Warning: Don’t Let Your Business Become A Commodity

Before you hand over your hard-earned dollars in exchange for products and services purchase, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few very important questions, such as:

  • Why am I considering doing business with this person or company?
  • What have they done to earn my business?
  • Do they have the product and/or service solutions that I am looking for?

… and most importantly…

  • Why should I choose this company over its competitors?

These are pretty easy questions to answer, right? Not necessarily… Without going into too much detail, it’s clear that the publics’ buying decisions are based on a variety of factors and reasons. Some are objective and rational and others are entirely emotional and may even be subconscious. But one thing is certain… most consumers do not purchase based on price alone.

Ironically, however, many businesses make it almost impossible for their prospects to judge them based on anything else because very few of them are able to articulate why their target audience would be foolish to do business with any other company!

Consider this… consumers, particularly those who live and work in metropolitan areas, are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages every day. So, in order to stay sane, they must tune out most of it.

Additionally, as customer loyalty becomes a thing of the past, companies are scrambling to invent new ways of acquiring those increasingly elusive buyers, made more difficult by the vast number of new choices and available on the Internet.

That’s why, if you want to be “heard” in today’s cluttered marketplace, you need to figure out a way to stand out in their minds. Doing, and saying, the same thing as everyone else doesn’t cut it anymore

To do so is to risk being lumped into the commodity bin. So, what is a commodity? Simply put, they are products and services that are viewed identically and as a result, must compete solely on price or convenience.

Companies are forced into this undesirable place primarily because their inside reality does not match outside perception or they fail to communicate what sets them apart from their competitors. This leaves consumers no other choice but to choose companies based on price or convenience.

And while some companies can operate in this arena for a while, it ultimately moves them closer to extinction and means they’ll never be able to command a healthy price for their products or services.

And businesses will continue to compete in this way until they do something to alter their prospects’ perceptions! Remember, perception is reality…even if it’s not factual!

Don’t Become Another Commodity!

One of the greatest challenges for any business today is learning how to develop and articulate their unique benefits. However, this can be accomplished relatively easy using a step-by step approach

First, you must find out how your prospects and customers view you relative to your competitors

For instance, do your prospects view you the same as everyone else in your industry? If so, it’s time to differentiate yourself by creating a unique value and then communicating it!

Next, you must identify the specific areas where your “inside reality” doesn’t match “outside perceptions”

You can accomplish this by asking current, prospective and former customers to help you.

For instance, let’s assume that you’re the most knowledgeable, educated and competent financial advisor in your area, having earned and saved your clients much more than your competitors. At a networking event you give your business card to a qualified prospect in need of your services and you schedule an initial meeting in your office.

However, when the prospect arrives, the waiting room is bland and the sofa upholstery is threadbare; the rest rooms are in desperate need of cleaning; your receptionist is curt; your office is a mess and you can’t find the forms you need.

Then you spend the next hour:

  • reiterating the professional qualities you posses – careful attention to detail, reliable service, thoroughly researched advice, etc.
  • You’re convinced that you have the know-how and abilities to provide the very best financial advice to him or her.

But they choose another company. Why? Because there was a huge gap between what you said and what they experienced! Your words said, “quality and professionalism” and your environment and staff said exactly the opposite! As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

What does a dirty bathroom have to do with sound financial advice? In this case, everything… So you can either argue the point all the way to the poor house or do whatever is necessary to create an office environment that reflects your level of professionalism.

Alternatively, your customers may continue to choose you over a competitor because you consistently deliver more product or service value that you’re not even aware of! And again, the only way to find this out for certain is to ask your repeat customers! For example, women may choose one comparable hair salon over the other because they are more careful schedulers and they never have a long wait. Presto! Instant differentiation handed to you on a silver platter!

The third, and possibly the worst, perception gap brings us back to the commodity “nowhere land”

In order to transcend this place you’ll need to force an “apples and oranges” comparison between your company and the competition. You must design, execute and communicate such significant differences between you, that it customers would be foolish to take their business anywhere else, regardless of price.

Caution! Do not confuse think that you can accomplish “differentiation” by drumming up false, but clever, promises. Never underestimate consumers – they are not stupid. One of the quickest ways to destroy your business is to communicate value you cannot deliver.

For instance, I recently went to a local retailer that advertised their open hours as Monday through Friday, 8 am-5pm. When I arrived at 2 pm the door was locked, the lights were out … no one home.

Annoyed, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed the number posted on their sign. Instead of reaching a real, live human being my call was “answered” by a machine in this way: “Hello and thank you for calling company X where customer service is our # 1 priority…”

“Boy,” I thought, “If this is priority #1, I’d hate to experience 2 or 3!”

To say the least, I was annoyed and this retailer will probably never get a second chance for my business, because regardless of whether they truly deliver exceptional customer service most of the time, my experience was unsatisfactory.

Remember this: You cannot advertise your way to superior performance. If you choose to tell the public how wonderful you are… make yourself wonderful first.

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Mary Eule Scarborough, an unassailable marketing expert and thought leader, helps businesses of all sizes get and keep more profitable customers. She is also:

  • A former Fortune 500 marketing executive, …
  • The founder of two successful small businesses, …
  • An award-winning speaker, …
  • A Certified Guerrilla Marketing coach, and …
  • Co-author of three books (to-date): “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Marketing“, (Entrepreneur Press, November, 2007), “Mastering Online Marketing” (Entrepreneur Press, January, 2008), and “Guerrilla Marketing On The Internet” (Entrepreneur Press, July, 2008).
  • Qualified with a BA in Journalism / English from the University of Maryland, and …
  • Qualified with a Masters degree in marketing from The Johns Hopkins University.

Log onto her website: www.StrategicMarketingAdvisors.com for free marketing articles, tools, tips and templates…or to learn more about her books, products and services.

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