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    How to Stand Out From the Crowd

    Sameness is the danger zone for your business.

    By Terry McKenna, Convenience Store Coaches

    What makes your store brand different from your competitors? Why should customers give you their money? What sets your business apart? Is your company a Ferrari in a traffic jam of Chevys? Is your company able to rise above the noise and grab people’s attention and hold onto it?

    Differentiation is a defense to commoditization. Businesses survive; brands thrive. Brands don’t have identify crises, businesses do. A brand is the best defense to commoditization.                    

    Sizing Up Your Competition

    Exploited weakness is where great brands are built. Use your competition to exploit their weaknesses. Look for your competitors’ “loose bricks” in which to attack. A loose brick is an area of vulnerability in which you can be better than your competitors.

    What are they doing wrong? What are they doing that you can do better? What should you be doing that your competitors aren’t? What inefficiency is there?

    Within the gray area of unsatisfied customers lies differentiation. The only alternative to boorish me-too products and services is differentiation, and that is accomplished by innovation and analyzing your competitors’ weaknesses.

    However, while it’s important to keep an eye on your competitors, obsessing over them comes with great risk. Many business owners pay more attention to their competition than to their own business. Instead of minding their own business, they have their noses more into everything that everyone else is doing. When this happens, you neglect your own products and services and become reactive instead of proactive.

    Are your eyes on your vehicle and the road ahead, or are you rubbernecking at the cars all around you? If your eyes are glued to the competition’s butt, guess what? You’re eyes aren’t on the road ahead. If you’re following, you aren’t leading. And if you aren’t leading, you’re not innovating.

    If Company X does something and you react, you’re being reactive, not proactive. Why aren’t they following your lead? If your preoccupation is with every single thing your competition does, you’re cheating your business and your customers.

    If you forget about your competition, you’re forced to focus on your business, which is to innovate, sharpen execution and win over the minds and hearts of your customers.

    Stand for Something

    Once you’ve identified your competitors’ “loose bricks,” determine what your brand is going to stand for.

    If you’re competing against a large regional chain with hundreds of stores, it’s safe to say that fuel price is not going to be a loose brick in which to attack them. Large chains with lots of stores have the scale to crush a single-store operator on price. Identify the acceptable range those large competitors will allow you to be within them on fuel price, and remain competitive.

    From there, pick one thing — just one — in which to distinguish your company’s brand. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Choose one thing that is important to your customers, and stand for that one thing.

    Here are a few examples of “one thing” in which you can stand for: restrooms, landscaping, customer service, and community involvement. Whatever you decide to stand for, in order to make a real impact, you must completely dominate that one thing. None of your competitors should come close to you on that one thing.

    Once you commit to your one thing, there’s no going back. You either stand for something or nothing. Implement your one-thing strategy and then out-execute your competition in this one thing.

    Before long, your customers will come to recognize your brand as standing for this one thing and you will have separated your brand from the crowd. Have patience and discipline, and don’t take your foot off the gas pedal until your brand is recognized as standing for this one thing.

    By Terry McKenna, Convenience Store Coaches
    • About Terry McKenna Terry McKenna is principal and co-founder of Convenience Store Coaches Inc. and Employee Performance Strategies Inc., where he helps convenience retailers achieve greater financial results by optimizing their workforce. McKenna can be reached at (910) 458-5227 or [email protected] He also maintains a blog at www.terrymckenna.typepad.com.

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