You need a competitive edge to get attention from customers and to get them to buy from you instead of your competitors. But, how can you make your company seem different and more desirable than other businesses selling similar goods and services? Start by thinking like a customer.
A competitive edge is any factor that will make your company’s products or services seem more desirable than your competitors in your customer’s eyes. It can be something that’s a clear distinction, such as your store is the only place in your region that sells women’s shoes in sizes 11 and up. Or perhaps your family-owned restaurant has been serving the community longer than any other restaurant in the county.
But when there’s no such clear distinction, your competitive edge can be almost any feature or characteristic that will get customers’ attention and make them think of you in a favorable way.
For example, when my husband and I were on vacation in California, we stayed for a couple of nights near Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. The wharf is lined with restaurants, novelty shops, jewelry stores, and candy shops, all vying for the tourists’ attention and dollars. There are also places along the wharf where you can reserve whale watching and fishing trips.
Although the pedestrian walkway was filled with people on the two nights we went there for dinner, it was clear that crowds strolling along the street (or watching the harbor seals at the end of the wharf) didn’t turn into customers unless a business made themselves stand out in some way from all the rest. Businesses on the wharf were using a number of gimmicks to stand out and to woo passersby into their establishments.
Some of the buildings, for instance, were painted bright colors and sported colorful awnings. Many had sidewalk signs strategically placed a few feet into the walkway outside their front doors. A candy store had a machine operating in their window that continually stretched and twisted a huge wad of taffy to demonstrate how salt water taffy is made.
And then there were the restaurants. There were about a dozen restaurants on the wharf, all vying to attract the hungry and thirsty into their establishments. To lure diners away from their competitors, many of the restaurants had greeters standing outside their entrances offering passersby samples of food to taste. One (a restaurant we chose to eat at one evening) had a big picture window in front that let tourists see clear through to a large back window that had a great sunset view of the harbor and anchored sailboats. Another, at the end of the pier, had big signs promoting its rooftop viewing area where visitors could watch the harbor seals.
While the tactics the restaurants and shops along the wharf used to get attention and business from passersby may not work in other localities and for other types of businesses, what was key here, was that those establishments that seemed to be getting the most business had devised ways to stand out from other establishments, and by doing so, they gave themselves a competitive advantage.
What gives businesses a competitive edge?
We all know that great products and customer service set businesses apart. But, for the most part, those are only evident after a customer has made a purchase. The challenge, no matter what kind of business you run, is to find ways to stand out and attract those new customers to begin with.
For retailers trying to draw foot and auto traffic, visuals such as signs on your building bearing your logo and a slogan, sidewalk signs, unusual window displays, and brightly painted buildings can help – if local regulations permit. Signage on local delivery and service vehicles, sponsorship of children’s sports teams, and participation in the local chamber of commerce are other ways to make your business memorable to potential customers, and thereby give you an advantage. For products, packaging shape, color, and placement on aisles all are important ways to attract attention and build recognition for what you sell.
But getting attention is just the first step in developing a competitive advantage. To give your business a real edge, you need to connect your brand in some way to a real or perceived benefit that your customers want. In other words, having an emotional peg that will appeal to your customers.
Gleam toothpaste created a competitive edge for itself in the 1950s by singling out and hyping one of its ingredients – chlorophyll – and touting it as a miracle ingredient for people who couldn’t brush after every meal. The interesting thing was that chlorophyll was a common ingredient in other kinds of toothpaste on the market, too. But the others weren’t promoting it.
What will make your business a standout?
To help you find ways to distinguish what you sell from your competitors, we’ve put together a list of product and service features that could help distinguish you from your competitors.
Keep in mind that features, by themselves, are usually not benefits. They won’t create the kind of emotional pegs that nail sales. To turn a feature into a benefit, you need to express it in a way that matters to the customer. For example, the Swiffer division of P&G Brands offers consumers a variety of products for mopping and dusting. But they aren’t “selling” people on the idea of buying a mop or a duster. They’re selling the concept of making cleaning easier and having a dust-free home.
List of competitive advantages
The list of advantages below isn’t complete – no such list could ever be complete. Its purpose is to help you start thinking about what you sell in more creative ways. In reading through the list, remember that the factors you play up don’t necessarily have to be unique to you. They just need to be things that are important to your customers. Most of the items on the list below are features that should be expressed in a way that shows how the feature solves a problem or fills a need.
Conveniently located in
Just minutes from
Overlooking the harbor
Easy access from
In the heart of town (for a small town)
Cloud-based service works anywhere you are
24-hour-a-day Internet access
Plenty of parking
Easier to use
Best in class
Physical Product Size
Fits conveniently in
Small enough to
Large enough to
Big enough to
The perfect size for
Fits all standard sizes
One size fits all
Sized to fit any budget
Fits all standard sizes
Lightweight for easy portability
Soft tones to fit in with
Sleek silver finish
Survives a drop from ___ feet
Stands up to
Fits any size
Works in any temperature
Adored by young and old
Get the job done in minutes
Guaranteed delivery within one day
Accurate to within
Meets your specifications
Ease of Use
Easy to use
No instructions needed
Step-by-step instructions included
Takes the effort out of ______
Done for you
30-day return policy – no questions asked
Custom-created for you
Customized to your specifications
Designed just for you
Specially designed for
Created with the ___ industry in mind
For seafood lovers
Bonded and insured
Years of experience
All work guaranteed
Used by (names of customers)
Use your ingenuity
If you don’t see features in the list above that can help you distinguish your products or services from your competitors, what should you do? Create your own list. Make a list of all the features of your products or services and their benefits. Think about the ingredients as well as the finished product or service. Now put yourself if your customers’ shoes, and look at the list. Which things are important? What do you do, or what about your product could be perceived as being different and desirable? Those are the things to promote to get attention.
About the author: Janet Attard is the founder of the award-winning Business Know-How small business web site and information resource. Janet is also the author of The Home Office And Small Business Answer Book and of Business Know-How: An Operational Guide For Home-Based and Micro-Sized Businesses with Limited Budgets. Follow Janet on Twitter and on LinkedIn