How can my business stand out in a busy marketplace?

Michael Dale

Written by Michael Dale

I can almost guarantee that your marketplace is full of numerous undifferentiated businesses, pushing too many messages, through too many channels. How can prospective customers and clients possibly see the wood for the trees?

Branding noise and clutter

The following approaches are all strategic and any one of them can make your business stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Be different

The human brain has evolved over millions of years to notice what’s different. So it may come as no surprise that the most long-term, sustainable way to stand out is to be... unique. The world is full of ‘me too’ brands. But if your product or service is sufficiently different, you could effectively be competing in a ‘category of one’.

We all remember the competitive advantage that Dyson held for several years with the creation of the bagless vacuum cleaner, and consequently the premium they were able to charge. Competitors were quick to imitate but Dyson just kept on innovating.

Although ‘innovation’ has become the most over-used term in business today, it should not be the preserve of R&D departments. Even the smallest of businesses can stand out if they do something different and relevant. Could your company be the next ‘disruptor’ brand - the Uber or Airbnb of your market sector? Or will you take the approach of Olympic cycling coach, Dave Brailsford and work with your team meticulously improving every little detail of your customer experience to make it truly outstanding.

Action: If your company can create a ‘culture of innovation’ where every person can contribute ideas, you can keep building on your competitive advantage (and positively improve employee engagement too).

Focus. Focus. Focus

As businesses grow there is often a pressure to diversify. Bolt-on services or unrelated products can leave your brand poorly-focussed in the minds of your customers. The world has more than enough ‘generalists’. Conversely, specialisation in your market equates to deep expertise, and with it comes the reward of a premium price tag and clear differentiation.

You may have heard of a firm's actions, attributes and values expressed as being ‘on brand’. This is a result of a concerted effort to focus on

  1. what they do best,
  2. discard ideas that don’t fit and
  3. craft a clear vision for the future.

EasyJet’s attempt to create a no-frills cinema chain was a diversification too far and felt ‘off brand’. Film-lovers wanted an amazing experience not a budget one. In contrast, British Gas launched the Hive brand, a range of intelligent technology allowing homeowners to control their heating from their smart phones. A logical brand extension that positioned them as innovation leaders with their customers’ needs in mind.

Action: Write a vision statement that clearly articulates the impact your business will have on your customers' lives. This will give you the endpoint for a roadmap that focusses your business activities.

Weave a rich story

Since the dawn of mankind, stories told around campfires have been the means to pass down experiences. Likewise, brand stories can humanise faceless services and give provenance to the most mundane of products. They provide an authentic grounding and a narrative that can be easily retold by customers. And with social platforms now so widespread, stories and sharing are natural bedfellows.

The most forward-thinking businesses have taken this strategy a step further by providing a framework for customers to create their own stories around their brands. Once your customers take ownership of your brand, they become your strongest advocates, raising your visibility at no real cost to you. They can even go on to form tribes with shared beliefs and values.

Camera-makers GoPro, have written ‘a day on the mountain with friends is more meaningful than one spent alone, the sharing of our collective experiences makes our lives more fun’. Their mission is to provide all the tools to make that happen. Their customers will do the rest.

Action: If you can paint a vivid picture of how your business is in fact an experience, how it is rich in authenticity and how it meets its customers’ needs, you can create a story that will run and run.

Find the white space

Whilst your competitors battle it out for supremacy amongst the clutter of traditional marketing channels, you could be finding clear water. Take the approach of Australian batting legend Ricky Ponting who once said ‘...in my head, I don't see the fielders, I only see the gaps.’

White-space-mapping is used extensively for developing new products and services that fill the gaps in existing markets. It can also be used to create a more imaginative marketing mix, allowing your brand to stand out more effectively. With the emphasis now so heavily on content creation you may find creating an expert ‘how-to’ YouTube video more effective than an Adshel poster. Or a white paper may have more gravitas than a direct mail campaign. It all depends on the market you are in.

Action: If you can create a white space matrix with your competitors on one axis and all potential channels on the other you can look for ideas that have the space to stand out.

There’s a lot more to getting noticed than shouting in a sea of noise. Your uniqueness, your relevance, your ability engage with your audience and the means by which you do it are much more effective ways of standing out. Approach it strategically and see the difference.

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