From my perspective, building a differentiated offering in a crowded marketplace might be more valuable for some startups than aiming to create something entirely new. How? Information. In a market that already exists, you can develop a deep understanding of your customers, and they likely know enough about your industry to establish basic trust.
As a business coach in the rapidly expanding fitness industry, I help my clients use a combination of thorough market research and creative concept development in building above-and-beyond brands that will stand out in the crowded market. Below, I share three of these methods, which can assist you in taking advantage of your competitive market and setting your own brand apart:
1. Profile your customers and your market.
When you’re in an established market, you have an established customer; their needs and pain points are clearly laid out on your competitors’ review sites. Understanding and empathizing with your consumers is critical. Harvard Business Review found in 2016 that the most empathetic companies have higher value and generate more earnings. To put it simply: Companies that take the time to understand their customers see a better bottom dollar.
To truly understand your consumers, always keep tabs on:
• What people love about your competitors
• What frustrates them about your competitors
• The types of people who tend to buy from your competitors
• What differentiates your competitors from one another
Knowing exactly who your customers are before you start is a huge advantage, as is understanding your competitive landscape. Utilize review sites, social media accounts and online alerts when you’re first starting out to research your customers’ preferences.
2. Target your niche.
Once you understand your market, you can tailor your business and marketing to make sure you’re giving customers something truly unique and genuinely valuable.
So, how do you create something that actually stands out in a saturated market?
• Combine two different categories. This is a tip from Dorie Clark, award-winning author and professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Take two established categories, and bring them together to build a totally different type of product or service. Look at the partnerships that could help you stand out and make your consumers notice you. Clark uses the example of the Broadway musical Hamilton. The musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, didn’t invent Broadway or hip hop, but by combining them, he created something totally new. This same advice proved extremely valuable for my company as we were developing our fitness brand in San Francisco. We were able to combine the benefits often found in a five-star, private membership fitness center with an independent personal trainer’s facility to create a unique position for our Bay Area business.
• Know what makes you different — and own it. It’s important to have a product offering that is different from what’s already out there. To do this, you need to dig deep and get specific. I’ve observed one fitness company, for example, that does this by offering technology-driven workouts to set itself apart in the saturated market of group fitness. So once you have your lead differentiator, consistently use it at the forefront of every element in your marketing. Keep in mind that every second in your marketing first impression counts. From your website homepage to your Instagram feed, be sure to catch people before they scroll.
• Set the bar in customer experience. In a crowded marketplace, the educated consumer will have a clear set of expectations around the quality of the product offerings. As a business owner, you are responsible for far exceeding these baseline expectations, and often the easiest and most financially feasible opportunity to do this is by boosting your customer experience. I often refer to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s description of creating an 11-star experience for your customers; that is, business owners allow themselves the freedom to dream big about the expansive possibilities available for upgrading each client’s interaction with the business. By opening your mind to options that might initially feel out of reach, you could be surprised by the creative possibilities that appear right in front of you.
3. Focus your effort.
Once you have a direction set, maintain your focus in order to catch up to your competition before they catch on to you. Small-business owners and startup leaders wear many different hats, which can make it hard to know which projects must get done first and which can wait. The most successful strategy I’ve found to keep your eyes on the prize is to use your calendar to dedicate different days to different tasks. For example, my calendar has Monday scheduled for new business development, Tuesday scheduled for private coaching clients and so on. I’ve also found it helpful to spend the first ninety minutes of every workday focused on my No. 1 priority. This will help you kick-start each day in a productive, organized manner because you are freshly rested, and no distractions have been able to get in your way.
Know your customer, know your market and — most of all — know your own offering and what sets it apart. Get inspired to create an above-and-beyond brand, and the excitement of conquering your marketplace will become the driving force that has you jumping out of bed each morning. As I always say, “Trust me. You got this.”
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