What gives you a competitive advantage?
You might think it’s quality…and maybe it is. But, it probably isn’t. Quality is subjective, and once quality has exceeded acceptable levels, other factors come into play, such as a price.
You might think it’s speed…and maybe it is. But it probably isn’t. In a world where Amazon can deliver everything from dried shiitake mushrooms to car batteries before 10pm, and all of the world’s media is at our fingertips, speed is an expectation rather than a competitive advantage.
It’s service, isn’t it? Maybe, but is service really how you will win customers for life? Service is a day-in, day-out grind that only a few companies have ever proven themselves to have the stomach to live up to. Everyone says it, few can live up to it.
Alas, it is as you suspected: technology. But, it probably isn’t. Unless it’s patented and protected, it probably isn’t going to be your ticket to success either. In fact, even if it is protected, it might not be enough to keep alternatives from stealing your market share. Technology is more widely available than ever before, and the competitive advantage it brings is often short-lived.
So…how do you gain an advantage?
I’m not saying that quality, speed, service, or technology can’t be competitive advantages. Of course, they can. However, those can only be competitive advantages if your competition isn’t doing it. If you’re being honest with yourself, you know that all of this is par for the course.
It’s expected that what we buy will be sufficient quality, delivered quickly, with reasonably good service, and current technology.
But that’s not enough.
So, that leaves us with only one true competitive advantage: distinction.
To be distinct is to be a category of one, a unique entity, and a remarkable, special snowflake. If you can do that while maintaining good or better quality, delivering it at a speed that is within a standard deviation of expected, offering acceptable service, and using relatively modern technological, congratulations, you may have found an advantage.
How to be unique
You can only begin to be unique once you’ve abandoned trying to be like anyone/anything else. You can only be unique when you have decided what it is that you deeply believe in and will pursue passionately. You then need to focus your efforts on a single ideal customer and design what you do just for them.
If you can build that, and then ensure your ideal customer sees what you’ve made for them, the only competition you will face will be copycats…and everyone will know it.
Candles are everywhere. You can get them everywhere from Louis Vuitton to Target to TJ Maxx. You have 4 raw materials to experiment with: wax, wicks, scents, and containers. However, it’s a 5th element that impacts price and repeat purchases more than anything else: story.
My wife’s cousin started a candle company, called Baisun Candle Co., that specializes in Asian-inspired scents. These distinctive scents conjure memories and nostalgia for those who grew up in Asian families. It is a community he is both part of and passionate about. He networks with and connects with the Asian community all over Clubhouse and social media. He donates some of his profits to Stop Asian Hate groups.
The company is successful because it is distinctive. It is for an ideal customer.
He has a competitive advantage.
There are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, and possibly even millions of coaches out there. There are business coaches, sales coaches, life coaches, soccer coaches, and more…
When you go looking for a coach, one of the first things you’ll want to know is why you should work with them.
When I tell the story of why someone should work with me, it’s centered around giving people the tools to become superheroes and make an impact, so together we can save the world. When my colleague and client Sarah Ohanesian of SO Productive talks about herself, it’s centered around leveraging productivity as a means to give people freedom in their lives so that they can disconnect and have the mental and emotional bandwidth for the people they love.
- There are a lot of business coaches that help with personal growth, but I’m going to help you become a superhero. This resonates with my ideal audience.
- There are a lot of productivity coaches, but Sarah is doing it to give you peace of mind at home, rather than simply helping you ship more widgets for the company. This resonates with her ideal audience.
When people consider working with either of us, we rarely lose the opportunity, because there are no replacements for how we do what we do. If you want what we offer, we are a distinctive offering.
This is a competitive advantage.
There are maybe 7-10 co-working spaces in Philadelphia. My wife manages buildings for WeWork. If you’ve ever visited a WeWork, you’re probably familiar with its hip-youthful aesthetic, the free-flowing coffee, and the variety of seating options where you can work to music that is occasionally just a little too loud. If you’ve ever worked at one of my wife’s buildings, you’re probably familiar with something else: the community. I’ve had ample time to talk to my wife about her role and in our talks we’ve uncovered that there’s something driving her that makes her buildings feel just a little different.
She never wants anyone to feel alone.
Plenty of people can learn how to handle the operations, sales, and event management that comes with running a co-working space. Cultivating a community is something for which there is no checklist that would be sufficient. You could put it in the company manual that “no one here should ever feel alone” but it’s only when that becomes a personal mission that no opportunity to make it real is overlooked.
Her community is distinctive, because she runs the building and trains her team with a unique perspective. She builds community where everyone fits in so no one has to feel alone. You can see how people interact and you can feel it in the space.
It is distinctive, and hence it is a competitive advantage.
I’m not about to offer you the guarantee that finding your distinctive angle is your ticket to success. There are far too many other variables.
However, if you can find what people are willing to pay for, that you are good at, and that you are passionate about, you have a good shot. At the very least, being in a category of one means that anyone that wants what you’re selling will have no doubts about where to get it…and they will also have no alternatives.
This is why Brand work is so important. If you’re struggling to figure out what makes you unique, you’re in luck, because I can help.