The marketing value of knowing your point of difference?

By Bob Weir, April 11, 2016

In marketing you may often be asked what your point of difference is. Why would a new customer choose you over a competitor? To give you a sense of the challenge facing small businesses here are a few numbers for Hamilton (Waikato, New Zealand) and the surrounding centres.  There are approximately:

  • 120 accountants
  • 130 electricians
  • 165 Builders
  • 50 Earth moving companies
  • 20 Fencing businesses
  • 45 Landscapers
  • 15 Industrial shed builders

 … and I could go on, but I am sure you get the idea.

If you are one of these accountants, electricians, builders, or landscapers why would a customer choose you? When I ask the many business owners I come across what sets them apart, the conversation usually starts with things like our workmanship, quality or service. I believe these are the minimum that every business needs to do. If a business is not doing these things they won't last long. To answer the question we need to dig deeper into what, as small business owners, is driving us.

Two key questions I believe every business owner needs to ask and clearly answer are the following two questions.  These will help clarify what makes them different. 

  1. Why does my small business exist? What is its purpose?

  2. What do I stand for? What are my core values?

I raised these questions in my blog on developing your strategy.

Many business owners really struggle to comprehend the importance of these questions and why the answers are so critical. If the purpose of your business is solely to make a living you are already in trouble. There are many easier ways to make a living than small business. Others are lifestyle, or not working for someone. All are very important but why would a customer use you based on this alone? Sorry, they don't really care about the business owner’s lifestyle.  They only care about getting their problem solved or their needs satisfied.

 Simon Sinek's now famous Golden Circle illustrates this:

The Golden Cirle

I am sure all of us could describe "WHAT" the 120 accountants, 130 electricians or 165 builders do in Hamilton. We could also have a reasonable go at assessing "HOW" they go about it, although this will differ from business to business. However, I am confident very few of us after looking at these business' websites (if they have one!!) will know “WHY” they do it. This more than anything will set them apart.

Those businesses focused on what their customer’s needs are and not their own needs will stand out. Those who have an extensive list of highly satisfied customs will stand out.

Those who behave in total alignment with their values no matter the cost will also stand out. What you stand for, your values, are reflected in your behaviours and your staff's behaviours. For example, if your value is serving customers rather than answering phone calls, turning up on time every time, being polite and professional and doing that little bit extra, reflects on the value that your customers perceive.

Customers must recognize that you stand for something
— Howard Schultz - Starbucks

Finally, make it easy for customers to find you, and when they find you make it easy to understand what sets you apart. In my searching to produce these figures many of these businesses were difficult to find.  Even fewer gave me any sense of why anyone would use or recommend them.  One third of the accountants had no website and no information to gauge how they work or why they exist. For builders the number was about 48% and for electricians it was over 53%.  Of those with websites very few left an impression of what set them apart from competitors.

If you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours
— Ray Kroc - Founder - McDonalds

So, stop and ask yourself how you would answer the question of a potential new customer?

Why would I choose you, rather then the
many other people who do what you do?

If you can’t answer this question stop and ask yourself the fundamental questions of WHY first and then start working your way through HOW you do it before you start talking about WHAT you do.