Defining Your Difference Amid a Sea of Sameness

Take any book genre today and a person is likely to find hundreds, if not thousands, of titles written on the same topic—and today’s international business marketplace is no different. Never before have so many companies offered similar products and services at the same price point, often causing consumers to feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision.

On a global scale, businesses spend billions annually to craft clever advertisements with the hope that those brief and fleeting messages will somehow differentiate them from their competitors and lead to a purchase. In the publishing industry, great attention is given to a book’s cover and brief description on the jacket. But if the reader doesn’t relate to what’s inside, the book falls into the abyss of literary obscurity. In a similar way, a clever ad might sell the first product, but it takes a great story to sell the next million.

First Things First: Know Yourself

Invariably, every business works hard to stand apart, spending valuable time and money evaluating and analyzing what competitors are doing. The most successful brands, however, build from the inside out by adhering first to this time-tested truism: know thyself. Starbucks, one of the greatest business success stories of our generation, didn’t rise to the top with discounts, coupons or advertising. From executive leadership to store employees, Starbucks began by establishing a concrete understanding of who they were—as a commodity and a company. Treating both employees and customers with respect and delivering on a promise to simply sell the world’s best coffee not only landed them on the list of best workplaces, but also sent their reputation into orbit.

Stories matter in marketing in the same way they matter in everyday-life: they provide context, something people can relate to that doesn’t just tell them something; it makes them feel something. Without context, a product or service is just another commodity. Give it meaning and a great story people believe in, and the brand becomes much more than a name, what’s written in a press release, on a website or within the pages of an annual report. A great brand with meaning creates a relationship, which fosters loyalty and trust.

Remember, Behind Every Order is a Person

The biggest mistake a business can make is forgetting that customers are people, not numbers. However, numbers do play a vital role in getting to know consumers. That’s why customer analytics is one of the best financial investments a business can make in differentiating themselves from the competition. Long story short, customer analytics uses data beyond the obvious of tracking sales and analyzing new markets. It is a powerful tool that can help a company strengthen ties with their customers by gaining valuable insight into what they want and need, their behavior or purchasing tendencies and how they want to feel. Whether it’s offering a discount or a loyalty program, keeping customers where they should be—front and center—will ultimately lead to a committed clientele and a burgeoning brand.

Evolve vs. Change

New and improved technology allows businesses a myriad of marketing opportunities. Keeping up with advances however—particularly the rapid rise of mobile devices usage—can be challenging. Often in haste, businesses transition their online presence to mobile-friendly sites while overlooking the mobile user’s overall experience. This common mistake results in faulty layouts and slower page load times—which typically translates into customers closing out or navigating away. Taking the time to modify web pages specifically for iOS and Android devices will not only make viewing easier on the eyes but also provide a better user-experience for the customer, allowing for stronger conversions.

The longevity and success of any brand results not from changes a company makes to match the competition, but rather its willingness to evolve in order to meet the needs and desires of its customers. If that means creating cross-platform design to enhance a customer’s shopping experience, successful businesses do it and they do it with consistency and a vision of the future.

The renowned author and magazine publisher Horace Traubel once said, “If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.” Building a brand that burns brighter and stronger—one that prides itself in delivering a higher scale of overall satisfaction by constantly modifying its products and services to cater to customer wants and needs—is what sets a business apart from the rest.

This article has appeared in LinkedIn Pulse and The CEO Magazine for High Growth Ventures.

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