Are You Willing to Give Up?
When it comes to branding a
small business, “one size fits all” is not a good approach. When you try to be
all things to all people, you generally wind up being nothing to everyone.
There’s a dirty little secret
behind the “one size fits all” catch-all: one size doesn’t really fit anyone
It’s not enough to simply
brand your business. A key component of branding is differentiation—i.e.,
setting yourself apart from your competition.
When you create a corporate
branding statement, you carve out your company’s identity. You paint a picture
of how you’d like your company to be perceived. The problem is, most of your
competitors are probably painting a similar picture.
You need to distinguish your
company from theirs. A branding statement tells your prospective customers:
this is why you should buy from us!
A branding statement that
incorporates differentiation says: this is why YOU should buy from us…instead
of them! It speaks to your organization’s individual strengths, which means
your message will resonate more strongly with specific markets. But alas, not to
everyone. And that’s how it should be.
When you differentiate, you
stake out a specific position, stated within narrow perimeters. If your message
is too broad, it won’t have any impact. However, in the course of stating who
you are, you also define who you aren’t. That’s means giving something up.
Everyone wants to be the
company that provides the best service to everyone, makes the best products for
everyone, has the all-around best creative ideas, and that utilizes the best
technology 100% of the time. But that’s not a realistic message, and it doesn’t
Take my company, PRO. PRO
(President's Resource Organization) provides peer advisory boards for small
business owners and managers. It’s a place where entrepreneurs can share
knowledge, problems, and resources.
When I founded PRO way back
when, I could have taken the position that PRO operates peer advisory
boards…period. But I deliberately excluded the companies with over 250
employees. Doing so allowed me to cater to the customer I knew best: the small
Only then could I develop a
product—and a message—that specifically addresses the needs of my target.
Instead of limiting me, excluding those other business sectors actually freed me
to become a small business specialist. This gives me a more compelling story to
tell, while providing with a more defined target for my marketing efforts. And
the better you target your audience, the more likely you are to hit it.
Never take the same
differentiation approach as your competitor. If you adopt your competitor’s
position, you only reinforce its strengths instead of defining your own. You
need to find your own niche.
Another example: in the car
rental universe, Hertz, the largest player, positions itself as the industry
leader. Avis, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. It only
acknowledges Hertz’ branding position but turn it to Avis’ advantage. The
tagline says it all—“We Try Harder®.” The unspoken sub-text is: we try harder
than our smug, complacent competitor, who takes your business for granted.
Within a year of launching
that tagline, Avis went from an unprofitable minor player to a profitable
heavy-hitter in the car rental world.
You can do the same. If your
competition has already staked out an enviable position, find another one. In
fact, subtly playing off your competition’s positioning could really zip up your
On the other hand, if your
competitors have not yet attempted differentiation—if they are still trying to
be everything to everyone—you have “dibs” on whatever you choose.
Perhaps your company has some
advantages that naturally appeal to a certain type of customer. (You undoubtedly
already know who they are; you just need to commit to targeting them more
directly.) Or perhaps a particular market sector offers greater opportunity. Who
are these customers, and what the best way to reach them?
As your mom always told you,
“just be yourself.” She also told you not to follow the crowd by jumping off the
Brooklyn Bridge. Turn out, your mom is very wise.
Differentiating your business
means finding your own strengths and not running with the crowd. And it’s a
smart thing to do. Because it’s better to mean something to someone than to mean
nothing to everyone.
Ray Silverstein is president
of PRO: President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer
advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. The author of “The Best Secrets of Great
Small Businesses” and a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine online, Ray may be
reached at 1-800-818-0150 or www.propres.com.