I know quite a few professional types – lawyers, CPAs, bankers, etc. So I often hear of their struggles to differentiate their firms from their competition. A bank is a bank is a bank, right? They all offer the same checking accounts, savings accounts, lines of credit, safety deposit boxes, home loans, car loans, etc. They all hit you with fees one way or the other. Mid-sized law firms and accountancies often also suffer from this kind of apparent sameness. In a world of conservative suits, how does one stand out and become known? Other types of businesses, mostly in B2B, manufacturers and the like, also view themselves as “parity” brands. So I thought I’d jot down a few notes about the possible ways these kinds of businesses should reimagine themselves for distinction. You have to start by knowing your market.
But let’s assume you know your market well. To position your business in a differentiated way, you also have to know what purpose your market has for you. What do they use you for? You have to recognize that your business is a tool that your clients or customers use to “fix” a need in their lives. What is that need? People don’t hire a lawyer for no reason. Nobody just needs a lawyer. They need a good lawyer to do something, to repair something in their lives that is damaged or to keep that damage from happening in the first place. So what do they need? Relief? Solace? Satisfaction? Revenge? Freedom? Whatever it is, that’s your purpose. In the mind of your client, you’re a tool and that’s what you’re for. Once you know your market and your purpose, take a look at your competition.
Because there are plenty of other lawyers/accountants/bankers who can serve the same purpose. Who are they? Odds are good that they’re not doing anything much to differentiate themselves either. So, just by doing this research, you’re already a step ahead of the pack. To break free and really stand out, consider this partial list of suggestions. Differentiate:
If you and the other guys are all providing services A, B & C to the market, consider offering an additional service, D. Surely, there’s one more service you could offer that would be valuable to the clients or customers you serve. Examine your market carefully After they've benefitted from A, B & C, what is their next need? Your customers might not even realize they need what, with a little effort, you could provide to them. Be the only option that offers A, B, C and D.
By market segment
What segment of your market can you serve better than anybody else? Every general contractor needs construction workers. But some construction workers earn big bucks because they’re not afraid of heights and can work the high steel. Is there some part of your market that your competition finds daunting? Some kind of business that they can’t make profitable? Some place they fear to tread? Go there and make it your own.
I know an attorney who enjoys flying. So, as a business attorney doing contract law, he made a point out of steering his practice toward others who are interested in aviation. Now he’s known as the expert on FAA regulations and has a steady clientele of airlines and manufacturers who serve the aviation industry. What’s your interest? Music? Sports? Travel? Find your differentiation there.
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Some businesses need to be near their markets. They require a physical proximity to serve their customers properly. Where are you willing to go to be the only choice in town? Or the only choice on the west side of town? Or in the tri-state area? Literally separate your business from the pack.
City National Bank was started in Beverly Hills, CA and quickly gained a reputation as banker to the stars. They were willing to bend over backwards to cater to the special needs of the very demanding entertainment industry. I was told a great story from a veteran Hollywood business manager. He called City National on behalf of his client who was overseas working on a film. “I need a loan of $1 million – in cash. And I need it on my desk by morning.” City National delivered, no questions asked, just based on their relationship with the business manager. What industry could you serve like that? What industry could you dominate? Where do you already have contacts?
Maybe you do what everybody else does but you do in inimitable style. Sure, the others take their clients to ball games and other sporting events. You take your clients on adventures they would never likely experience otherwise; adventures like go-karting, hot-air ballooning or white-water rafting. Maybe in an industry that demands clients come into the office, you, instead, go to your clients. Look for a means by which you can get noticed just by the way you do business.
Do something bold. Do something daring. Get in the news. Nike stood out in a big way recently by featuring Colin Kaepernick in a controversial ad campaign. What cause could you support so loudly? What goal are you willing to be known to support? What movement are you willing to publicly champion on a sustained basis?
These are just a few options for positioning your “parity” brand in a way that differentiates from the competition. What other ways can you imagine?
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