Take a look around your industry. How many companies are out there doing what you do? How many do you consider direct competitors, versus tertiary competitors, versus people too successful or too narrowly focused to be competition? For some industries, the numbers can easily work up to the triple digits.
How do you beat out the competition and make your business the one people turn to, the one people think of when your industry comes up?
How do you become the Uber, synonymous with ride sharing, or the Pandora, premier among online radio sites?
These two examples aren’t actually very good examples. Take Uber, for instance. They were essentially the first real ride-sharing service to appear since taxicabs. Others have shown up – Lyft, Curb, Sidecar – but to compete, they need to offer something beyond what Uber does. Lyft, for example, has the mustache and fist bump gimmick, something to make them friendlier and set them apart.
Or Pandora, the major online radio service that gained prominence at the height of the iTunes vs. Pirating debate in online music. Their free model was supported by the inability to choose your own playlist, working around the issues other free models used.
Since then, Pandora has seen stiff competition from other music services, like Spotify and Rdio. Spotify does what Pandora couldn’t by setting up on-demand playlists for specific songs, with full control. Rdio excels, not in its music library or its control, but in its design. The slick apps and vast library allow the company to hook users, and easily acquire subscribers once the free trial is up.
Setting yourself apart.
In today’s global economy, particularly online, you can’t rely on being the only company in an area performing a service. You can’t be “the only bar in town” any more. Instead, while you can appeal to locally-conscious users, Internet businesses can swoop in and take over. It’s the Amazon vs. local booksellers debate all over again. To succeed, you need to specialize.
Essentially, the path to success requires a superlative. What makes your business the best at X? What can you do that other businesses in your industry can’t? Are you the hands-down most affordable option, and if so, can you maintain the quality of product and service necessary to run wild? Are you the only business in your niche consistently winning awards for your service, your products, your quality? Are you guaranteeing a faster turn-around time than any other business can offer?
You can’t afford to be second-best. You need a secret weapon to push through.
It’s just a simple fact of business life that there’s always someone out there with the resources to be able to beat you at your own game. You never know when Microsoft, Apple, Google or another megacorp is going to come in and open up a service doing what you do, only they can provide it cheaper because of their immense resources, faster because of their staff and slicker from months of design revisions.
That’s one reason why so many small businesses emphasize customer service. Large companies are typically notorious for letting their customer service slide, relying on their pure inertia and critical mass to keep them afloat when dissatisfied users jump ship. Small businesses don’t have that luxury, but they are able to carve out a niche from that same pool of dissatisfied users. Make your customers happy with your service, and they’ll happily follow your brand through your growth.
Look again at your industry. What can you do to set you apart from that field of competition? Are you faster, more agile, smarter, more convenient, cheaper, or of higher quality? It’s time to find out. Specializing can be crucial to success.