“What sets you apart from the competition?” This question must be one of the oldest clichés in business and yet one which many companies struggle to answer. How can hundreds of thousands of service providers that occupy the world of commerce all have “something different” to offer? Yet, each corporation, company, business and sole trader has its own organizational DNA.
Creating your own personal brand isn’t about calling a meeting in the middle of a busy day to sit around and think about abstract concepts. It’s simply about highlighting reasons why previous customers have bought from you and why future ones will.
How to play “spot the branding difference”
I have been fortunate to travel a great deal on business and I have often heard the saying “one hotel room is the same as another”. Given that I’m an economist and business enthusiast, I like to notice how hotels differentiate themselves in an extremely crowded space. A fortnight ago, I was in three hotels in one week and I experienced much about how they did (and didn’t) “set themselves apart”.
The first took a very easy route. They put a name on something that all hotels do and promoted it as their own idea! They provided a hairdryer, make-up mirror and a branded pack of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. Now do you know any four-star that doesn’t do exactly that? However, they branded themselves as the hotel with “the woman’s room”.
It was quite an innovation, in my opinion, to appeal to that market of single female travelers or the female in a couple who might be making a booking, by using nothing but a little imagination. Remember, branding does not necessarily mean talking about yourself, but showing your customers you understand their concerns.
Paradoxically, branding is not about you at all, it’s about your clients!
The second hotel completely ignored a golden branding opportunity by simply turning a deaf ear to its customers. A thirty-second visit to Tripadvisor told me that it provided a free shuttle bus to and from the airport. A similar visit to its website didn’t mention it.
The marketing staff were completely missing the perfect tagline – “we’ll pick you up at the airport and bring you home”. As a very frequent business traveler, I always dream of just getting to my hotel room and settling down. Imagine – it would be so wonderful to know that I won’t have to drag luggage after me while I try (and possibly fail!) to find my way around public transport in an unknown city!
Finally, the third hotel completely rewrote the rules. They didn’t do stars. They didn’t do gyms and spas. They didn’t do restaurants. They did what they wanted to do. There was a self-service check-in and a capsule in the room for a toilet (and another for a shower). You adjusted the heat, T.V., shutters and alarm clock with an aptly called “mood pad”. There was a different shower gel for an early morning shower versus a late night out one (so the bottles said!). The alarm clock didn’t ring, but the lights would come on suddenly at the appointed time, making you jump out of bed in surprise before your brain could persuade you to roll over for a second sleep. The experience was full of surprises! Everything was different, fun and wonderful!
Three questions to define your brand
So, do you need to “invent” your competitive advantage? Probably not – it’s more than likely staring you in the face or shouting at you via your existing clientele. In order to “put words” on your competitive advantage, think about the following questions:
- Firstly, why did you set up your business and, secondly, in this field?
Why didn’t you choose to be an accountant or a doctor or an astronaut or a schoolteacher instead of what you are now? Is it because a team of “you” got together and combined, you have over sixty years of experience? Could it be that you have a passion for being creative, innovative, bringing people together, calming people’s fears, helping people out?
- Why have people bought from you, recommended you or referred you in the past?
Is it because you have a policy of replying to each e-mail within the day? Is it because you are always accessible on your mobile? Is it because you know the process inside out and can save people time, stress and money? Is it because you call your customers each and every time there is a morsel of a development so that they are always kept in the loop?
- What are your customers telling you?
Are they saying that it’s a pleasure to be able to pop in and see a friendly face? Are they impressed with the quality of your product, the seamlessness of your service, your affability, your availability, your ability or extensive network of contacts?
In a highly competitive market, it’s crucially important to clear your own space and then warmly invite the people that are interested to find out more.
How I answered the three questions
I have asked myself the same questions about my own business:
- Why did I set up business in this field?
I am a financial trainer because I find finance fascinating. It reveals a wealth of information about how people make decisions, and about how the economy changes as a consequence of those decisions. If you can “read” financial markets, you can learn so much! I’m sure you have heard of the “butterfly effect”: how seemingly tiny events, like a butterfly flapping its wings, can have huge consequences, sometimes over enormous distances. When you know how to decode finance, you can see that butterfly effect in action. This passion is part and parcel of who I am, and so part of my brand!
- Why have people bought from me?
If the testimonials section of my website is anything to go by, people like the clarity and simplicity I bring to financial and investment matters. They just want to know where they should start, and apparently I’m good at keeping overwhelm at bay! They also appreciate my enthusiasm and can-do attitude. As you know, this optimism is my trademark!
- What are my customers telling me?
I have developed my e-learning offering because people have told me that they appreciate the ease and convenience of doing things online. When I started mentoring private investors, I would travel miles and miles to sit with them in their home in front of their computer. Then as soon as I could, I started offering mentoring over the phone or via screenshare.
Companies have similar concerns: they would love it if they could organize a training session quickly and easily, without having to call a whole team or department away from their work to attend a seminar, without having to think of travel expenses, without having to worry about booking a room and shepherding people to the right place! So I expanded my services accordingly.
From there, I have gone on to solve those very same problems for other trainers, by turning their courses into eLearning, so that they can make that leap into the online world, immediately.
And you? What answers will you give to these three questions? Will you turn your branding around with their help?
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