The great thing about the internet is that it opens you up to huge numbers of potential customers, but it can also open you up to tons of potential competitors. Gone are the days when your business could be quietly unique in your local market; now, you have to be unique in the global market. The upside is that if you are truly unique, the internet can propel your growth and make life difficult for your potential competitors. In the era of the internet, the winner takes all--just ask the founders of eBay, Zappos.com, Amazon.com and Salesforce.com.
So, how do you come up with a unique strategy? Here are 5 tips to help you think it through:
Skate To Where The Puck Is Going: As Wayne Gretzky famously explained his secret to success, so shall you design your strategy. Great companies recognize tectonic shifts in the marketplace and get there first. For example, the smart folks at Zipcar recognized that big sections of society were migrating into cities--as their nests emptied or they stayed in cities after college--and that sharing cars might be a better option than owning. The company recently filed an IPO.
Innovate Across Boundaries: It's hard, but try not to focus on existing competitors when coming up with your strategy. Instead, focus on alternatives to those competitors in the marketplace. A great example is Apple and the iPod: Rather than build yet another MP3 player that only appealed to geeks who could figure out how to get music on them, Apple made a far simpler device and focused on making the device easy to synchronize for a vast majority of people. By ignoring the established rules of the MP3 marketplace and focusing on alternatives, the folks at Apple were able to transform their company and our listening habits.
Have a Narrow Focus: Because the internet is so vast, and you're competing with so many companies for attention, you're much better off with a narrow product focus rather than a broad one. A great example of that is Whole Foods. In the long-stagnant grocery industry, Whole Foods is winning--even though it carries fewer products at higher prices--because of a strict focus on focused organic foods and sustainable farming practices.
Polarize: If you want to get attention, polarize your marketplace by taking a different stand. Salesforce.com famously stated that the era of software was over when the company was first founded. A small minority of people agreed, which was enough to get the ball rolling for a company that's now worth over $7 billion.
Focus Business Model, Not Product: Sometimes the best way to build a great company is to focus more on creating a unique business model and less on building a better mousetrap. What set Google apart was its auction-based model for purchasing advertisements, as opposed to the standard impression-based model.
The first step to a winning internet presence is a differentiated company stance paired with a remarkable marketing strategy. That strategy will encompass everything--laser-sighted content, smartly implemented SEO, ways to measure the results and a plan for optimizing the conversion rates from all your visitors.
Brian Halligan is CEO and founder of the Internet marketing software company Hubspot and co-author of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs.