To be in the top 10% of your field, you need more than just a competitive advantage. You must also communicate that advantage loud and clear through everything you do.
Competitive advantage is defined as "a superiority gained by an organization when it can provide the same value as its competitors but at a lower price, or can charge higher prices by providing greater value through differentiation. Competitive advantage results from matching core competencies to opportunities."
In other words, when you create a competitive advantage for your business, you can win either by charging less than your competitors through improved efficiencies or by charging higher prices than others because of the added value you provide.
In 1985, Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, wrote the definitive guide called Competitive Advantage. In his book, Porter defined three ways companies can have a competitive advantage:
- Being the Cost Leader: offering lower prices than your competitors by providing a reasonable value while still making a profit. Wal-mart is one company that's famous for this strategy, but Costco may have mastered it even better. Low prices are in Costco's DNA and have become the company's competitive advantage. Costco still charges just $1.50 for a hot dog and a fountain drink. As prices increased, Costco began manufacturing its own hot dogs in order to keep the prices low. Massive buying power and a super-efficient distribution system, coupled with a lower-overhead warehouse business model, have allowed Costco to remain a leader with this strategy.
- Differentiation: providing products and services that stand apart from your competitors. This strategy involves creating a brand that clearly communicates how your company delivers value in a way others can't match. The result is a product or service people are willing to pay more to receive. Starbucks has mastered the art of charging higher prices than its competitors by selling more than coffee. The company sells a brand and overall coffee-buying experience others can't duplicate. Buying a Starbucks coffee includes the atmosphere the company creates for its customers. It's an added value the company's thousands of locations "sell" and which customers continue to buy into every day.
- Focus: providing your products and solutions to a niche target market that you know well. With this strategy, you understand your customers' pains and problems better than your competitors. Therefore, you can offer the best solutions at the best price. Apple understands its target audience. While others have tried slashing prices to remain relevant, Apple has been able to innovate and charge premium prices because the company understands who its market is.
Where does your business fit in these models?
If you haven't defined your competitive advantage or aren't clear what it could be, first answer these questions to help refine your search.
- What is it exactly that you provide? What problems do your services and products solve? Be crystal clear on the products, services, and solutions you provide.
- Who are you serving? What is your target market? Who are your ideal customers?
- Who is your competition? This could include local businesses or Internet-based companies. It could also include services and products from other industries that your customers are purchasing to solve their problems.
Once you've completed these steps, the research phase is done. Now you must analyze your findings in order to discover where your products and services can realize a competitive advantage. The answer may not appear right away, so you must continue to revisit the process until it becomes clear.
Once you've found your competitive advantage in the marketplace, it's time to communicate that advantage in every marketing piece and everything you do until it becomes a part of the DNA and culture of your company.