If you’re a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly heard the statistics around business failure rates.
Only 50 percent of businesses make it past the first five years and one-third make it past the 10-year mark.
Although there are plenty of reasons why businesses fail, lack of differentiation is one that often tops the list.
Why it’s Important to Stand Out in Business
Standing out from your competition is critical to your company’s success. While most people understand that concept, far too many businesses fail to put it into practice.
Case in point: a few years ago, saw an advertisement for a Nashville tattoo parlor with the following message:
“We specialize in all types of tattoos”
It made me shake my head. What does this even mean? What kind of tattoos do they design?
I find it hard to believe that they can create every kind of tattoo well. And, it makes it difficult to know why I should choose this company. To say you specialize in everything goes against the very idea of specialization. After all, to specialize means you’re focusing on one particular area of practice.
Had they said they specialize in traditional Japanese tattoo design, then I would have a much better understanding of what they can do.
Sadly, many businesses fall into this trap. They think they must serve everyone, be broad in focus or keep up with the Joneses, lest they miss out on revenue opportunities.
However, the exact opposite is true.
If you want to be successful, you have to differentiate your business if you want to stand out and get noticed. Otherwise, you end up looking like everyone else and you make it that much harder for people to know when to choose your company.
If you want to discover what makes YOUR business unique, take our free competitive advantage quiz.
How to Stand Out From Your Competition
If you’re not sure how to differentiate your business, you’re in the right place.
Today, I will give you 10 ideas on how to stand out from the competition along with fantastic examples of companies that are doing it well.
Let’s dive in.
1. Deliver extraordinary customer service.
Plenty of businesses claim their customer service is what makes them different. However, just saying that is not enough. You have to deliver an extraordinary customer service experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
For instance, look at Fleet Feet. They custom fit your running shoes. They watch how you walk or run and recommend the proper shoe depending on how you pronate. They even allow you to run in the parking lot to see how they fit and feel. On top of that, they will let you return the shoe weeks or months later if they don’t work out.
One pair they sold me ended up giving me trouble after few weeks. Even though I had logged dozens of runs in them already, they refunded my money and helped me select the proper pair.
After that experience, why would I buy my shoes anywhere else?
Think about how you can offer extremely extraordinary service that goes far beyond what your competitors are doing. And, if you’re looking for additional examples, Nordstrom is another company that is known for delivering legendary customer service.
2. Address customer pain points.
If you want to win customers over, a great way to do that is to alleviate their pain. Let me give you a great example of this in action.
If you’re like most people, you don’t particularly enjoy going to the dentist. The lights, the smells and the sound of drills don’t make for a pleasant experience. That’s why many people avoid going to the dentist altogether.
Dental Bliss wanted to change that perception and address this problem head on. That’s why they created a dental practice with a spa-like atmosphere.
Patients can enjoy refreshments (including wine!) and get a massage while they wait for their appointment. And while patients are getting treated, they can wear noise-cancelling headphones so they don’t have to hear the sound of the dental tools.
This dental practice has gone to great lengths to remove all of the barriers and common pain points to create an experience that is completely different than any other dentist you will find.
Think about how you can solve a common problem for your customers and you’re sure to stand out.
3. Do business differently than your competitors.
If you want to stand out from your competitors, it pays to do business differently than they do. Finding and exploiting holes in their business model is a great way to set your company apart.
Direct-to-consumer brands, such as Warby Parker or Dollar Shave Club, are great examples of this. They found ways to disrupt the supply chain to bring quality products to consumers at a lower price.
They decided to go against the grain and upend the industry standard. And it has paid off.
But you don’t have to be a large product brand to do this. Take a look at our client, Encircle Acupuncture, for example.
Their founder, Alexa Hulsey, was frustrated because many of her patients and friends couldn’t get treated as often as they needed. So she transformed the practice in order to treat patients in a community setting. They even adopted a sliding scale payment model so patients only pay what they can afford.
Since opening 10 years ago, they have expanded to a second location and have treated thousands of patients throughout Nashville. They are now the largest acupuncture practice in the Nashville area.
Daring to deliver your product or service differently can pay off in dividends. How can you do the same thing?
4. Focus on a narrow niche.
When you try to serve everyone, you serve no one. This is especially true with service-based businesses.
Adapting your model or approach for a wide variety of businesses is not cost effective for your business and it makes it harder for people to know if your company is a right fit.
Remember the tattoo parlor above? That is a great example of what NOT to do.
A great way to stand out is to narrowly define whom you serve. For instance, CJ Advertising only serves personal injury law firms across the United States. Because of that, it makes it very simple for a law firm to know if they would be a good fit for their company.
5. Create a powerful offer or guarantee.
Guarantees are a great way to reduce the perceived risk of buying your product or service. Eliminating the hesitation for making a purchase can lead to more sales.
Plus, a guarantee can also make your company seem more trustworthy and likable.
For instance, Zappos is famous for their year-long return policy. It reduces the barriers to buy their shoes because you can take an entire year to decide whether you want to keep the shoes. Not to mention, shipping is free both ways.
We also worked with a law firm client that guaranteed that every phone call or email was returned within 24 hours. If you’ve struggled with law firm responsiveness in the past, this would be a great reason to contact them.
Other ideas include guaranteeing product satisfaction, service experience or results. What could you guarantee that your competitors don’t?
6. Create a memorable culture.
Creating an amazing company culture cannot only help you attract and keep top talent, but it can be a powerful marketing tool as well.
Take Rustici Software, for example.
They have built an incredible benefits program, called Jenafits, named after their company concierge, Jena. She handles everything from laundry and cleaning services to booking flights and restaurant reservations for employees. It’s her job to make life easier for the team so they can focus on doing excellent work.
If that weren’t enough, they don’t track vacation days and when they are at work, they focus on having a lot of fun, which includes everything from Ping-Pong and dodge ball.
It might seem that a great culture only benefits employees. But studies show that happier employees lead to increased sales and better productivity.
What can you do to make your company a place that people want to go on Monday mornings?
7. Create a cause marketing effort.
Showing that you are a social responsibility and ethical brand is another way to stand out, while also doing some good. You can do this through a cause marketing effort or campaign.
Cause marketing can take a couple of different forms. One way to do this is through giving campaigns or partnerships with non-profits. You’ve most likely seen this with organizations that support breast cancer awareness organizations or St. Jude’s Hospital, for example.
Another cause marketing approach is to use your voice to promote a social cause.
One of the most well-known examples of this is Dove’s real beauty campaign. Through their marketing, Dove is trying to eliminate unattainable beauty standards and promote self-esteem and body confidence in women and girls.
If you’ve seen any of these ads from Dove, you’ll notice that they don’t feature their products at all. Instead, Dove uses these ads to change the narrative when it comes to beauty.
Even without featuring products in their ads, Dove’s sales jumped from $2.4 Billion to $4Billion during the 10-year span of the campaign.
Ben & Jerry’s is another example of a brand that takes cause marketing seriously. They have adopted a number of causes––criminal justice reform, racial justice, voting rights, climate change and more––that align with their values.
Not only do they create campaigns to encourage action on these issues, but they also create ice cream flavors to support the message. For instance, a portion of the proceeds from sales of their Justice ReMix’d ice cream goes to the Advancement Project National Office to support their Free & Safe campaign.
Is there a cause you’re passionate about? Create a program to support that cause at your company.
It doesn’t have to be on the scale of these large brands. But attaching your business to a cause can be another way to attract customers who share your values.
8. Become a social business.
If you want to take your social responsibility to the next level, you could take your efforts one step further to become a social business.
There are more and more companies cropping up that have this kind of approach.
One of the most well known examples is TOMS, the shoe company known for their One for One effort that helps one person in need with every pair of shoes you buy.
But you don’t have to adopt the one-for-one model to become a social business. Other ways to approach this is to focus providing living wages and reinvesting in the community.
31 Bits is such company. They work with women in Uganda to make fashionable, paper jewelry. They sell the jewelry online and the proceeds help fund healthy education, business training and counseling for their artisans in Uganda.
Nisolo does this with shoes. Not only do they focus on sustainability, their shoes are also ethically produced in factories in Mexico and Peru that provide living wages, healthcare and a healthy work environment.
This kind of approach might mean making a dramatic shift in your entire business model, but these businesses stand out because they are not just another company that sells shoes, socks or jewelry. They are making a positive impact on the world with every sale.
Can you change the world with your work?
9. Be quirky and weird.
Several years ago, the post office returned a Christmas card that I had attempted to send Ryan Hanley in December. I had the wrong address, but it took them six months to send it back to me.
Instead of throwing the card in the trash, I went ahead and sent it to Ryan and laughed about sending a Christmas card in June.
Was it quirky and weird? Yes.
But, that’s exactly why Ryan loved it. He shared it on his Facebook profile and tweeted about it. Doing something out of the ordinary made it stand out.
– Ryan Hanley (@RyanHanley_Com) June 29, 2015
So, how can you do something that goes against conventional wisdom?
Maybe that means sending Christmas cards in June. Or, creating silly dance videos. Or, sending GIF-filled, hashtag-laden emails.
Embrace your weirdness as a company. It might be the very reason why people love you.
10. Surprise and delight your customers.
When she first wore the coat, she slipped her hand in the pocket and found a piece of paper. But, instead of showing the inspection number or some other product information, the slip of paper said, “You are a goddess!”
That tiny, thoughtful act made this coat stand out. And, as a result, it made them want to know more about the brand behind this coat.
Another great example is Dunn Brother’s Coffee, who delivered a kit of my favorite beverage TO MY OFFICE after I tweeted about how much I loved their coffee and wished they delivered.
Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact. How can you do the unexpected to surprise and delight your customers? If you do this, you’ll stand out and create raving fans.
Make Your Business Stand Out From the Crowd
There are plenty of additional ways your company can stand out: you can deliver extreme value, give something valuable away for free, create unique partnership or build powerful communities.
But, this list gives you a great place to start. And hopefully, gives you some inspiration to focus on standing out instead of fitting in.
I’d love to know––how does your business stand out from the crowd? What do you do that makes your business different?
Originally published on July 20, 2015. Updated and expanded on May 12, 2021.