Most businesses find it difficult to say how they’re different from their competitors. Making those differences valuable to your customers is even more of a challenge. So is it worth the effort? The answer is obvious for those that are clear about their point of difference.
First question. Who are you?
When you went into business you knew what it was going to be about. You knew why your business would be different. You couldn’t wait to get started. You were full of hope and optimism. Now you’re further down the road and have had your fair share of challenges. You might be unsure of where to go next. You may have seen new competitors enter your market. Or, in the process of running your business, it may have turned into something quite different from what you’d expected.
In all these cases, knowing who you are and what sets you apart is critical. Businesses who can clarify their point of difference can justify their position and explain why that matters to their customers.
Why different doesn’t mean better
It’s important to be clear about being different. Different is just that – it’s different. Not better. Not worse. Different may be defined (by you) as higher quality parts, a faster service, more accurate details or any number of things. But the only person who will decide if that is indeed ‘better’ is your customer. And they’ll typically decide by choosing to buy from you, or not.
As a customer, my definition of better may be different to yours, so it’s important that you’re clear about why you’re different. Take buying a car. Is it better to have a safe car, or a highly fuel-efficient car? There’s no right answer. It’s entirely dependent on your personal view. I may want safety (and choose say a Volvo), while you may want fuel-efficiency (and select a Prius).
Defining your position
For all businesses it is important to be clear about your position in the market. It’s also important to make sure that your customers understand and believe this position. You may want to own a particular position, but your business may not be able to deliver it. This is why you need to understand your business first. Then you can be clear about the position you own based on the reality of the products and services you provide. McDonald’s isn’t likely to own a ‘fine-dining’ position in the restaurant business any time soon (nor would they want to), but they can own ‘consistent’, and ‘fast’.
Define or be defined
The difficulty with defining a position for your business is that it has likely already happened. Positioning is simply a way of helping to define how others might talk about the products or services you offer. In most cases this will be your customers, or others that you have engaged with.
How they talk about you defines your position in the market. It’s the reputation of your business. And just like your individual reputation, while you can control a lot of it, others can determine some elements for you. If your main competitor states that they have the lowest priced widgets in town, then what does that say about you? At the very least it says that you’re probably more expensive. It doesn’t necessarily matter that your widgets might be far superior yet be only 5% more expensive.
Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not
Businesses can damage their own reputation by not staying true to who they are. In 2008, BP ran an ad campaign stating ‘over the next 4 years, we’re planning to implement projects to reduce emissions by another 4 million tonnes’, the ad ended ‘it’s a start’. 2 years later, with their Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill crisis in full swing, they had lost any credibility that they might’ve gained in trying to own a position around bringing the world a lower carbon footprint. You might argue that this was an unfortunate and completely unplanned tragedy, which it was, but I would ask, was positioning an oil based energy company as ‘carbon friendly’ ever a truly believable position?
When it comes to positioning, my belief is that it’s always better to find the one thing that you truly do differently to others in your field, and use that as the basis for how you communicate your difference to your customers. And despite working in some very competitive industries, we’ve yet to find a business where we haven’t been able to uncover that unique difference. Just remember, once you’ve defined it, you need to let people know about it.