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Business sweet spot


How to define your competitive difference

By Dawn Wagenaar

Search for the term “content shock,” and you will find a lot of articles about information overload. People are reducing their exposure to information by deleting email before reading it, unsubscribing to blogs and skipping advertising whenever possible.

For all of our new technology, business owners still have a few seconds to grab a buyer’s attention. Smart businesses are balancing digital media with the personal approach of hosted events, lunch meetings and handwritten letters.

Different marketing tactics alone won’t catch elusive customers. You still need to share a message about your business that is different, surprising or engaging enough to get them to take action.

You need to both define your competitive difference and communicate it well.

Define your competitive difference.

Don’t assume you know your competitive difference. When we interview leaders about why people choose them, their answers don’t always match client answers. Facilitated client focus groups reveal stories — often deeply personal stories — about why a brand resonates with buyers and keeps their loyalty. After some serious thought about what you do or sell that is different from your competitors, ask your best clients why they buy from and stay with you.
In addition, you need to look at your competition. Although many companies indicate they want to be different and unique, you’ll often see an odd conformity in advertising and competitive messages. Even the colors and logos of companies begin to look alike in similar industries. It’s easier to mimic your competitors than break the mold and risk being wrong. Marketing becomes an exercise of “keeping up with the Joneses” instead of developing an authentic brand that leads to enviable growth. When comparing your company with competitors, look for the key differences you offer that match what your clients and your leadership say makes your business amazing.

The nexus of client research, competitive research and leadership’s passion for your business reveal your competitive difference — your business sweet spot.

Some of the differences you’ll discover often have an emotional as well as logical element. A buyer interested in prestige will desire brands that emphasize quality and limited access. A buyer who values intelligence will look for brands that educate. A buyer who is anxious will prefer brands that make him feel more secure.

Knowing your difference aligns very closely with knowing your buyer. If you don’t understand your buyer, you can’t move to the next step, which is communicating competitive difference.

Communicate it well

According to Daniel Pink, bestselling author of psychology-of-business book “To Sell is Human,” the new ways to pitch your business have become shorter, more like a tagline than a sentence. His examples include the one-word pitch, the Twitter pitch and the email subject line pitch. Messages must be brief, memorable and clear.

Rather than overwhelm a potential buyer with all of your services and options and experience, build your pitch around what the buyer will gain. Then shut up and listen. Listen for objections. Listen for pain. Listen for questions. Refine your pitch based on these conversations.

Make sure your competitive marketing messages, your tagline and your sales pitch all align to reinforce your competitive difference. Remember that your difference is what customers believe you deliver better than anyone, what your competitors aren’t delivering and what your leaders are passionate about delivering.

If you think about some of the best brands today, their message is simple, emotional and customer driven. Coca-Cola is emphasizing the popular “happiness” theme in 2015 to align with its “accessible to the world” branding. Nike is “bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world,” with athlete defined as anyone who has a body. Neither of these companies is selling a product. They are selling feelings and experiences associated with the product.

If you are struggling with growth in a market saturated by content and competitors, step back from the urge to “explain” your business and decide “why” you’re in business. From this thoughtfulness — and specific client and competitor market research — communicate a brand that gets attention.

Dawn Wagenaar helps professionals compete and grow. She is an owner of Ingenuity in St. Paul, Minnesota. Contact her at or (651) 690-3358.