You’re struggling to stand out from the crowd. You sell a product that is available from competitors as well, and you only have a limited number of things you can do to change the product itself.

You’ve tried lowering the price.

You’ve bought bigger ads.

You ran a promotion to get customers buying a bundle of products.

At the end of the day, each of these created some interest, but not as much as you’d hoped. It was expensive, and you’re not sure it’s built up any customer loyalty at all.

Maybe the problem is this: You’re doing the same thing as everyone else. You’re all running specials, trying different advertising, running holiday promotions and trying to convince customers that they want your product, even though it’s essentially the same as the others.

When you’re running with the herd, there’s no reason for people to pay attention to you specifically. Customers will buy from anyone in the herd, because they all seem pretty much the same.

Instead, think about making your company’s unique weirdness the basis for your marketing. That may not be your product at all – in fact, it probably isn’t.

McDonald’s is an interesting example. Sure, they try to convince me that their products are better than the other hamburger chains. To my taste, there’s not a compelling difference. The reason many people are loyal to the company is that it actually is quite family-friendly, remarkably consistent, efficient and good value for your money. Everything they do is intended to support these messages. As a result, they’ve developed fiercely loyal customers.

I’ll point out, too, that this also creates a large base of non-customers. There are people for whom this positioning is not attractive – perhaps they’re not looking for fast-food, or international consistency, or a kid-friendly meal. McDonald’s is fine with losing them, because it reinforces the strength of their brand message.

In the current economy, though, many have fallen into the trap of trying to be all things to all people. When you do that, you’re nothing special to anybody in particular.

I talk to many financial professionals in town, partly because many seem to have turned to networking as the way to compete in a tight market. It doesn’t help that this is a highly regulated industry, and there are many avenues which are restricted by government regulators or parent companies.

The problem with networking, though, is that everybody’s doing it. I’m hearing almost identical messages from everybody I talk to, which means that I won’t have a strong preference for any of them.

There are a few I remember, though. One person has an unusual accent and runs a dance studio on the side. Another is someone I developed a strong relationship with through my church. A third I’ve grown to know as a trusting and open person in a referral group. I connected with my own financial adviser because my parents bought life insurance from the same company when I was young.

Each of these is strange. Unique. Even weird. But potentially quite powerful. Because working with a financial professional is a deeply personal decision, it’s important to develop a strong relationship. This might start with an introduction at a networking meeting, but it certainly can’t end there. Lasting relationships take time, persistence and consistency. With that, they can stand out from the crowd as credible and memorable.

A third example is Apple. It’s fascinating to see how they’ve polarized customers: Most people either love them or hate them. Their customers don’t love them solely because of cooler products and better technology. On the face of it, you can buy equivalent products from competitors for less money.

Apple fans are loyal because they receive a different experience with the products and the company. Like a Mercedes, an iPhone is polished, beautiful, and makes you feel special. As you use it, you find little things to be delighted with. Things seem more intuitive, even though you’re not sure why.

Apple works very, very hard to ensure this experience in every product. The advertising reinforces how the products make you feel, not on comparing functionality that may be similar to competitors.

You might be turned off by Apple’s approach, but they’re fine with that. It reinforces the power of the message to their loyal customers.

Now look at your own business. What is already unique about it? Your people? The location? An event five years ago that people still remember?

Then figure out ways to make this uniqueness more compelling to your current and target customers. Don’t worry about others who might be turned off. Focus on declaring and reinforcing the places where you’re different. This can be the source for great attractiveness and loyalty.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is www.smallfish.us.

Copyright © 2012 Northern Colorado Business Report by Biz West Media.
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