What do you think the most successful marketing strategy for your small business is likely to be? You may think about direct mail – flyer drops, sponsorship of a local sports team, your website or even generating some publicity? And while all of these are valid objectives that should be considered as a component part of any multi-channel marketing plan, the truth that a lot of start-ups fail to realise is none of them will be successful without one vital ingredient: differentiating your brand.
Creating a unique and original brand proposition is the foundation upon which you lay the bricks of your marketing activities. Without it, you’re likely to waste precious resources promoting something that is unlikely to stick. Instead, you’ll find yourself drawn into an endless round of product or service promotions based solely on price.
This is a race to the bottom with other business that may show some short term gains, but is not an effective strategy in the longer term. In order to establish a relationship with customers that keeps them coming back after your promotions have ended, when you’re no longer the cheapest option, you have to offer more. That ‘more’ is your reason for being – the DNA of your business – so defining that, and shouting about it, needs to be the cornerstone of what you do.
How Do I Differentiate My Business?
So, now you know that carving out a niche is the most important task facing you as a small business owner, but how do you go about making this a reality?
There are a number of different factors that you can use – alone or in combination – to define your offering. Start with why you exist – what the mission statement for the company is. Find this information woven into your business plan. That document, used to convince investors, should contain the raw materials, then it’s up to you to put in the work of converting that into a short summary, literally just a line, that contains the essence of this proposal.
Often for start-up companies, the values of the business will also be your personal values. They must be authentic, as customers are pretty good at sensing what’s genuine and what’s just marketing hype. Spend some time defining these values, and how they connect to the problem you want to solve in the world.
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Once you have them, shout them loud. Make sure you’re communicating them to your audience at every possible turn – from positioning them front and centre on your website to emblazoning them on your packaging such as carrier bags or Custom Mailer Boxes, and making sure they’re represented on that batch of flyers you order. Don’t miss the opportunity to talk to customers about what makes you unique. You’re looking to form an emotional connection and resonate with them. That is what keeps them coming back long after the latest promotion has ended, and it’s the motivator behind most purchasing decisions.
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There are lots of factors that can differentiate what you have to offer from what your competitor down the road has. Learning which of these factors it is for your business all depends on what you offer to the market. It may be that it’s a combination of things, which also works. As long as you can distill it down to a message that is easy to communicate, you have a formula that works.
Don’t be afraid to call in the professionals. A marketing agency or freelance copywriter will be able to work with you to develop a brand message. This could well be the best investment you will make in terms of your marketing, so make sure you put the time into getting it right.
It may be that your product offering is so unique that you have a message right there. If it does something completely different, or even creates a new category, then the product can define the business for you. For example, the business recently that developed inflatable children’s car seats for travel – a concept so unique that creates the mission statement. This approach can also work for some services – for example, a home improvement service staffed solely by women. In these cases, it’s obvious what is unique about the offer.
But if you don’t have something that is immediately apparent, there are still plenty of factors. Service can be a huge part of the mix, especially if you can manage to offer something such as a one hour turnaround, or a fixed consulting package under one clear price. Depending on what your business does, look for a gap in the market – frequently something that hasn’t really been done before and represents a bit of a stretch – and reverse-engineer the solution with a process that enables you to offer something not currently out there.
Customer Engagement Is the New Marketing
Solving a common customer problem is also a great value to focus on. This strategy depends on some solid customer research, so commission or carry out some robust market analysis, involving both qualitative and quantitative elements, before launching your message, to make sure there really is an angle to work there.
It could be something like pain-free dental care – appealing to masses of scared patients. Or if you’re remodelling houses, it could be the fact that you leave the place immaculate at the end of a job. Find the ‘pain point’ that customers generally dislike about the service you offer and define yourself by the solution – it’s something customers will respond really positively to if you get it right.
Value is another strong area to compete in. Don’t get this confused with price. Value can still mean high prices – it’s just that what a customer gets in exchange is perceived to be worth more.
What extras can you offer that no one else does? Again, this can be based on a service. Focus on what you do that is less tangible – the problem you solve for your customer. Can you make their business more valuable? Get them a specific part faster than anyone else? If so, that is your value proposition. It isn’t about cutting prices – it’s about how you enhance their lives, and what value your service adds to theirs. If everyone else is just selling the basics, it communicates that you offer something above and beyond.
That puts you in an extremely strong position and makes you stand out in the customer’s mind. And it’s exactly that which will bring in repeat business, word of mouth referrals and glowing social media reviews.