If your industry is like most, you and your competitors all offer fairly similar products. Sure, there are various technical differences, but if you’re a baker, what makes your bread different from the baker across the street? If you’re a college, what makes your business degree different from everyone else’s? Differentiating yourself from your competitors is key to surviving and thriving in business and here are 5 tips on how to differentiate yourself when you’re not that different.

1, Put people first

Companies pay lip service to this chestnut all the time, but how many actually mean? It’s one thing for the president to say “our people are our greatest asset,” but it he doesn’t follow through on that promise, then his people will quickly see through his words and not believe in him anymore.

Think about the folks at your company—would they recommend your products or your company to their friends? How about your customers—do they come back again and again? What about your suppliers—are they willing to do you favors like expediting orders? If these things are not happening, then clearly, your company is not putting people first.

Putting people first means going the extra mile for your customers and providing the best possible service you can for them. This includes admitting mistakes and handling customer complaints with grace and patience. That’s how you retain customers.

Putting people first means treating your employees with respect and giving them the resources they need to do their jobs. Empower them to be brand ambassadors for you.

If you don’t put people first in your business, then you’ll lose out to your competitors, especially if your products aren’t much different from theirs.

2, Provide an awesome experience

Twenty years ago, Apple was just another computer company. They were on the losing end of a battle with Microsoft-powered PCs and was struggling to stay afloat. But then Apple brought Steve Jobs back and he transformed the company. Part of that transformation was due to the innovative designs Jobs created, but part of that was the way Jobs packaged Apple’s products. Apple was no longer a “quirky cult company” as Fortune Magazine once described it, instead it was a company whose products were the epitome of cool. Apple sells its products at premium prices, because it’s not just offering tech gadgets, it promises an experience that its competitors don’t.

Another example is the DoubleTree Hotel chain. DoubleTree serves warm chocolate chip cookies to all its guests when they check in. They’ve been doing it since the 80s, when at the time, it was common for hotels to give cookies to VIPs. DoubleTree decided all its customers are VIPs and offered that VIP experience to all its customers. They’ve given away more than 250 million cookies since then.

3, Stand up for what you believe in

In 1994, Ray Anderson, CEO of carpet manufacturer Interface, decided he didn’t like what his company was doing to the environment. He wanted to leave a better and healthier world for his grandchildren to inherit, so he implemented radical change into his company: he set Interface on a path to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2020. The company isn’t there yet, but it is making excellent progress towards that goal. Anderson’s peers thought he was crazy and would drive his company out of business, but it turns out, that people liked Anderson’s mission. Interface is the world’s largest carpet manufacturer and even though it is doing something that seems counter intuitive to business success by taking radical steps to protect the environment, Interface is actually raking hundreds of millions of dollars more than it was before it took on this commitment.

Standing up for what you believe in can reap big dividends in business. You can’t be all things to all customers, so don’t try. Make it clear what your company cares about and see how that can help your bottom line in addition to making the world a better place.

4, Know everything there is to know about your business

Being highly knowledgeable is an excellent way to differentiate yourself from your competitors—especially if you’re not able to do things like offer a “cool experience” for your products like Apple. Having a deep bench of industry experts in your company that can provide information to your customers is a huge asset and one that many companies neglect. This is especially appropriate in more technical fields, like computers, but is still applicable in any industry. Offer ebooks to your customers for free and have experts on hand who can talk to your customers to answer their questions—you’ll reap considerable benefits from happy customers.

Plus, if you know everything there is to know about your business, your industry, and your customers, you’ll avoid making embarrassing marketing fails!

5, Have fun!

Having fun is great for business. Just ask Google. There is a reason that Google is consistently rated one of the best companies to work for and that is they make the work fun. Making the work fun is part of how Google has achieved so much success. Employees that have fun at work are more innovative, more productive, and more focused—three important things that all companies want their employees to be.

The cliché “it’s called work for a reason,” doesn’t have to be true at your company. Companies that integrate fun into their culture tend to have greater employee loyalty, better customer service, greater job satisfaction, and lower levels of absenteeism. It’s the difference between dreading going to work in the morning and enjoying going to work.

 

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