Hugh McLeod at GapingVoid art made the print below based on a talk I gave in Banff several years ago. The day “Out-Care the Competition” was born.
Why out-care your competition?
There is always someone willing to sell what you have, or what you do, for a cheaper price. So how do you compete? How do you attract customers in a race to the bottom industry? (Hint, all industries eventually become a race to the bottom). Simply differentiating yourself won’t work; your competitors know how to be different too. Your only option is to care more. Care more about your art. Care more about your service. Care more about your product development. Care more about how you follow up. When it comes down to it, we love the companies that show they care more in some way. Or, as Rory Sutherland would put it, the companies that signal they will be around for a long time generally show their customers that they care more.
There are only two types of businesses, the cost leader and the differentiator. Which one are you?
Are you Walmart, McDonald’s, or Superstore? If you are any of these companies, you are the cheapest in the market. Congrats! You don’t need to be different. You just need to cut enough costs each year so that your competitors can never offer as low of a price. The problem with this strategy is that if you aren’t Walmart, McDonald’s or Superstore, someone has deeper pockets than you do and is willing to go broke long after you’ve given up.
Are you the cost leader in your market?
A race to the bottom strategy is one that produces only one winner. Based on the Innovator’s Dilemma, that win changes hands each year. Being the cheapest in the market is a hard, if not impossible competitive advantage in the long-run.
Are you the differentiator in your market?
It can be as simple as a heartfelt email, or as elaborate as an entire campaign around what it means to be ‘loving’ (hat tip to Creative Options Regina for that one). Your competitive advantage isn’t something that can be written out in some strategy document, not until you understand your “brand” intimately. And your brand isn’t something that you “come up with.” On the contrary, it’s what your customers say about you behind your back. You create your business, but your customers define your brand.
The best differentiator is caring more.
It’s doing things that don’t make you money on the spot, but create long-term customer loyalty (which is just a fancy way of saying “future revenue“). Take Patagonia, for example. They offer the “Ironclad Guarantee“ on their clothing. How can they afford to fix your jacket for life? Because given the choice in the future, you will trust them with your next jacket purchase. And your next one, and your next one… Just because they took care of you the first time. Standing by your product shows you have confidence in your brand. In a time when you can buy almost everything for cheaper, standing by your product is different.
Caring more about your employees is a wise strategy.
When Starbucks came out and offered all employees FREE University Education, people laughed and said, “what a terrible investment! What if those employees leave after they get a degree?” The contrary opinion would be, “what if they don’t learn anything new and stay working here?” Which is better? Wouldn’t Starbucks benefit from people getting an education while working, then moving on only to become the greatest Starbucks fans ever? Being scared of people leaving your organization because they become too smart is a fools’ errand. If you’re running your company properly, all employees should eventually become “too smart.”
Caring more about your customers is a wise strategy.
The local sandwich spot in my city has one of the best ratings on Trip Advisor. It’s an Italian market that’s now famous for their sandwiches. Italian Star Deli is a staple in Regina, and I don’t think it’s because of the sandwiches. Yes, they have amazing products. What’s more amazing, though, is how they treat you when you’re there. There’s always a happy smiling face to greet you when you enter. At the deli counter, they’re quick to help, like to make jokes and make you feel like you are family. Then, when checking out, same thing; they like to joke with you.
Whether you have a lifetime guarantee, free education or are just friendly to everyone. Caring more is a strategy. It’s the best strategy around to create customer loyalty, to build better relationships, and to ensure people remember you.
What do you do for your customers that no one else does? How do you build customer loyalty in the most competitive marketplace in business? (To be fair, everyone’s business is the most competitive.) What is the reason brands last the test of time, through the hard times and the good? The answer to all these questions is that they simply care more.