Differentiate or Die
You get to choose whether your business lives or dies. Either you differentiate yourself from the competition in a meaningful way to your customers or you will eventually see your business slowly die and descend into insignificance and oblivion.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling products, services or even ideas. It’s a very competitive world. Only those who successfully break through the clutter (because they’re different) and judged meaningful will survive.
“I disagree,” a colleague once said to me. “My organization doesn’t differentiate its services and we’re doing just fine, thank you very much.” I was taken back and thought about it. Was he correct? Well, he was; but, only because he had a monopoly. He worked for government mass transit. Okay, there might be a rare exception if you’re a monopoly.
For the rest of us, though, who wrestle everyday against competitors, my declaration is true. If you don’t differentiate, you’ll become a commodity whose only differentiator will be price. Listen: there’s no bottom to price. I’ve seen competitors sell products for less than it costs to make. Competitors will soon cause you to obsess about being the low cost producer and you’ll fixate on lowering wages, overhead and operating costs. That’s how the downward death spiral begins.
How do you stop the commodity mentality? Differentiate to gain a competitive advantage. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to differentiate.
Here are a few examples to get your juices flowing:
Distribution Differentiation. Delivery of your products or services is one way to differentiate. Redbox bucked the brick and mortar business model and placed video vending machines at McDonalds, 7-Eleven, and 30,000 other places much to the demise of Hollywood Video. iTunes replaced the music store. The airlines used the Internet to limit the value of travel agents. The marketplace shows no mercy.
What’s the next big wave? Books are on my radar. Easy-to-buy digital e-books are increasing sales exponentially. For those who must physically hold a book, there’s print-on-demand. The new Espresso Book Machine will print a 300-page, perfect-bound book with a color cover in less than four minutes at a cost of a penny a page ($4.00). It can currently access a catalog of 500,000 in-copyright books and 400,000 public domain books. Beware bookstores, publishers and others. The book publishing and distribution business is about to experience major disruption. Who will be next to become an extinct dinosaur?
Packaging Differentiation. A few years ago, a client looked at one of its products and said, “It’s no different than the competition and we can’t make the product any different.” (It was a highly specific, liquid ingredient used in scientific experiments.) Was the situation hopeless? Absolutely not. The company’s leadership looked beyond the product to how they could differentiate the package. They made the package (a bottle) more user-friendly. They changed the shape (e.g. easier to hold, easier to pour, write notes on the bottle label, and more). Guess what? They successfully increased price and market share. Topline – more revenue. Bottom line – more profits.
Product Differentiation. Apple’s new iPad is a game changer and will be a major disruptor. I recently bought mine and promptly cancelled all my newspaper print subscriptions. I now read the Wall St. Journal, New York Times and local papers online. When I’m having my morning coffee, I don’t need three hands (two for the paper and one for the coffee). When I travel, I don’t have to worry about smacking the poor guy in the plane seat next to me when I turn the big newspaper pages. And, I don’t return home to stacks of unread papers. Nice.
Clearly, some people don’t get it. One of my local newspapers sent me a survey asking why I cancelled my subscription. Because the questionnaire was multiple choice, there were limited answers: “Did I feel the paper was too liberal, too conservative, too much sports coverage” etc? Hello! Where’s the answer, “I’m now reading your paper online for free.” How blind can they be? No wonder some newspapers are in a downward death spiral.
Organizations reflect the composition of its individuals. If your company is a bore or out-of-touch – well, you get the point. We need to first look in the mirror and then look at the individuals around us.
Believe me, friends, boring is not what God intended for us. Each one of us is designed to be special, playing a unique part in this beautiful symphony called life. We’re called to be loving not lazy – to live creatively not languish in concrete. Do you ever wonder why it says in the Psalms, “Sing a new song”? Perhaps even God gets bored with the same old hymns if that’s all there is.
So, arise, my friends. Get creative. Explore new opportunities and ways to serve your customers. Be absolutely and utterly dissatisfied with the status quo. Be courageous. Face down the fear. March ahead with enthusiasm and energy. Differentiate yourself in meaningful ways to your customers. You will not die. You will discover – life!