If you asked your prospects what was different or better about your business compared to competitors, what would they say?
Having a hard time answering that? You’re not alone.
Too many small businesses fail to differentiate themselves from the competition. That failure to differentiate traps them in a race to the bottom as they compete on price.
That isn’t a race you want to win.
“Positioning” is marketing-speak for the customer’s general perception of your business. As the owner, just about every decision you make about the business will contribute to that perception.
What words do you use to describe the business? How much do you charge? What to your employees wear? How do they act?
All these things create an impression with a prospect. They will use that impression to decide if you are someone they want to do business with. It is critical that you manage all the ways people come into contact with your business to deliver the message you intend.
What’s tricky about positioning is that you control it, but you don’t control it. Yes, you can manage all those customer touch-points to present the image you want to present. But you have no control over what the customer thinks of what you do or how they talk about you to others.
Remember, your business will have a position whether you do anything to create it or not. Whatever you fail to manage, the market will decide for itself.
At a minimum, you have to be able to communicate some sort of coherent message to tell customers and prospects what you are all about. That is true even if all you have to offer is a lower price.
So, you need to be able to talk about (and show) how you are different and better than competitors. To do that effectively and win loyal customers, you need to keep two things in mind:
- It has to be authentic. If it isn’t, people will see through it and you will do yourself more harm than good.
- It has to strongly appeal to a core group of people.
The first part is easy.
Don’t try to be something you aren’t. And don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Southwest doesn’t promise a luxurious travel experience. That isn’t what they stand for. Southwest does a great job at being a low-cost, fun airline. That’s what they talk about and that’s why people fly them. They’re incredibly successful at it.
To position your business, you first have to be clear about what you stand for.
What are your values? What are you good at? What are you passionate about?
The answers to these three questions have to be the basis for your company’s position.
The second part is a little more difficult.
It is more difficult because it requires you to accept the idea that you will choose not to try to sell to people who would be perfectly happy to give you money.
You started to sweat a little when you read that, didn’t you?
I get it. I own a business, too.
That instinct to grab for every dollar is a strong one. And it seems intuitive that the more people you appeal to, the more sales you can make.
Here’s the problem with that reasoning.
When it comes to appeal, you can go broad or you can go deep. Not both.
The only way you can appeal to a broad cross-section of people is to water down your message so that it doesn’t turn anyone off. This watered-down message creates weak bonds. Bonds that are easily broken by a better deal down the street.
The way to go deep is really speak to a specific group of people. You create a strong connection by showing them that you share their values and beliefs and that your product is the exact solution for them.
It isn’t possible to do this without turning other people off. And that’s ok.
By focusing every aspect of your business on being the perfect solution for a specific group of people, you will end up with raving fans. These will be loyal customers who won’t even consider alternate products.
What about the people who aren’t in that specific group?
Some of them will probably buy from you. Others won’t. Some may even hate the very idea of your existence. That, by the way, is an excellent measure of success.
Two big brands that are often used as examples of creating markets of raving fans are Apple and Harley Davidson.
What popped into your head when you read those two names?
In both cases, you get a clear picture of what the company stands for and what its customers look like, regardless of whether you are one of them.
If you aren’t the specific person they are trying to appeal to, it’s possible you have a negative view of the company or the people who buy their products. They’re fine with that. They aren’t making their product for you.
You shouldn’t be making your product for everyone, either.
By creating deep connections with a core group of customers, both Apple and Harley Davidson sell at a premium price. Even though their customers could buy competitive products elsewhere for much less, the idea to do so never occurs to them.
What would you rather have? A lot of customers who will disappear at the drop of a hat? Or fewer customers who consider their relationship with your business to be a deep personal relationship?
When you succeed in positioning your business to be the perfect solution for a group of people, you haven’t beaten the competition.
You have made the competition irrelevant.
Can you see how you will never be able to go deep unless you are being authentic?
We’re talking about building real relationships here. Relationships that have real emotional connection. You can’t fake that. If you try, it will end badly.
You need to build the position of the business around your passion. It will attract and serve the customers who share that passion.
Competitors might be able to copy the details of your product or match your offers. But they can’t ever copy your passion or how you express it in your business. That is uniquely yours.