Why should people choose your business over your competitors?
Sounds like a simple enough question, right? You know, deep down, what makes your business special and different. You’re doing what you were made to do and you’re the best in the world at it. Who wouldn’t choose you?
Figuring out your unique competitive advantage is, in some respects, basic business. You’ve been there, you’ve done that and you’ve got the t-shirt. And hopefully you’ve become pretty good at articulating it too – telling other people about what sets you and your business apart. This is often the trickier part.
I’ll never forget the first time I had to do that as an exercise. It was back in 2012 and I was at a breakfast seminar with other businesspeople from a range of industries spanning property, engineering, finance, and even haircare. To make a point, the presenter asked us to turn to our neighbour and explain to them what our business does, and how it’s different in our field.
By this point, I had been in business over a year – I was a newbie in some respects, but not that new. I knew inside-out what Intelligent Ink offered, but still, it was more difficult than I thought it would be to clearly define how we were different from our competitors and where our unique value lay. And hang on – wasn’t I supposed to have a way with words?
The interesting thing was that it wasn’t just me either. I was surrounded by established business people, some of whom were at least 20 years my senior, and we were pretty much all caught short: bumbling through a response, or not really doing ourselves justice. Either way, our presenter’s point had been made; it was more difficult than we thought to clearly and succinctly sum up the ‘special sauce’ that we bring, or enunciate our (or our business’s) true superpower.
Moving beyond your competitive advantage to influence your communications
Chances are you don’t need me to spend time here going into what makes for a successful competitive advantage; it’s essentially what it says on the tin. It’s the condition or circumstance that puts you in a favourable or superior business position, to borrow the dictionary definition. Your competitive advantage could be the unique attributes of the product you’ve created, the remarkable way that you go about providing your valuable service, or something else entirely.
Regardless of what you call it – and even what it actually is – you’ve got some idea by now of what enables you to stand out in your competitive environment. But that’s exactly the challenge… You know it – but you need to let other people know it. Namely, if you want to factor into their consideration set and win in your market, you need to be telling your clients and prospects, or customers and potential customers, what makes you better.
You may be like some of the businesspeople that I was in that room with back in 2012, or you might be like a number of our clients who are passionate about what they do and can get anyone that they’re in a room with fired up about it too – but know that this one-on-one face-to-face mode isn’t sufficient for all of their communications. Either way, this is an area in which you can be more strategic and proactive with your communications and your content.
Your secret sauce is the special ingredient for your content
The work that we love most is helping business owners (and their brands!) work out what really, truly makes them special and different. To take those intangible qualities and work out how they can consistently and cohesively communicate those across the right channels to reach their intended audience.
When it comes to communications, we see so many businesses taking an ad hoc approach. They’re working across the channels that they think they ‘should’ be hitting, but their messaging is all over the place and the story they’re telling isn’t consistent. Because of this, it’s not having the impact that they want it to have. It’s not winning over hearts and minds. It’s not inspiring people to choose them over their competitors. No matter how dazzling or perfect a piece of content is, it’s no longer enough to do something once and pin all your hopes on praying that it will work.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re all for wonderful content – but this is where a strong foundation of key messages comes in. You need to work from this base to proactively drive the conversation that you’re having with your market. And that’s the starting point of getting people to choose you over your competitors.
Think about what you remember about particular brands or people. You hear about The Warehouse and you think bargains. That used to be the jingle, so that connection was obvious. However, nowadays, they’re using different marketing concepts around ‘everyday low prices’ to reduce the stress of ‘sales’ and reward long term value and loyalty. The message still remains, despite this different positioning.
Or consider another example – Simon Sinek. Although he does hundreds of talks and writes a huge amount of content, what we remember and know him for is his focus on your ‘why’ – because that’s the key message that he incorporates through most of his content.
When it comes to winning over hearts and minds, you need to be consistent. Work out what your key messages are – the main points that you are trying to communicate. They should be short, concise statements that highlight the important aspects of your business and how you help your customers (with your competitive advantage, or secret sauce, rolled in there too!) And they should be succinct enough that they are easy for other people to remember. They should also underpin all of your communications and content ideas.
We could talk heaps more about what key messages are and why businesses need them. What’s important to know here though is that once you’ve got them, you need to tell them – and keep telling them. In different ways and across different channels. Key messages help you ensure that everything you put out there is singing from the same song sheet. Sure, different articles that you write will have a different main point to get across, but your key messages should still be in there in a way that’s appropriate. People remember and trust businesses and brands that are consistent.
Not only does consistency enable you to build your professionalism and ensure people understand what makes you special and different, it keeps you top of mind. Pick a few channels – the ones that will have the biggest impact for you and the ones where your intended audience are spending their time engaging – and do those well. We often talk to business owners who have spread themselves too thin; they can’t maintain the frequency of content they want across all of the channels they are trying to manage. They have a job to do, after all – and they’re not strictly content creators.
But say you’ve got some key messages, and think you’re pretty awesome at singing them from the rooftops. You know that’s not necessarily going to be enough to make people choose you over your competitors – no matter how compelling your competitive advantage or how well-articulated your key messages are. So what then? How else can you use content and communications to encourage people to choose you over your competitors?
Content fosters connection
There’s a whole field of study dedicated to the psychology behind consumer behaviour – the underlying cognitive processes that drive our buying decisions – that is too vast to get into in great depth here. Suffice to say for now though is that your target market chooses you for reasons that have far more to do with themselves than they do with you, regardless of all the good work you’ve done on the elements above.
This sounds almost too simple, but it’s still often forgotten – people do business with people. They want to engage with people and brands that they feel a connection to and that they trust. No matter how logical or rational you think you are, you will no doubt know from your own experience how much more decisive you can be when you feel emotionally connected to a cause or invested in the achievement of a specific outcome. So how do you take all your incredible key messages and leverage your communications to connect?
1. Deliver value
The first key way to connect with your market and have people choose you over your competitors relates to value – and we’re not talking about pricing here. In today’s market we’re overwhelmed with choice – but we continue to see that those who are really winning are those who are prepared to give value.
Value means giving your market something that they’re not expecting. It’s an aspect I love because you can get really creative with it, and you have the opportunity to surprise and delight! Value can be physically giving something away – like a special gift or another discount offer with their first purchase – but ideally you should be providing as much value as possible as early on as you can in the consumer’s decision-making process. This may be even before they have bought anything from you – and is where content can come into play.
Say you’re a professional service business that helps other businesses to smash their digital marketing, or improve their search rankings on Google. You might be so bold as to write a book that enables people to DIY just that, or you might write a ‘how to’ guide that gives away some of your so-called trade secrets, making this freely available for download. There’s no doubt that this content provides huge value to people searching for your services – and chances are high that not everyone will want to invest the time required to do it themselves, even if you give them your expertise. So who do you think they’ll then engage to take care of it for them? Chances are high it will be you!
Top tip: Value is in the eye of the beholder.
To determine how you can best deliver unique value to your customers or potential customers, put yourself in their shoes. It’s not so much about what you are willing to give away, but what they need. Drill down to your target market’s key frustrations or pain points – can you remove one of them without them even buying from you yet? Your target market will be far more positively disposed to you at decision time if you have.
Value creates a connection because it shows that you understand them; hence you are providing something that they need or that makes their lives better.
2. Share stories
If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you’ll know how strongly we feel about the strength of stories to influence hearts and minds (and wallets!) Your business or brand is far more than your logo; it’s the stories you tell.
The idea of story-telling in business is far from new, but it’s still just as relevant! Stories help us to relate to a brand or business and, when done well, they can be the best sales tool you have.
Science tells us that we’re hard-wired for receiving stories. We use them to teach things to our children because they lead to better understanding, trust, comprehension, and receptivity. Your stories come together to differentiate you from your competitors and – if proactively built and positively sustained – your stories will, over time, accumulate credibility, quality, trust and value (there’s that word again!) in the minds of your market.
Think about chocolate for a moment (because… yum, so why not?) From the monopoly that Cadbury had on our taste buds some years ago, we’ve seen a valiant battle for ‘share of mouth’ fought by Whittaker’s, and it’s all come down to the story. As Philip Poole, marketing manager for Whittaker’s attests, if you build a strong story that relates to consumers as well as the business or brand, you turn spectators into supporters.
Whittaker’s vision to produce world-class chocolate from Porirua underpins their story about a family company locally crafting chocolate through all the steps that take it from ‘bean to bar’ right here in New Zealand. And it’s worked! Not only have Whittaker’s picked up a plethora of awards – including ‘New Zealand’s Most Trusted Brand’ (Readers Digest) for the last six years and ‘Most Loved Brand’ (Colmar Brunton) for the last five! – they became the market leader, increasing their sales of Whittaker’s Creamy Milk five-fold to become the number one block in New Zealand.
Telling stories is why we get out of bed in the morning. More than anything, we love working with brands and businesses to bring their special stories to life. And we do this not only because we love how these stories transform companies from the inside out, but also because of the impact they enable that organisation to have in their market.
You can discover plenty about communicating your brand and why you do what you do in other posts. We’re often educating our clients on the fact that their brand story goes beyond products or services and needs to be bought to life in everything that that they do, from communications and corporate social responsibility activities, to their price point, packaging, staff, stores, or the way they distribute their offering.
We also believe in, and strongly advocate the practice of sharing stories consistently to control the conversation you’re having with your market. Hand on heart, we feel that businesses can most effectively communicate with their audience when they’re telling interesting and valuable stories. But we’re also now taking this a bit further, which brings me to my last point about how content can really be used to build a connection and encourage people to choose you over your competitors…
3. Build your influence, make it personal and stand for something
There’s a lot of ground I’m going to cover here, so hold onto your hats…! The idea is that you need to put a person into your brand personality. Remember how I said earlier that people do business with people – well here this idea continues. We believe it’s a vital distinction to make in your communications, so let me explain.
Brands and businesses have become better, in the last decade or so, at injecting more personality into their content and establishing a specific brand voice. We think it’s now time that business people take things further. Not only do people want something they can relate to – they want someone they can relate to.
Look around and you’ll see this in action’; it’s the ‘Age of the influencer’. Think of whose opinions you are most privy to; I guarantee they are those of individuals, not company-wide ones that spring to mind. Sure, those people may be part of, or representing, a company – but it’s the person who you’ve connected with.
The reality is that nowadays brands can be as personable as they like, but time and again we’re seeing their sway trumped by that of these so-called influencers. Even some of the biggest brands who could be argued to have been winning in their respective (and highly competitive) sandpits have joined the playground of influencer marketing. From brands like Almond Breeze and Subaru, who leverage well-known personalities like Matilda Rice to market their products, to ‘average Joe’ Jaco Kluts, who has become the ‘Hello Fresh guy’ as the brand break their way into the New Zealand market, it appears influencer marketing is here to stay.
So as a business founder or owner, how do you leverage this to sway people’s choices towards you over your competitors? It’s time to build your influence and establish a thought leadership position. Create content surrounding the topic matter that makes you tick and use this to become an authority in your industry.
The key here is to not write just what everyone else could be writing. Tap into your secret sauce, those things that make you unique and special and make sure those messages underpin everything that you do so that you’re providing unique, interesting content. Further to that, don’t be afraid to have an opinion. We often talk to people who are worried about ruffling a few feathers, but time and time again we have proven that thought leadership content is so much more effective if you develop a unique position and aren’t afraid to stand for something.
Be three-dimensional and be real. Bringing humanity into your content is all part of making it relatable. This is more than just making sure that your stories are authentic (although that’s important too!). As well as your opinions, share your hopes and dreams, your successes and your failures, as these are an important part of your story.
We love the first video on the Threefold website as an example of this. We might be a tad biased (the founder is one of the co-owners of Intelligent Ink after all), but the way that Logan stands there and shares his ‘big, hairy, audacious goal’ and his ‘why’ make us want to be a part of his mission from the get-go, before we’ve even engaged with his product yet. He backs it up too with other personal stories that share his own experiences, and those of the people he’s helped, throughout the site.
We firmly believe that these essential ingredients: a compelling competitive advantage, consistent communications that share your key messaging and content that fosters connection will see you winning – in a sustainable and lasting way – in the quest to have people choose you over your competitors. Give us a call if you’d like to talk through any aspect of your story, or how you can establish yourself as an authority or thought leader in your industry.