Tons of businesses boast about their years in the industry or their top-of-the-line customer service. These are both valuable, but if you’re promoting the same benefits as others in the industry, those benefit statements become expectations of your product or service—not differentiators. So why should customers choose you over a competitor? Identifying your competitive advantage is one of the foundational steps you need to take to establish a strong marketing strategy.
Why is this important?
Answering the question, "Why should customers choose you?" and understanding what sets you apart may seem obvious, but many business owners spend so much time focusing on the day-to-day of their business that they don’t often step back to look at the big picture. This is understandable, but failing to look at this strategic aspect can make your marketing ineffective.
Why? Business owners have a tendency to promote what makes their product or company great—again, understandable—but that is not the best way to appeal to prospects. The most effective marketing connects to your potential customer on an emotional level. It speaks to their needs and challenges; your product should solve a problem for them. Focusing on your competitive advantage (what differentiates you from competitors) leads you to customer-focused marketing.
What is your competitive advantage?
There are many ways of defining “competitive advantage,” but I like to break it down into two key elements:
- How your product or service helps your customers.
- How your product or service is unique from other offerings available on the market.
Note that both of these elements are essential. If you have a product that customers want, but everyone else in the market offers the same thing, it obviously does not differentiate you. On the other hand, if you have an innovative offering that is unique to your industry, but there is no customer demand for it, then that also is not a true competitive advantage.
When you identify your competitive advantage, it helps you promote your product or service in a way that specifically appeals to customers’ needs, and also shows why your offering is superior to competitors. This leads to the most effective marketing—and more business for you!
How do you find your competitive advantage?
If you’re not quite sure what differentiates you from your competitors (that’s okay), I recommend going through the following steps:
- Start with your target audience, your clients. What do they spend their days doing? What do they care about? What are their pains, their challenges? (Create buyer personas if you haven’t yet!)
- How does a product or service like yours help alleviate those pains and challenges? In other words, how does a product or service like yours benefit this target customer? List as many ideas as possible. (Hopefully, this is an exercise you’ve already done as part of your market research in developing your product or service.)
- Now—do all your competitors also solve the same challenges as you do in #2? Do you all do it the same way, or do you do something different? Perhaps you offer higher quality, a lower price, a superior set of features, or a completely unique offering.
- Identify the strongest benefits of your product/service that you have but competitors don’t, or that you do much better than competitors (higher quality, faster, cheaper, etc.). Remember, these have to be things your customers really care about.
These are your competitive advantages.
Here’s an example. I’ve worked with several insurance agencies, and most of the agencies in the industry like to use their many years in business and their outstanding customer service as a value proposition. Now, each of them thinks that this differentiates them, but really, if everyone is saying the same thing, this is not a competitive advantage. Instead, the most successful insurance agencies look for unique ways to differentiate from their competitors, such as offering sophisticated technology solutions to clients that complement their insurance policies.
Once you’ve identified your competitive advantage, don’t just use it strategically to create compelling messaging in your inbound marketing efforts. Be sure to consider how you can use your competitive advantage in the context of client retention as well.