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How Truly Different Are You?

By Jerry Gennaria

Ever notice how every major intersection seems to have two or more gas stations?

Now, think about how you decide which one to patronize? Is it price? The side of the street? Maybe you’re loyal to one brand because they stock your favorite beverage. Whatever the reason, how hard would it be for you to switch to the other station? Probably not too hard. The prices are almost always the same. The snacks are similar. The gasoline powers your car no matter which brand you choose.

Now, think about your own business. In the era of smartphones, Google, Facebook, and other media, we have a nearly infinite supply of options for almost every need. Your business is one of those options, so how do you stand out from the crowd? No — stop and think — how are you truly different from your competitors in a way that is meaningful to customers? Now, do your customers and prospects agree with you? What will it take for them to switch to your competition? Will they pay a price premium to work with you?

Many people think a brand is the visual expression of your business — your logo, colors, signs, or advertising. You may be more experienced and realize that your brand is the sum total of what your customers believe about you. But have you really considered what that means and how defensible it is? This past year has caused many of us to revisit business relationships and truly evaluate how important they are. You may have even changed or eliminated suppliers due to cost. You may have lost or gained business for the same reason.

Think about the relationships you consider vital to your business and for which there is no acceptable substitute. Does your business fall into that category for your customers? When a prospect asks why they should choose your business, what do you say? Quality? Customer service? Low price? Convenient location? Superior performance? If so, how do you quantify that and is your superiority truly different in the minds of your customers?

It’s easy to believe your own marketing materials — after all, that’s how you sell yourself. But it doesn’t help if you are busy differentiating from your competitors based on something your customers don’t truly value. It’s hard to be objective about what makes you different. And it’s exceptionally difficult to make the hard decisions necessary to be really different.

This year, take a step back and evaluate how you position your business. Ask your customers why they chose you and what it would take for them to leave. Get an objective outside opinion. Don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions.

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