Remember in High School, how you felt like you needed to conform to the latest fad?  If you were different, people made fun of you… called you names… and didn’t want to hang out with you.  Well, it’s not that way in the world of business ownership.  If you conform, you might as well close your doors.  And yet, most business owners struggle to understand how they are different; and how that difference needs to become the cornerstone of their branding effort.

Understanding that “being different” is a challenge, I want to walk you through how I would create such differentiation with one of my clients.  I am going to talk about a Landscaping company, we will call “Green by Design”.

Startup

In the beginning, Jim Brooks started out mowing his neighbor’s yards for $30 each.  He did such a good job mowing yards, his neighbors asked him to do other landscaping chores around their homes.  Eventually, at the age of 18, Jim decided he would hire workers to help and create his business called Green by Design.  Unfortunately, it was hard to get customers outside of his local neighborhood, so he decided to invest in a marketing effort with a direct mailing campaign.  He got a few new customers this way, but his new customers could not even pay for the cost of his marketing campaign.

When I approached Jim, I told him that his company did not really stand out.  He did landscaping just like everyone else; and no one would consider his company any better than any other company.  In order to get customers, his only compelling offer would be to give large discounts… because price was the only way people could pick him over a competitor.  Jim was convinced that he was a good landscaper, but was really no different than any other landscaper.

As we worked together, Jim was tasked with picking some ways that he did landscaping that were much different than his competition.  He told me that most landscapers would not plant trees properly.  They would dig a shallow hole and not fertilize and break up the soil properly so that tree’s root structure could not develop; and the tree died within a year.

The DIFFERENCE

I worked with Jim to create some compelling advertisements that highlighted this difference in his landscaping effort.  Eventually, Jim identified ten things that he did that his competitors would not do.  He then translated how these activities he did translated directly into compelling benefits to his landscaping clients.

The Marketing

Jim took pictures of some dying trees and created a headline on his internet ads that read, “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!”; with a sub-headline that read, “Most Landscapers Will Kill Your Trees”.  He then offered a white paper that showed the ten most important considerations when hiring a landscaper.  The ten points explained all of the features of his landscaping business that were superior to his competitors.  He loaded the document with several color pictures of how shoddy landscaping would materialize for home owners… sometimes years after their landscaping was completed.  Sure a few landscapers did the things that he did, but how would prospective customers know that?

Jim marketed the differentiation message everywhere he could.  He approached builders who could recommend landscapers.  He marketed to realtors to give his information to sellers and buyers.  He created marketing brochures especially for sellers that explained how they could double their money, if they invested in landscaping prior to listing their home.  He created free mock-ups for buyers who were considering buying a home that had poor landscaping… to convince them, if they bought the home, they could invest very little to make it look sharp on the outside.  Every time, he did his marketing, he would talk about how his landscaping business was much different and better than any other landscaper around.  He would always follow up with his list of 10-considerations when hiring a landscaper.

The Follow Up

Jim did not just give brochures, collect email addresses and hope that he got business. Jim continued to follow up with his prospective clients… continuing to extol his 10-reasons to hire Green by Design to do their landscaping work.

The Bottom Line

After 6-months of intense marketing and follow up, Spring was here.  Green-by-Design was getting more leads and more customers than they had ever gotten before.  Their marketing was so strong, they did not have to give out discount coupons.  In many cases, they needed to stop marketing so they could hire enough employees to do the work that they were contracting to perform.

The Moral of the Story

You should now understand how you can create a differentiated position in any business.  If you can do it in a commodity business like landscaping, you can do it for almost any business.  The key to differentiating is to:

  1. be truthful in the unique benefits you offer your customers,
  2. if you don’t have differentiated benefits, develop them,
  3. bundle services with other businesses to create a compelling advantage,
  4. create strategic marketing that educates your customers on your differentiated advantage,
  5. form your company culture around these positive differences,
  6. speak to your prospective customers in the language of benefits; not features, and
  7. avoid platitudes, and market specific benefits.

Make sure you do not sound like every other company in your marketplace.  No matter what, make sure you are different in a way that will matter to your prospective customers.


As a business coach, I help my clients identify specific differences in their products and service; and exploit those differences so they can dominate their marketplace.  If you are saying stuff like, ‘we are friendly’, ‘provide great service’, ‘pay attention to quality’, ‘best value’ or anything else that sounds like a “platitude”; you are wasting words and wasting ink.  Please use the contact form below to let me know if you want my help to differentiate your company to dramatically increase the amount of qualified leads you get as a business owner.

Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster.  I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”.  I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace.  I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013.  I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.

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