What Makes You Different?

The key to unlocking your company’s marketing is discovering what makes your company different. This is your sustainable competitive advantage, and once you discover it, you can develop it further and use it to show your customers why you’re the best choice for them.

Remember, this doesn’t include temporary advantages, like price promotions – any of your competitors can copy them, and sooner or later you’ll have to return to full price. Your sustainable competitive advantage has to be something that always sets you apart from the competition.

So what is my sustainable competitive advantage?

John Kay [Kay’s Distinctive Capabilities Framework] lists 4 ways your company could stand out from the rest:

  • Reputation – Are you known for consistently providing quality products/services, or excellent customer service? Do you have an aspirational brand image (think Apple)?
  • Strategic Assets – Do you own the patent for your product? This is a common sustainable competitive advantage in the pharmaceutical industry, but could apply to most industries.
  • Company Architecture –  Does your company have strong relationships, e.g. with suppliers or with customers? People often only trust names they know, especially in industries such as tech.
  • Innovation – Are you always at the forefront of new discoveries in your sector? Is research and development the driving force of your company? Are you always first to market?

These are the most common sustainable competitive advantages – but they aren’t the only ones:

  • Low-cost Operation – Having lower operational costs than your competitors puts you in the perfect position. You can drop your price to become the cost leader, or you could invest your high profits into R&D to become the first to discover new products/services and make your company more innovative.
  • Service Quality – If this is your competitive advantage, great! Customer service is part of what you’re selling, and customers are often willing to spend more if your customer service is the best in the industry. If not, service quality is an important point for companies to improve upon. Look for any gaps between what your managers and customers expect and what your customers receive. How well do your staff provide what customers expect, and do you ever provide more?
  • Company Structure and Atmosphere – This can be difficult to measure, but Johnson and Scholes created a very effective way to get a feel for your company culture:
Finding your company culture with the Cultural Web Model

The Cultural Web Model is made up of 5 categories:

  1. Stories – What stories are related to your business? Consider how/why you were founded, or something especially good your company has done that you are proud of. This identifies the values and qualities your company cares about. For example, if your story is about your company’s founder facing adversity and building a company from nothing, your company might value determination and aspiration.
  2. Symbols – This includes things like office layout. For example, an open-plan office where managers sit amongst their teams may imply less of a strict hierarchy and a more open attitude.
  3. Organisational Structures – Who reports to who within the company? Who do you need approval from before you can do something? This gives an idea of how the company wants power to flow.
  4. Power Structures – Who do you actually go to to get something done? For example, if your finance department are making all the decisions, your company might be more focussed on  accountability and on costs and finances, and won’t be a big risk-taker, whereas a company where the marketing department get the final say in decisions will be more open to risks.
  5. Control Systems – What procedures are in place and how closely do employees adhere to them?

Keep your competitive advantage in mind for all of your marketing efforts. Look for chances to show customers your competitive advantage, rather than just telling them – were you at the forefront of a recent innovation? Have you won any awards for customer service?

Now you know what you want to say, the next step is to think about how you want to say it. How can you best communicate the benefits of your company to your leads and customers?

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