‘How are you different?’
This is the question that stumps many business owners.
It's also the question used to send my heart racing, because I had no clue why someone would choose us over anyone else. Then I’d reel off things like our service or quality of work, because that's the only thing I could think of that could differ between us and our competitors.
Maybe you don’t believe you’re really all that different to others in your industry, but I promise you there are opportunities in every industry for differentiation if you want to find them.
If you're ready to stand out and cut through the noise in your industry, keep on reading, because in this post I’m walking you through a relatively simple method for uncovering something unique about your business that your customers will find incredibly valuable.
This method is based on the process developed by Kim and Mauborgne, authors of the books Blue Ocean Strategy and Blue Ocean Shift, in which they explain how to uncover a 'blue ocean' or an uncontested market space within your industry through differentiation. I’d highly recommend reading these books if you want to deep dive into this process.
1. Evaluate the current state of play
Your first job is to list out 5-10 key factors that your industry currently competes on. These may be related to your product, service or delivery. While price will certainly be one, there are plenty of other factors that your competitors might talk about in their marketing. Here are a few to get you started—
- Speed/timing of service or delivery
- Support (before, during or after purchase)
- Ongoing costs
- Portfolio/work examples/case studies
- Customer ratings/testimonials
- Celebrity/influencer association
- Community sponsorship/participation
- Ease of Use
- Style/Visual Appeal
2. Work out where you fit in the competitive landscape
Once you’ve chosen your factors, it’s time to jump into Google Sheets (or similar) to create a comparison table.
- List your factors—In the first column (A), you’re going to list all of your factors from step one. Label the column ‘competing factors’.
- Rate your business— In the second column (B) you’re going to rate your business on a scale from 1-5 for each listed factor with 1 being low and 5 being high. Label this column your business name.
- Rate your competitors— In the following columns (C & D), choose 1-2 key competitors, and rate them on the same scale. Label these columns with each business’ name (I've labelled mine competitor 1 & 2 as an example).
- Plot a graph (optional) —If you’d like to see a visual comparison, highlight all the cells in your new table and use it to create a new chart or graph. You’ll want to select a line graph, with each line being a different highlight colour.
Look at how your business stacks up to your competition. Are there any factors where your rating is very different from all your competitors? Or are your ratings fairly similar to the others’? If you don’t see any obvious points of difference, it’s time to move on to step 3.
3. Determine what buyers actually want
Next, it’s time to walk in the shoes of your customers. From purchase through to use and eventual disposal, our aim here is to find ‘hidden’ opportunities to provide extra value to your customers.
- Outline the buying process—First, list out the process by which a customer might buy and use your offering. The Blue Ocean Shift book uses the template below, but you can customise the process to suit your industry. E.g. Purchase > delivery > use > supplements > maintenance > disposal.
- Uncover buyer utility blocks—Next, work out what the biggest blocks to buyer utility are at each stage of the process are. Blue Ocean Shift outlines 6 utility levers to use here (productivity, simplicity, convenience, risk reduction, fun & image and environmental friendliness). What obstacles, annoyances or pain points do customers have at each step in your process?
For example, consider the example I've started below for buying a piece of furniture at IKEA— in the ‘purchase’ column and ‘productivity’ row I might list how long it takes to walk through the store, or under ‘convenience’, I could list how frustrating it is that trolley barriers prevent me from pushing my trolley all the way to my car so I have to carry heavy items, or leave my items unattended while I drive my car to the ‘pick up zone’.
4. Uncover new opportunities.
Now you’ll be armed with your current competing factors (from step 1 & 2), and a list of customer pain points (from step 3). This is your ammunition for working out a point of difference you can lay claim to.
Here are some questions to consider—
- Looking at your customer’s pain points, how many of these are you already addressing?
- Are there any pain points that aren’t being addressed by your competitors?
- What processes, policies or measures could you adjust or implement to alleviate more of these pain points?
- If you were able to alleviate some of these pain points, would that open up possibilities of reaching people in new markets? Could it reduce the number of customers who are currently unhappy with how your industry operates?
When working out where you would like to focus your attention, make sure that your offerings, processes or promises aren’t just unique, but also offer value to your customers. While it can be hard to see new opportunities while working in your industry, remember to keep an open mind and ask whether there could be a better way.
5. Own & communicate your differences.
While you can definitely implement a revolutionary change, your difference doesn’t have to disrupt your industry or cost a bomb! Don’t underestimate the power of alleviating small inconveniences for your customers.
Whatever you choose to run with, own it! Remember to communicate your difference clearly and succinctly in your marketing. If you can’t describe how you’re unique AND why that difference is valuable, it’s unlikely to have any impact on your sales.
- Work out what factors the businesses in your industry complete on.
- Determine where your business fits within the competitive landscape according to these factors.
- Put yourself in your customers shoes to work out common pain points.
- Find pain points you can address that no one else in your industry does (or does very well).
- Lay claim to your differences and communicate their value clearly in your marketing messages.
As you work your way through this process, I have no doubt that you’ll uncover multiple ways that you can differentiate yourself in your industry that will give you a competitive edge. If you want to learn more about the process you can check out the blue ocean strategy and blue ocean shift books, or visit their website.
Did you like this article? Know someone it could help? Don’t forget to share it with them! And, once you’ve completed this process, don’t forget to share your new point of difference in the comments!