You may not want to hear it, but most markets are over-saturated these days, which also means they’re highly competitive.
It’s difficult enough for major brands to compete with one another, let alone small businesses and independent ventures.
You have to be prepared to compete on a high-level playing field if you want your business to succeed. What are some of the best ways to stand out? How can you hope to keep up or outdo the competition? How can you convince or encourage customers to choose your business over others?
Your USP or what we call “Unique Greatness” is the “unique selling proposition”. This is what can be considered the “hook”. So much jargon, huh?
It’s what makes your products or services desirable, and it’s why people are willing to invest in your business. It’s also what makes you different from your competition. But you’d be surprised just how many business owners, and brands, fail to see what their true USP is, let alone how to leverage it.
Some brands — like Apple, for example — may be selling an experience, as opposed to just new products. Others may exist to solve a problem or pain point. Finally, some businesses focus on a particular aspect like quality, style, function, and so on.
What is your USP? Understand it. Learn how your customers feel about it. Take time to ensure you’re always meeting those needs with every product release, service launch, or beyond.
To many, business is war, or at the very least, stiff competition. You’ll need to know your enemy, and yourself, which means studying your rivals. No, we’re not suggesting you treat them as a true enemy, but hopefully, you get the idea.
Use market research, customer sentiment, online reviews, and a variety of other sources to study, and get to know your competition. What prices do they offer? Are they higher or lower than yours, and why? What have they done that customers love, and where have they missed their mark? What does their marketing look like and how successful is an average campaign?
Your goal is to compete, which means focusing on what you can do better than the competition. You cannot do that without first understanding what kinds of products or services your rivals are offering or what kind of progress they’re experiencing. Also, studying their successes and failures makes it much easier to avoid or replicate some of those actions.
Small businesses have to focus on a smaller area or customer base, as opposed to major brands with international reach. Even with support for local shipping, there’s a limit to how far and wide your service will be available. This is where business mapping, including sales territory mapping, can really come in handy. The related technologies and tools allow you to visualize, often in real-time, where your customers are located.
Most importantly, you can compare that physical influence with that of your competition, other industries, and much more. Data fuels the visualizations too, which means you can build additional insights like discovering potential markets for expansion, identifying where product demand is highest, and even pinpointing strong marketing regions.
Knowing your area, who you’re working with, and what that means for the greater market is a vital part of keeping your business afloat, and competitive.
Ultimately, your customers choose your products and services for the value they are providing. Over time, that value can either increase or decrease, especially in relation to what your competition is offering. It can include things like the quality of products, incentives being offered, pricing, warranties, and much more.
The best way to stay competitive is to measure and ensure you’re providing high value to your customers, more than your competition even. Collect feedback from your audience and ask what you could be doing better. Listen to their suggestions, consider reviews, pay attention to service requests and the problems people are having with your products or goods. These are all ways to enhance and provide more value. The moment you stop measuring and improving is the time that your competition is either going to catch up or surpass you.
If your customers aren’t happy they’re not going to solicit your business, and they’re certainly going to share their sentiment with others. Word of mouth advertising is a very powerful thing, especially for small and local businesses. You need to make sure you’re not just wow-ing your customers, but that you continue to satisfy their needs. Focus on people over the products and services you provide — prioritize your customers.
How are you helping them? Why does that matter? How can you continue to capitalize on that support? What does your customer service program look like?
If your customers are coming away happy, while talking to your representatives and employees too, then you’re golden. If they’re unhappy, you have a serious problem on your hands that’s only going to grow worse over time.
Small team, medium team, big team, it doesn’t matter. Your employees are on the frontlines interacting with your customers, making sure they’re happy. So, if your employees are not satisfied with the work they’re doing, that’s going to affect the experience your customers are having.
Don’t forget about your employees. Companies with highly engaged workers outperform their peers by 147% when it comes to earnings per share. Yes, that statistic involves employees from large organizations, but the metric has the same implications for any business, smaller operations included. Better quality employee experiences contribute to happier employees and higher profits.
In the end, staying competitive means taking every opportunity you have available to get a leg up over the competition. You should be providing top-notch customer service, valuable and high-quality products — or services — and a one-of-a-kind experience for all. If you’re just delivering run-of-the-mill solutions, not only is no one going to offer repeat business, you’ll eventually be surpassed by your rivals. Someone else in the niche or market will do what you do better, and that’s when your business will begin to fail.
Continue to measure, iterate, and improve as much as you possibly can, and focus on your customers above all, more than the products you deliver.
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly. She was the director at a marketing agency before becoming a freelance web designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and dog, Bear.