Business Growth & Strategy

Is it really possible to differentiate in a crowded marketplace?

Throughout his career, Vistage Speaker Grant Leboff has faced many situations where he’s needed to stand out from the crowd. His background is in behavioural psychology, but he worked in a number of marketing roles before starting his own agency in around 2002. 

His experiences there led him to write his first book – Sales Therapy – which was received so well that he ended up selling his agency and branching out as a speaker, author and consultant. Grant’s work takes him all over the globe and he now has five books under his belt. 

These books cover, among many other things, tips for businesses to stand out in a crowded marketplace. This is the topic of Grant’s upcoming Vistage session on Wednesday, December 13th, and we caught up with him pre-event to learn more about what he will be covering. 

“Businesses look in the wrong places for differentiation”

In a challenging market, businesses need to make sure they stand out from the crowd. But are they doing this in the right way? 

“In a commoditised world, there’s almost nothing you can offer that can’t be copied”, says Grant. “I’m not saying businesses can’t innovate – they can. However, even if they do come up with something great it’ll be copied very quickly”. 

The answer, he says, is to look at the marketplace rather than themselves when looking to differentiate. “There is no such thing as a USP”, he says. “Even when the term was first codified in the 1960s, it was a concept that was flawed from the start. Differentiation doesn’t come from what you do, but from who you serve”. 

He gives the example of two accountancy firms based just down the road from each other. It is likely that these two firms will offer similar services and have similar levels of experience. However, where they can differentiate is in terms of who they provide these services to.

“Imagine you have two accountancy firms side by side”, explains Grant. “One is focused very much on working with big firms – publicly listed companies and those with shareholders that need auditing. The other focuses on entrepreneurs and startups. The publicly listed companies are probably not looking for investment, but the smaller businesses will be. Suddenly, those two accountancy firms can differentiate quite a lot: not in what they do, but in who they do it for. Entrepreneurs will go to one, the larger companies will go to the other.”

Why is market positioning so powerful?

Market positioning, explains Grant, is essentially where you focus in a marketplace, and what you stand for in that marketplace. “It’s probably the least understood bit of marketing”, he says. “because it really exists in the mind of the customer as much as it exists in any real terms”. 

He gives the example of car manufacturer Volvo. “If you stopped 20 people in the street and ask them to name a safe car, people would disproportionately name Volvo. This is because the brand positioned itself that way back in the 1950s.”

He points out, though, that the same people would respond “yes” if you asked them if Toyota, BMW and Mercedes cars are safe. They would disagree that Volvo cars are safer than other brands, as they all have to adhere to the same safety standards. 

The association with safety comes from the fact that Volvo patented the three-point seatbelt in the 1950s. They spent significant amounts of money on developing it, but were compelled to share it with other manufacturers after establishing how many lives it could save: it would have been immoral not to. 

“They also developed side impact bars”, says Grant. “They ended up innovating a lot around safety because it became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact that they continue to be positioned as the safe brand – the safe car – is probably worth millions in sales to them every year, despite the fact that their innovations are now used by others.”

“The power of positioning ends up being the way the customer perceives you rather than any tangible reality about your own product”, says Grant. “It’s not a lie – it has to be authentic, and you have to have first mover advantage. Once somebody has taken that market position, it’s almost impossible to take that away from them.”

Positioning in a mature market

Adopting this type of positioning is far easier in an immature market – take Tesla, for example, who positioned themselves as the electric car brand. They were the first fully electric car manufacturer which allowed them to adopt this authentic position – but what about brands in more mature markets? 

Grant gives the example of two drinks markets: beer, and mixers. “Both Brewdog and Fever Tree have managed to carve out their own unique position in established markets”, he explains. “It’s involved a bit of creativity, and a bit of knowing who your audience is – who you’re targeting. Dare I say it, they’re both aimed at a younger generation. You’re not likely to convince a guy in his 70s who’s been drinking Guinness for years that Brewdog is where it’s at: you’re better off targeting a younger market who haven’t established their drinking habits yet.”

Why tune into Grant’s Vistage event

“If you’re a very small fish in a very big pond, it’s hard to get noticed”, says Grant. “However, if you’re a very big fish in a very small pond, it’s much easier. What you need to remember is that you get to pick the pond: you get to decide what the pond will look like, how you’ll divide it.”

Deciding on positioning, how to target customers, what to stand for in the market and how to stand out are incredibly difficult for many businesses – particularly those without seasoned marketers on their team. 

However, any business that can stand out – that has overwhelming reasons why customers should choose them – will find it far easier to generate opportunities to create interest, and ultimately to make more profit. With Grant’s psychology and marketing backgrounds underpinning his approach, it’s set to be a fascinating session for those looking to stand out from the crowd. 
To book your place on Grant’s event on December 13th, click here.

Category : Business Growth & Strategy Mission, Vision, Purpose

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About the Author: Vistage UK Staff

Vistage is the world’s largest executive coaching organisation for small and medium sized businesses.
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