Competition sucks. Whether you are just breaking into an industry, or you've been in an industry for years, competitors are never a welcome presence in your business experience. Newcomers try to knock you out with discounts, and big giants in your industry always seem to be able to offer faster, cheaper service. These days, markets are saturated, and it can be frustrating and stressful for any entrepreneur. However, there is one way in which your competitors can be extremely useful: helping you to identify and capitalize on a unique niche.
Every company has a niche, because no two companies are exactly alike. Even seemingly identical products, like Coke and Pepsi, have their tiny differences in taste and target audience, and Pepsi was smart enough to market on this difference and create an entire ad campaign around it. If you are feeling overcrowded in an industry with lots of competition, it's time to use marketing to carve out a niche that will set you apart in the eyes of your customers.
How do you do it? The first step in creating a niche is to see if you already have one. Talk to the sales representatives in your company and ask them what they have noticed sets your product apart from the competitors. Sales representatives have a great idea of why customers buy your product, and are aware of when they leave for another competing product. Use their wealth of customer knowledge to figure out if your brand is already known for something and why your customers choose you over the competition.
Then, it's time to directly ask your customers. Work with your marketing team to send out a survey asking your customers what sets your product apart from the competition. In the survey, offer them opportunities to let you know how they view your brand in the context of your industry.
Click here to discover the ultimate guide to creating a customer survey.
Here are some example questions you can ask:
- What 3 brands do you consider our main competitors?
- In your opinion, in what ways do we set ourselves apart from these competitors?
- What three words would you say describe our overall brand identity and product? (Example: Fun, fast, cheap.)
When you get your responses, compare them and see if there are any overlaps. Do most of your customers view your product as the safest in the industry? The cheapest? The most accessible? What about the most environmentally conscious? If you find that your customers already have a niche in their mind that your product or service fills, then you have your answer.
If your answers are all over the place, that's OK. This just means that your niche has not been well defined yet. This is a possibility, which is why your survey should also include a question such as the following:
- What would you like to see us add to our product or service to better set us apart from the competition?
If you don't get a clear answer about your niche from the first three questions, use this fourth question to brainstorm a niche that you can work on carving out in the future. For example, maybe you are a grocery store with lots of competitors in the area, but none of them offer delivery. If your customers respond to the survey saying they would like you to be more child-friendly, then offering a delivery option could be a great way to win over moms with lots of children who don't have the ability to unload a trunk load of heavy groceries.
There are a lot of different ways you can develop a niche if you find that you don't have one, or want to develop a new one.
Here are some ideas:
- Add a level of convenience like fast delivery or free returns
- Make your product eco-friendly or somehow morally superior- (fair treatment of employees, fair trade, etc.)
- Focus on a specific geographical location (We are CHICAGO's best _____)
- Focus on your branding: Make yourself seen as the coolest, most traditional, or most reliable product through branding.
Once you decide on what your brand is, or should be, it's time to use marketing to your advantage. Make the unique aspect of your company the center of your marketing so that your target audience begins to identify you with this niche. Something that can seem like a small difference can become a huge difference if marketed effectively. Returning to the Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry, though Pepsi marketed it's sweeter flavor through taste tests, Coke has always done a great job of marketing of it's "niche" of being the traditional, iconic American brand. This image of coke is really it's niche, which may be why coke rarely makes reference to the actual flavor of its beverage in its marketing.
Don't let competition stress you out. As proven by the Pepsi/Coke example, every brand has something unique to offer it's target audience. The key is to not ignore your competition, but to embrace it. Figure out what makes your product stand out, and then do everything you can to market that unique factor. It will help you to grow a better known brand identity and win over new customers at the same time.