A few summers ago, my daughter and I spent some time in South Africa on a safari. When we first got there, all of the zebras pretty much looked the same, other than their relative size. But as we looked more closely (and our guides patiently pointed it out), we began to recognize that every zebra’s stripes are unique, like fingerprints.
I commented that it would have been a lot easier to pick out a specific zebra if they each had a single stripe of a unique color. They would have been easy to identify, even from a distance.
To your consumers, when they look at you and your competitors in the early stages of their buying process, you’re like that zebra herd, with all of the animals looking pretty much the same. One of the most crucial elements of your marketing plan is being very specific about how you are different from everyone else. We need to paint one of your stripes a unique color.
Today, we are going to focus on how to make sure your prospects can pick you out of the crowd.
This is not a stay on the surface activity. If all of your competitors can claim the same point of difference (i.e., it’s our people, we partner with our clients, we truly care, etc.), then it actually is not a point of difference.
To identify what genuinely makes you unique, you have to drill deeper than those surface statements that, in fairness, are true about most good businesses including our competitors. You have to ask some tougher questions if you want to get to a truth that only you can own. If all of your competitors can say “we do that too” then it is not unique enough.
The way to get started is to ask yourself these questions:
Is there something unique about our business model and how we deliver our product/services? (Do you embed an employee into your client’s office or do you get compensated based on their sales success?)
Do we have knowledge or expertise that most people do not have? (Are your employees all nurses, so they have incredible medical knowledge or have all of your travel agents been to Africa?)
Do you take a common element in your industry and do it to an extreme? (Do you give away free soda and sunscreen at your theme park or do you donate a pair of socks to the homeless for every pair of socks you sell?)
Is your business taking a delivery element and re-inventing it? (Are your bank branches open until 8 pm or does your team stay onsite for a day to make sure everyone is trained on your equipment?)
Is your product or service genuinely different than what your competitors’ sell? (Is your seed a new hybrid that you just created or are you using artificial intelligence in a way that no one has imagined before?)
Don’t let features and benefits fool you. They are rarely what makes your business, product, or service unique.
This is not an easy exercise, which is why most companies can’t articulate what really makes them different. If you are willing to go to the effort to uncover your distinct position or create one if there isn’t one in place – your marketing is about to get much simpler.
This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.