“You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.”
If you were sitting in the million-dollar seat on a game show, and you were asked to guess which iconic entrepreneur said those words, I’m willing to bet that a good proportion of you would get it right without having to think too hard. From marketing to product design to workplace culture, his uncanny ability to differentiate his business from its closest competitors is the stuff of legends. We are talking, of course, about the late Steve Jobs.
In a hyper-competitive marketplace, the importance of differentiation cannot be stressed enough. Entrepreneurs in every sector, and at any stage in their business’s development, have a lot to learn from Apple and its visionary CEO.
When good is not good enough
Far too often, when I ask entrepreneurs what makes their business special and different from their competitors, they give me the evil trio of clichéd answers, such as: “I’m more creative …”, “I offer a personal touch …”, “My services are cheaper …”.
“Entrepreneurs have an unfortunate habit of judging their SMEs’ uniqueness with the same rose-tinted glasses they use to view their own children”
In reality, these answers are not good enough. Creativity and personality are entirely subjective, and always being cheaper than the rest is not sustainable in a competitive market, where other entrepreneurs are spending nights working on how to offer the same product you do, at a cheaper price.
In addition, entrepreneurs have an unfortunate habit of judging their SMEs’ uniqueness with the same rose-tinted glasses they use to view their own children. Entrepreneurs need to remove these glasses and be honest with themselves about what really makes their businesses special.
As an entrepreneur, you should never rest on your laurels for long, because it is essential that you spend time and effort building up your business’s core competencies to the point that you truly are differentiated from your competitors – and you need to ensure that you have more than one differentiator.
Apple didn’t become the company it is today just because they have a fun workplace and the reputation of being one of the world’s best employers. They also didn’t grow to the size they are today because of sleek products or clever marketing. It was a combination of all three, and numerous other differentiating factors, that allowed it to outstrip its competitors so spectacularly.
Identify your key differentiators
Focus on identifying up to four key differentiators, and always keep in mind that your business’s core competencies have to serve your clients at the end of the day.
Once you have decided on what factors make your business better than the rest, take them further.
“Differentiation is what makes you choose one restaurant, clothing store, airline, or gadget over the others”
Work on strengthening them and weave them into every aspect of your business’s DNA. Remember that the margin of difference you create between yourself and your competitors is temporary at best, because someone is sure to copy you or attempt to out-differentiate you, and you need to continually be working to ensure that you are always one step ahead of them.
Be relentless when differentiating your business, and make this a target that you continually strive for, build upon, and develop as your business grows.
Where to begin?
An honest appraisal is the best starting point for any business decision. Ask yourself these questions, and answer them honestly:
1. Is my business truly different?
2. If it isn’t, why isn’t it different?
3. How could I make it more different?
4. What do my clients perceive as being different?
5. What different services are my competitors providing to my potential clients?
Answering these questions truthfully will help you establish your business’s unique selling point and ensure you communicate it to your customers and audience at every touchpoint.
Differentiation is what makes you choose one restaurant, clothing store, airline, or gadget over the others, and it is a vital practice for any business. So make sure you have really researched and ensured that your business – and offering – truly is different from the rest.
About the author: Allon Raiz is the founder and CEO of Raizcorp. In 2008, Raiz was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and in 2011 he was appointed for the first time as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Fostering Entrepreneurship. Following a series of entrepreneurship master classes delivered at Oxford University in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Raiz has been recognised as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Follow Allon on Twitter: @allonraiz.