and retain customers and secure long-term success in highly competitive markets, but it’s not always going to be straightforward.
There are of course lots of ways this can be done, many parts of the engine need to run in perfect synchronisity for a business to be successfull, but here I am going to get straight to the heart of things and give you the reasons why it matters and some actionable steps that any small business owner can take today.
But why is all this so important?
In essence, businesses that don't embrace differentiation are going to face increased competition, limited customer interest, stagnation, irrelevance, price sensitivity, a lack of competitive advantage, and missed growth opportunities … like never before!
Understanding and implementing strategies for differentiation is vital for businesses to remain relevant, profitable, and resilient in today's dynamic and highly competitive marketplace.
This applies to all small businesses regardless. We live in changing times… the chances are you are going to have to get creative at some point.
So what does your Business need to do?
Well, the first step is to assess how well things are going, what is working well for you and what are the main pain points. At this point, I am bound to say
‘I’m sure you’ve heard this all before,’
so let’s knuckle down...
There is a word that goes with everything I have said so far … it’s Branding. Being different is a major part of your brand. What you are known for is not just your business name and logo, it’s who you are and what you do that is really going to make a difference going forward.
So, I have a little branding health check questionnaire for you.
It is just a simple tick-box sheet for you to get an honest idea in your own mind if you want to print it out and have a go. It’s generic, so don’t take it as Gospel, but this sort of assessment is something small business owners too often put off doing.
When you have done this you’ll have some idea of where you are on the ‘being different’ scale. Your success now comes down to how you implement two main things that everyone can do but a lot of people struggle with
• Clear identification of the thing you are (or want to be) known for, (your USP)
• The ability you have to put into action a process of following up every opportunity to emphasise this.
The Biggest Roadblocks
As humans, we seem to find that these roadblocks very easily and quickly erect themselves whenever we feel threatened. We all find this at some point although successful business owners have a ‘remove them’ approach. (Work on that mindset if you don’t already possess it!).
The biggest block to being different is simply ‘How?’
The instinctive process of thought is that ‘I’m in a such and such industry or niche where that doesn’t apply because you can’t do such and such, or my customers won’t want this or that … etc. etc.’
We all do it … including myself at times, because it’s a natural defence mechanism we have to something unknown that we don’t as yet understand.
When you remove the roadblocks, all that is required is a ‘thinking outside the box’ approach. Then, it comes down to doing something and following up on every avenue it leads you down.
Successful businesses are doing this all the time.
Here are some examples of ways this can work in the real world:
A small local bakery, known for its delectable pastries and bread, wanted to stand out in a crowded market. They decided to offer a unique twist by creating signature flavours inspired by local ingredients and cultural influences. They experimented with infusing their pastries with exotic spices and regional flavours, resulting in creations like "Lemongrass-Ginger Croissants" and "Cardamom Pistachio Danish." These unique flavour combinations became an instant hit, and customers began flocking to the bakery for them. Their commitment to local flavours and innovative recipes set them apart from competitors and established them as a must-visit destination for food enthusiasts.
Then there was the small fashion startup that knowing they were in a competitive industry from the outset aimed to make a difference by offering sustainable and eco-friendly clothing. They sourced materials from organic farms, and recycled fabrics, and employed ethical production practices. However, they knew that to truly differentiate themselves, they needed a unique selling point. They introduced a "Circular Fashion" model, where customers could return their worn-out garments to be upcycled into new designs or recycled responsibly. This innovative approach not only reduced waste but also allowed customers to be a part of the brand's sustainability journey. Their commitment to a closed-loop fashion system made them stand out and attract environmentally conscious consumers who aligned with their values.
A personal training coach, passionate about helping clients achieve their fitness goals noticed that many people struggled to stay motivated. To address this, he incorporated a unique element into their training sessions: customised playlists curated for each client. They believed that music could boost energy, and mood, and create a more enjoyable workout experience. By taking the time to understand their clients' music preferences and crafting personalised playlists, the coach not only made their sessions more engaging but also built a reputation for going the extra mile to create a unique and tailored experience. Clients appreciated the added motivation and personal touch. This led to increased referrals and a loyal following.
These are just three example stories of people who have addressed the issue head-on and created a unique aspect of their business. They should get you thinking about specific things you could try for your own business.
Everyone is different, I can’t give you an exact blueprint, you need to think about what you can apply to YOUR circumstances … but I’ll bet there is something here you can use an idea from.
Here are some quick-fire snippets to give you ideas.
• The Window cleaner who also cleans the car windows on the driveway for free - the imagery of this could be used in promotion materials.
• The builder or tradesperson that becomes known for thoroughly clearing up as part of their regular service - they might even use a different uniform or a work-top made to wear, especially for the clear-up stage and promote this while doing it. Again, the image of this in practice could be displayed on certain promotional material.
• The Auto service that offers a free tyre check for every customer and bothers to fill out a card to be taken away and kept rather than having just a boring MOT printout'
• Be the business that always recommends – If you are in an industry or niche where you often get enquiries for work outside your scope, be the person who can always point people in the right direction. Make it official by having a brochure, list or handout of some sort. You’ll be remembered for it.
• Online business service provider that gives away a free Ad design or creates a social media post BEFORE someone signs up for a monthly fee. (Something that allows prospects to see a glimmer of a result before committing).
• Provide a free personalised loyalty card or free gift of some sort after every order. There are lots of options, make sure it is of value.
• If you deliver a product - become the fastest! I currently use a stationery supplier who doesn’t charge any postage and gets stuff to me the next day every time, even ordering as late as 6.00 pm. It’s a cost to them, but they get all my business as I need it fast and have often been let down in the past.
You will have spotted that ALL these things in reality carry a cost and in some cases will take a fair bit of organisation.
In answer to that I would say, you are correct … but so what?
Taking action to brand yourself a bit differently from others will likely cost you extra time or money or both, but in the long run, it is worth it.
Know your numbers … how much is a new customer worth to you?
The next stage is down to you to go and get something done or expand on, re-emphasise and follow up on something that you already have.
Being different makes the difference.
If you need personalised help, my specialism is helping small businesses do just this by utilising design and printed products to create some of these opportunities. And if you just want to test the water, most things can be produced in small amounts with short runs, inexpensively and quickly.
So now, all you need to do is get out there and follow the instruction given to us by a famous shoe manufacturer …
‘Just do it!’