Being Different is a Good Thing

There was a time when most of us just wanted to fit in…be in the right group, on an athletic team, supporting the winning political candidate, just feeling like we belonged. Today in business, “fitting in” is a recipe for obscurity. When you look at companies like Southwest Airlines, Disney, and Apple you don’t think of how they fit in with their market segment. It is how they are clearly differentiated in crowded, competitive industries.

 How do you help your organization stand out in a crowded field? How do you ensure that your customers and prospects easily recognize how you’re different? Does your difference have an impact on those you serve? Being different in a world of commoditization is a greater challenge today than it ever has been. Let’s explore some ways in which your organization can create some space between you and your nearest competitor.

 Take a look around, do know of any organization that doesn’t have a web site? Web sites have proliferated to the point of saturation in every conceivable nook and cranny of the Internet. As you can imagine, the Web is filled with sites that are poorly designed, difficult to navigate, and contain pretty useless information. This creates a great opportunity for an organization to differentiate itself with a well designed, thoughtful web site. What are some of the keys to accomplishing this goal? First, let’s decide what are the goals of your web site? When distilling your goals, we often encourage our clients to focus on their customers’ experience through this avenue. After all, if your prospects or customers don’t get anything out of your web site, they’ll stop going to it, and if that happens…why have a web site? Depending on your goals, you may want to optimize your site or utilize a web marketing campaign to increase the traffic to your site. Traffic is king for many sites, but the real king is customer conversion. How many visitors to your site come in as prospects and leave as customers? This brings up meaningful metrics that should be monitored. You know the drill…you wouldn’t take a trip from where you live to a new city without a map or at the very least directions so that you minimize the wrong turns. The same is true of a web site’s metrics. Measure your results so that you know whether you are heading in the right direction or not.

 Most organizations don’t think about how security can really differentiate itself form its competition. Often security is looked at as necessary to protect an organization. We look at it in much more sales oriented ways. We read about the horrible data breaches from any number of organizations throughout the US and the world. Most of us are probably thinking…we’re ok, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen here. 

You might be right, but what about the impact a strong security effort has on the impression from your customer. Securing your customer data is critical to your survival. It should be utilized as a differentiator in your marketplace. A recent poll indicated that 50% of Visa’s top merchants had not fully implemented payment card industry data security standards. If you are one of the merchants that has fully secured your systems wouldn’t it make sense to “brag” about this fact. We’re sure that consumers would choose to buy from a retailer that was fully secured versus one that isn’t quite there yet. You may think that if you are a B2B player that security isn’t as great a marketing tactic, but we would argue that you couldn’t more wrong. Everyone is security conscience and your customers will be your biggest advocates if your security is top notch.

This brings up another area that can help you stand out in a crowd – Communications. We should add secure communication, as well as, public communication. Most organizations focus on the public side of communication, but the one-on-one communications that your organization partakes in every day can be an additional differentiator. You may not have heard that Harvard University is requiring most incoming freshman to take a remedial writing course. That’s at Harvard, we wonder (actually, we don’t) what kind of writers we are turning out at other places of higher education. You probably have proposals, cover letters, e-mails and even instant messages that have spelling and grammatical errors. Implementing a process for creating written communications and perhaps controlling what written word leaves your four walls is another differentiator that can be employed to set you apart from the crowd. Now take that a step further and secure those communications and you’ve a significant difference between you and most of your competitors. There are ways to encrypt your e-mails and actually restrict the sharing of documents beyond those that you want to see it. Have you ever found your proposal in the hands of a competitor? It would probably be nice to lock that document down so that only the intended recipient could open it and perhaps not print it or forward it to anyone. What about a document that “self-destructs” after 4 days? Sound like Mission: Impossible, well it is reality today.

 The days of purging old data are gone. Storage is so inexpensive that most organizations are keeping data for an indefinite amount of time. Storing the data is one thing, but mining that data is still in its infancy. Leveraging your customer knowledge through the data that you have amassed can reap many advantages. The knowledge that you have is unique. It should be protected and used to your advantage when working with current customers and converting prospects into customers. If you can focus some serious attention to mining your data, you will achieve great results with your current customers and prospects, alike. No one knows your customers the way that you do, but sometimes the problem is that the organization doesn’t know the customer, only the sales rep in regular contact with the customer. This knowledge needs to expand to the entire organization. This paradigm shift can be done through leadership, improved processes, and enabling technology. If you employ only one of these legs your results will be marginal, at best. The effort needs to include all three to have the greatest impact on your organization and ultimately your customer.

In all of these ways of “being different”, it is most important to keep the customer in the forefront of your mind and that of everyone within your organization. Assess where you are today, set goals that stretch your people and your organization, develop a plan that focuses on the most meaningful changes first, and stay committed to setting yourself apart for the benefit of your customer. This is hard work. But it is work that is rewarded with a meaningful return on your investment.