competitive differentiation stand out dorie clark

Customers have more options than ever before when it comes to, well, everything. The array of choices available mean new businesses have to do everything they can to stand out. Dorie Clark, a lecturer at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia University Business School, shared strategies for helping you and your businesses break through in a crowded marketplace during one of our small business webinars. This sought-after marketing and strategy thought leader literally wrote the book on competitive differentiation, titled Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. She shared strategies to help our community hone in on how their business is different from the competition.

Keep in mind, there’s no need to implement all five at one time. “But the good news is doing any of these things, even just moving the ball a little bit down the field, makes a huge difference in terms of your ability to ultimately be successful,” Clark explained.

Ask the right questions.

Believing that curiosity is the key to innovation, Clark urged our community to think about a series of key questions whose answers could lead to solutions that help a business stand out.

How can I serve my customers in a different way?
Shifting your thinking like this will help you choose other channels you can use to reach your customers, for example.

What else can I sell to my current customers?
“We all probably know from experience that the best customers you have are your existing customers, because they’ve already heard of you,” Clark advised. Consider what other problems you can help them solve. “It’s a great way to increase your overall revenue.”

How can I leverage underutilized resources?
If you have back stock or leftover materials, for example, you may be sitting on an untapped revenue stream. This creative approach can be a big help during tough times.

Determine a true measure of success.

A major part of standing out from competition is understanding what your particular definition of success looks like. Clark indicated that social media is an area where new entrepreneurs lose sight of what’s truly important to their company. “Yes, you want to build a following. Yes, you want to build a community. But at least in the beginning, as you’re establishing the viability of your concept, you really need to grow your revenue,” Clark recommended.”[You should be] spending time really understanding, ‘Hey, does the audience want what I have to offer?’” 

In other words, having a lot of followers is great, but followers don’t automatically translate to sales, or even an engaged community. Choose what metrics make the biggest difference to your business. 

Does the audience want what I have to offer?

Put your passion first–worry about credentials later.

Entrepreneurs may think that they need an advanced degree or additional training to be successful. Continuing education is important, but sometimes your passion is enough to separate you from others with a similar idea. In fact, your lack of the typical credentials may be exactly what helps you differentiate from competitors. 

“Just because we may not have the same credentials as other people in our field, that does not mean that we are not qualified. It just means that we have to tell our story in a different way,” Clark explained. Consider ways you can highlight the skills you do have for your customers’ benefit.

Play the long (content) game.

Instead of focusing on short, made-for-social-media content, Clark recommends that business owners consider investing in long-form content, such as blog posts, videos or even podcasts. “Something that takes a little bit of effort,” she went on. “First of all, if it takes more effort, that means fewer people are doing it. So it’s a bit more of an open space for you to distinguish yourself from the competition.” 

It’s also a great way to get customers interested in an expensive product before they open their wallet. “The more you can reassure your customers up front that you know what you’re doing, that you’re legit, that you’re going to serve them? Well, it makes the sales process a heck of a lot easier.”

Save on research. 

Don’t sink a ton of money into competitive research when you’re just starting out. Of course you need to understand your industry and to be able to speak about your place in it. Clark recommended a (mostly free) practice that she and her publishers use when she’s preparing a proposal for a new book: finding competitive works. Clark and her editor come up with three or five titles that are similar to her proposed book but explain how hers is different. To apply this to your own business, think of three to five competitors in your space. “Say, ‘Oh, it’s like this. But here’s the difference.’ And if you can summarize that difference in like a sentence or less, that’s perfect.”

This creative approach to competitive research allows you to both understand your positioning in the market and have a succinct way to explain your business to everyone from investors to a family member at a picnic. 

Be the last man standing.

No matter what direction you take for your business, perseverance is essential. It’s what separates many successful entrepreneurs from the not-so successful. Clark used Jordan Harbinger as an example of this principle. Harbinger is the creator and host of the Jordan Harbinger Show, one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world (he’s also featured in Clark’s book Entrepreneurial You). His podcast is able to compete with the major media names that rule the podcasting charts, like NPR and the New York Times in large part because he never gave up after launching in 2006. In fact, the majority of podcasts don’t last past 12 episodes, Clark pointed out. But Harbinger focused on getting better and kept putting his work out there, while podcasters all around him stopped producing shows. “Longevity, actually really calls the field, and it makes success possible that you might have felt was not possible otherwise.” Keep working on your business and your differentiating factor may be your staying power.  

Register for our upcoming webinars.