Differentiation will help you win the hearts and minds of your target audience and grow your business. But, that requires being firm about who you are and letting go of who you’re not.
As Michael Porter famously published in Harvard Business Review: “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.”
In other words, make choices about where you play and where you don’t, so you can occupy a clear and compelling space in the market – something that differentiates you from your competitors.
Seth Godin advises something similar in his brief and brilliant book, This Is Marketing: “Marketers can choose to stand for something. This involves going to extremes. Finding an edge. Standing for something, not everything.”
Here’s the key thing to wrap your mind around:
Not everyone is your customer and that’s okay.
In fact, it’s part of having a healthy business and a clear mind.
It’s not about limiting the size of your business. It’s about freeing yourself to focus on your essential customers and ignoring the rest.
Know your audience and serve them well.
LET PEOPLE WALK AWAY
A few years ago, I watched a recruiting video for a potential new job opportunity.
The company touted itself as fast, fun, and hard working. The video showed a clip of two coworkers surprising a third with silly string over their cubicle wall. Another clip had them wearing zany hats and costumes.
And, I knew immediately that this was *not* the company for me.
What they’re selling works for some people – just not me. I need something else from my work environment. That’s okay.
In fact, that they could turn me away so early in the recruitment process is a good thing. I won’t waste their time or mine and they can focus on candidates that might better mesh with their culture.
By giving me a peek into what they were about, I was able to make a determination about whether or not I was a good fit.
The same principle applies to our businesses.
You need to send signals that will simultaneously attract the right customers and repel the wrong ones.
What signals are you sending? What stories are you telling?
Take the case of Dollar Shave Club – a brand of men’s razors and grooming products. In 2011, it was a little startup aimed to compete with big names like Gillette.
Brands in this category command high trust and loyalty from their consumers – they have to, how else would someone willingly put a razor to their own face?
So, how do you break into a category like that? The answer is differentiation.
We’re not talking about unique designs or features – the other brands have those in spades.
Differentiation requires doing something unexpected – something that inspires curiosity.
Looking at the existing market for men’s razors, Dollar Shave Club could immediately see two problems at the time: razors were too expensive and getting them in a store was unnecessarily difficult – in some cases you had to call an associate to help you retrieve them from a locked box in the aisle.
This was a category that took itself way too seriously. And, from there, they had one profound conclusion: this whole thing is ridiculous.
So, they chose to compete on price and no-hassle purchases – and they solved these market problems with humor, calling B.S. on the whole system.
Dollar Shave Club launched with a now famous viral ad campaign. The quirky CEO touts the quality of their product while walking through a warehouse – in which you can see all sorts of silly things happening around him. There’s a toddler shaving someone’s head, a bear helping to pack and ship boxes.
The approach was a master stroke in being unabashedly different.
Again, not everyone will be attracted to a brand like this. That’s okay. It’s not for everyone and that’s the point. It was enough.
In 2016, Dollar Shave Club was acquired by Unilever for a reported $1 billion in cash.
CHOOSE A PATH OF DIFFERENTIATION
Now, it’s your turn.
Here are a few things to think about this week:
- What market problem are you trying to solve?
- What’s a really annoying thing about your industry or category? How might you flip that on its head and turn it into an advantage?
- What are your brand’s values? What are the values of your competition? Are they discernable or more or less the same?
- How would someone pick up your product and know it was yours?
Share some of your reflections in the comments or send me a message.
ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy – it zigs and zags, it starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.
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