How to differentiate yourself from competitors: 4 easy steps to stand out in a crowded market
Insights, tips and steps every entrepreneur can use to stand out from their competitors
I often get questions from entrepreneurs—starters to well-established ones—about ways they can distinguish themselves from competitors. The answer is very simple and doesn't involve tracking your competitor’s every move.
This next article is inspired by an opportunity I saw while walking around in Punda and Pietermaai (Curaçao). For context —I was strolling around the city on a Sunday morning and to my surprise, almost everything was closed. Living in the center of Amsterdam has made me pretty spoiled when it comes to stores and restaurants being open until the wee hours of the night. But that is definitely beside the point right now. It wasn’t just me strolling around Pietermaai looking for a small morning snack, many tourists staying in that same area were. I could see the hunger on their faces and the desire for a freshly made cup of coffee.
Keep reading to find out how you can excel in a crowded market using these easy tips and steps and implement them effortlessly.
What are my competitors doing?
Many people focus (too much) on what their competitors are doing and are constantly trying to copy their successes. Needless to say, this will make you reliant and is probably not the most sustainable way to run a business in the long run. Besides that, many opportunities that could lead to a bigger success for your organization, showcase how great you are, and the potential you have will go to waste instead.
There is an even easier way to differentiate yourself from competitors: it's by the power of observation as well as listening to your clients’ and prospects’ needs.
Observe what's going on in your field of work: what works, what doesn’t work, what are the majority of people doing, and what would be considered to be odd in that field? Don’t stop here, as this is where many go wrong. Most people observe and do nothing with the insights and gathered information. It’s not just about observing, it’s about putting the insights to use.
What do an English clinical psychologist and gardener on Curaçao have in common?
What do you think the answer to this question would be?
I would say that both professions are ones you wouldn’t expect to have a big presence on social media.
I came across De Tuinman Curaçao’s Facebook page after one of their videos was forwarded to me. And let me tell you their content instantly caught my attention.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never ever EVER seen a gardener (on Curaçao specifically) use social media, let alone create content. Here on Curacao, you'll find a gardener through word of mouth—asking friends and family for recommendations. But what if you don’t know anyone on the island or if your peers don’t have any suggestions?
Wait, it gets better. After doing some research, I found that they also have a website (Uhm, does your gardener have a website?) and they don’t stop there either. They directly respond to a social problem of loiterers and the youth getting on the wrong track. Their aim is to keep teens on a positive path while providing them with work and teaching them to add value to society.
Observation & solution
People are looking for a gardener, but have no clue where to find a trustworthy one;
None of the local gardeners have a presence online in a digital-first day and age.
💡Have an online presence (social media & website) when no one in your field does.
I came across one of Dr. Julie Smith’s videos on Youtube Shorts where she spoke about a topic I related to. I literally ended up buying her book: Why has nobody told me this before? within 10 seconds of watching the video. Make sure to buy the book NOW, as it’s a must-read and it will help you understand yourself and life in general so much better. What sets Dr. Julie Smith apart is… well the obvious: a clinical psychologist being on Tiktok isn’t something you see every day. At least, I don’t! Her content is extremely concise, accurate, and delivered in a dynamic way that people gravitate toward instantly. If I look in my professional network on LinkedIn and scroll through the psychologists I’m connected with, none of them share practical tips and tools that are usable from a client’s point of view. It’s mostly about personal achievements, the research they have conducted, or new colleagues they’re looking for. See how someone like Dr. Julie Smith easily stands out with her short and insightful videos?
Observation & solution
Most psychologists don’t use social media
The ones that do, solely share personal achievements and job vacancies
💡Share insightful information and tips your target audience can actually use.
No social media for me, please…
If you’re like me and you really despise social media, you’re probably looking for an example that doesn’t include social media. Thus, I would like to give one last example of how the art of observation and talking to real people can help you differentiate yourself.
Quick note: social media isn’t the “solution” in all these examples it’s a tool used to reach your audience. It can be a resource you haven’t utilized yet or that has been underutilized in the field you work in.
Going back to the story I started with, where I was walking around in Punda & Pietermaai slightly hungry and craving a latte macchiato. By walking around, and personally experiencing this issue—for lack of a better term as this wasn’t that serious—I saw that absolutely nothing was open. The first thing that came to mind was that this would be such a great opportunity for existing coffee spots and breakfast places to open up extra early on Sunday mornings.
Why? Being located in the city center where many tourists stay—wake up early because of jetlag and vacation vibes, like walking around to see the history, beautiful buildings & murals—you could relatively easily attract people like myself. As you would be the only one open, this would make you stand out instantly!
If you’re only looking at your competitors, you would say: "they’re closed on Sunday, so obviously I should be closed too". Instead, going out there and observing, even talking to pedestrians like me, and simply asking them what they’re up to in the next hour could give you great insights. Based on those answers you could decide what you’re next move could be.
Putting these insights to use
Hopefully, these examples made you aware of the endless possibilities there are. However, opportunities will not magically present themselves—you need to put in the work—and these next 4 steps will help you get started.
1. Go out there
If you want to know what you could do next, I would advise you to literally go outside. Preferably at a time, you wouldn’t consider being your regular opening hours. What do you see? Whom do you see? What catches your attention?
2. Get on the (battle) field
I'm not sure why, but this next step is one people absolutely hate doing. Execute field research by talking to the people you see. Talking to people reduces your chances of thinking on behalf of others. You could ask specific questions for new insights such as enquiring about: their plans for the day, and things they’re currently struggling with or need a helping hand with. You could also go into the conversation without specific questions and see where the chat takes you.
F.e: You might find out that no one is hungry on a Sunday morning. Instead, they’re looking for something totally different to do, which coinsenditly you could be helping them with. I don’t know!
3. Get behind your computer (or phone)
Next, you could execute desk research based on the insights you’ve gathered during your field research.
What information is out there when it comes to this specific topic/idea?
Are there specific things you need to take into consideration before getting into the execution phase?
Can you run these insights or new ideas by existing clients?
F.e: If you have a restaurant, you’ll probably need to figure out what your contract says and if you can be open an additional day. If that is not the case, you'll probably need to request a different permit (and have a lot of patience and luck) to make that happen.
4. Time to execute
Lastly, you can finally put all your insights to use. Don’t work months and months on a big launch without letting people know you’re on to something. Let them know something’s coming, tease them, and allow them to try it out in bits and pieces. Going back to the coffee spot example in Punda or Pietermaai, do a trial run for a few Sundays and see if there is enough interest. Instead of arranging all logistics and being open every Sunday of the month, to find out no one is actually interested.
5. Bonus step!
When doing all of the above, I would advise you to try out several things and keep track of what’s working and what isn’t. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it’s a failure or even worse: you’re a failure —it simply means that that specific thing didn’t work for you. So move on quickly, tweak what needs to be tweaked and find out what does work for you and your company!
Need help with finding ways to differentiate yourself and making a plan to implement these strategic changes into your organization? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a line on LinkedIn.