No More "Me Too" Marketing Before you can beat your competitors, customers have to be able to tell you apart. Here are 3 steps to becoming the leader of the pack.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Are you guilty of "me too" marketing? If so, you're not alone. It seems no matter what's being marketed, you'll find the majority of competitors have virtually interchangeable messages and offers. Take away the names and logos and it's hard to tell the companies apart. And that can spell big trouble for sales if your company is buried in the pack.

When comparing similar products and services, potential customers look for companies that offer a difference they value. They want to know why what you do or offer makes your company the best suited for their needs. You can leave "me too" marketing behind by creating a campaign that effectively differentiates your business from its competitors. This point of differentiation helps you stand above the competition and shout out to your prospects, "Here's why this is for you!"

Take these three steps to pull away from the pack:

1. Scope out the competition.
Before you can effectively differentiate your business, you have to understand your competitors' marketing messages as well as you do your own. Conduct a simple analysis by gathering the marketing materials from all your competitors--everything from their ads and copies of the main pages of their websites to sales brochures. Identify their key marketing messages and special offers.

Once you know how your competitors attempt to differentiate themselves, you can evaluate your similarities and differences. If there's overlap between what you promise and what you see offered by your competitors, you may need to retool more than your marketing. Sometimes, an overhaul of the way a product is offered or the addition of new services is essential to make a formerly ho-hum company stand out.

2. Take the customer's point of view.
Put yourself in your customer's shoes after you've gathered the marketing materials from your competitors. If you were trying to make a choice between their products or services, which would you go for? Why? Often, the primary deciding factor is value. That's the little bit extra that one purchase yields over another. Value is relatively subjective, and it can be tangible or intangible. For example, superior customer service can add intangible value by giving customers peace of mind that post-purchase problems will be handled better than if they were to buy from anyone else.

To find the right point of differentiation, learn what you can provide that your target audience will value the most. This may take research with members of your target audience, such as a telephone survey or roundtable discussions, to guide your message development.

3. Introduce your new message.
To be effective, your new core message--with a unique point of differentiation--must be communicated throughout your marketing campaign and sales support materials. But you don't want to roll out the wrong message. So a preliminary, short-term test using one form of media, such as a group of magazines or websites, may be the best way to determine if you're on the right track.

After you're confident your target audience is responding effectively to your new message, expand it into all media. If it represents a radical departure for your business, kick off your new advertising and sales support messaging with the support of a PR campaign. And add any interviews or coverage you get to your website. Be sure to communicate your new messaging to current customers in a way that is reassuring and helps you upsell or resell this important group.

Depending on your budget and the media you use to communicate with your prospects and current customers or clients, allow six months or more for your new message to penetrate and for your company to pull away from the pack.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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