If you have something that your customer values but many others can supply it, then you are doomed to compete on price. Unless you can win that game, your company is destined for low profits or the graveyard.
If you can uniquely supply something that nobody wants – we’ll that’s just stupid.
Then there’s the situation that every company wants. It’s easy to say, but how can you get there? Business rewards cleverness.
Technology advantages provide a common way to differentiate. Sometime the distribution method (e.g. Amazon) or sales method (e.g. eBay) provide differentiation. These are hugely important but don’t apply to all companies. Sleep Country USA is a local success story. They sell mattresses – a commodity! Jones Soda is another local success story – like the world needs another soda company! Southwest Airlines is another. Krispy Kreme donuts yet another. What do these success stories all have in common? A good story!
I had lunch with Sunny Kobe Cook, founder of Sleep Country USA, to learn her secrets. Her top priority: word-of-mouth by employees and customers. “Each customer will talk to about seven others if they have a great experience. Look for where the bar is low and focus on that.” For her it was their installers rolling out red carpet and wearing booties so not to track in dirt. For her it was getting rid of the old mattresses for their customers. For her it was showing up within an hour of a delivery time.
Peter van Stolk, founder of Jones Soda, prints photos that customers send in as labels on his soda bottles. Each bottle becomes a topic of conversation.
Seth Godin wrote some brilliant books recently including Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. He points out that their family can drive past cows all day long and nobody will take notice. But if they were to see a purple cow, the kids would make him stop the car, they’d run out and touch the cow, and then they would go tell all their friends. The book describes many examples where innovative marketers differentiate their companies by becoming remarkable.
What is the opposite of being remarkable? It’s being very good. Seth points out, “If you travel on an airline and they get you there safely, you don’t tell anyone. That’s what’s supposed to happen. What makes it remarkable is if it’s horrible beyond belief or if the service is so unexpected (they were an hour early! they comped my ticket because I was cute! they served flaming crepes suzette in first class!) that you need to share it.
“Factories set quality requirements and try to meet them. That’s boring. Very good is an everyday occurrence and hardly worth mentioning.” So the opposite of “remarkable” isn’t “bad” or “mediocre” or “poorly done”. It’s “very good”.