Take a moment to think about your “competition”. You probably immediately thought of one or two competitors. Your clients-to-be often ask you about them. They pitch all of the same accounts that you’re pitching. Even the not-for-profit world has competition. You’re kidding yourself if you don’t see those other charities as competing for the same donation dollars.
What if you could make them go away? I don’t mean out of business or even out of town. But what would it take to prevent them from being able to compete with your company altogether? You can’t actually get them to “go anywhere”, but there is a very simple solution.
Make your competition invisible by getting out of their business.
Okay, before you stop reading, listen to what I mean. If you’re in the professional services field (which most of our clients are) then more than likely you’re competing on the same platform, and selling a virtually identical service to the same audience as your competition.
How would you describe what’s unique about your brand? Chances are, you’d offer a paraphrased version of your mission statement. “Our commitment to quality service, and dependable …great products and fair pricing …and the best people in the business.” Sound familiar? Yes. That’s because it’s exactly how your competition talks about their brand and their services.
It’s time to Get Truly Different.
It’s all about positioning. If you’re familiar with the concept of Blue Ocean Strategy, finding an untapped, wide-open market is awesome. The truth is, you may not have to be quite that radical. The truth is, if you take a page out of the Seth Godin playbook and just do something remarkable, you’re halfway there.
A great first step is to define a niche. “But I don’t want to pigeonhole our company with a niche!” Yep, think of all of those poor, under-performing niche brands: Crocks (just for kids), North Face (just for hikers), Geek Squad (just for home computer repairs), Apple Computer (just for creative types).
Niche positioning doesn’t limit your market. Niche positioning expands it.
Why is that? When a consumer thinks, “Gee, I need an XYZ,” whatever brand fulfills that niche positioning, will be the first brand the consumer will think of.
Okay, so how do we apply what we see in the consumer product market, to the professional services market?
First off, let’s remember that the same “30-year-old dude” that’s buying North Face and Apple, could be the same professional who’s making the decision about which architects to consider for the building expansion, or which law firm would be best suited to handle their intellectual property needs. People are people. When they’re at work, they’re still people. You aren’t selling to a “business.” More than likely, you’re selling to another person. Don’t forget that.
So back to the question, how can we go about applying what we know in the consumer market to the professional services market? Here are my top five suggestions:
1. Find a price niche.
What would your customers be willing to pay a premium price for? Within your market, what can you offer at the top end of the price spectrum? Or how can you bill differently. If your industry bills by the hour, consider a monthly retainer or flat package or project fees. On the flip side, what can you systematize and charge a miniscule amount for? What if you became known as the giant law firm who filed Trademark Applications as fast as the online guys, but with the clout and service that you’re known for in the community?
2. Light Blue Ocean.
What do our customers want that we (and our competitors) don’t currently offer? How could we take our service to the next level? Daily personal telephone updates? On-site service? Online project status monitoring? A project manager with an iPhone could easily post progress photos of your new building, and status updates via Twitter. (Hint: This may be the thing from #1 that allows you to charge a premium.)
At our office, the dry cleaner picks up our laundry from our suite and delivers it right back to our coat closet. My credit card is on file, and I seldom even see our trusty delivery guy. It’s like magic. And guess what? It costs pretty much the same as the strip-mall dry cleaner. Remarkable.
3. Before you try to look different, figure out how to be different.
Design and marketing professionals are experts in the art of creating something new and interesting. This works out great when you ARE new and interesting. However if you’re really more of the same old, same old, it tends to backfire. (See also: JetBlue, etc.) Arguably one of the best “brands” in history for doing something different: Barack Obama. He sounded different, he exploited his differences, and he did an amazing job of looking different. Now we get to see if he lives up to his brand promise of Hope and Change.
4. Now that you’re doing something different, it’s time to be sure you look and sound different.
5. Let someone else look in the mirror for you.
Chances are, you’re so close to your own brand that you’re still a little confused. You may have even convinced yourself that you’re well-niched, doing unique things, have made your company truly different, and do in fact you look different too. Strangely, your competition is still there, buzzing in your ear. Now would be a good time to get a second opinion. Try consulting a mentor, a colleague from another department, or try enlisting the help of a marketing professional.
Here’s one final suggestion: when you’re looking for a professional firm to help you with positioning, branding or marketing, ask them why they are unique. And then ask them who their competition is. If their answers sound similar to yours, keep looking.