Recently, someone asked me this question in an interview,
Q) What is your market differentiator?
During my MBA days, we had all sorts of fancy, meaningless answers for this type of questions. I could take any number of jargon words like market penetration, excellent quality, strategic tie-ups etc. and mix-and-match them to spew an equally vague answer to this.
Now, I did not know what to say about “my start-up’s market differentiator“.
After thinking for a few minutes, this is what I told the interviewer.
A) Nothing really. Whatever I am doing can be done by anyone. What makes Chandoo.org successful (and profitable) is that I love Excel and share information about it enthusiastically. I love making people awesome and create products that go with this philosophy. I am eager to learn as much as I am eager to teach. So naturally we build a very good community of Excel users from all parts of the world (at last count, our website as 24,000 members). Many of these become customers overtime and enjoy my products (We had 1700 customers in year 2010).
I bet of many of you would be having similar questions when you think about starting your own company,
- How can we differentiate from our competition?
- What makes us special and creates warm-feelings in our customers’ heart?
- How do we protect our product from imitation?
So, lets examine what makes us special.
What will NOT make you special?
In order to understand what makes us special, first we must understand what makes us same (ie not special). Once we know that, you can easily focus on your uniqueness.
In all likelihood, your product will not be unique. There will be several equally good alternatives for what you sell. Take anything, for eg., your beer, your car, your bank, your coffee, your boy friend (or girl friend), your shoes etc. etc., everything can be replaced with something else that is equally good. Your customers too think the same way and thus, being over-protective about your product is not going to help.
Unless you have a water-tight agreement with your partners, chances are, they will collaborate with others in the same industry. So this makes any type of partnerships you have same as any partnerships your competition has.
Your Website / Store Design:
Very few designs are iconic (like a bottle of coke, ipod, Google homepage or an ikea store). Getting an iconic design would take a lot of time, money and expertise. And small business are short on all 3.
Other things that will not make you special:
* Your website ranking very well on Google for a particular term
* Your business having the best location
* You have the most memorable phone number, website address or whatever.
So What makes you special?
You are special. Although, there are 6 billion others with similar features as you, no-one can match 100% to what you are. Realizing this is the biggest thing in running a small business. Unlike large companies, which can remain faceless and build a generic brand image, a small business like yours, has better chance of success if you focus on individuals.
Why are you special:
No one else in the world has the same story that you have to say. Your passions, your ideas, your values, your sense of humor, your story will remain unique, no matter how many more people flock your industry. Some important areas of your uniqueness,
- Your story
- Your values
- The way you express
- Your sense of humor
- Your passion & knowledge
Never let that go away from your business in the name of growth. Instead, keep your image a core part of what your business is. That is what many successful business have done. Think about Apple (Steve Jobs), Microsoft (Bill Gates), Infosys (Narayana Murthy) etc.
Just like you, your customers too are unique. It may so happen that the same set of people might be customers for someone else too. But the kind of interactions they had with you, the relationship they hold with you and the attention & respect you command from them will be special.
This includes your employees, board members, vendors, partners etc. All of them are special, gifted and rare, just like you. And no other company in the world has the same combination and that makes your company special. The real uniqueness is the kind of experience, passion and energy your team brings to the table to make your company a success.
That is all. I cannot think of anything else that will make us specail and distinguished from rest of the competition.
How do I apply these ideas to my business?
During my initial days of business, I used to worry too much about my website design, too protective about my files & ideas. I used to consider other Excel bloggers as competition.
Then, almost by chance, I experimented by following a different approach.
I started collaborating with my fellow bloggers. I started sharing my ideas and files openly. Instead of focusing on more customers, I asked myself, “how can I know more about the ones we have”. I started sharing personal stories and connected with our readers.
Over-time, I have established a relationship with our readers who now consider me unique, for what I am + what I know.
Now, if you ask my customers, why they use my products, some of the keywords they use are,
- … like your style …
- … you explain very well …
- … your passion for excel …
How do you differentiate your business?
I want to learn from your experience too. What do you think makes your business (or you) special? Why do you think customers purchase from you?
Please share your story using comments. I am all ears.