Knowing your differentiators and understanding consumer expectations

Knowing your differentiators and understanding consumer expectations

“The headlight bulb”

A couple weeks ago I had to go find a replacement headlight bulb for my car. Super fancy bulb (saving the tech talk) so it was not easy to quickly find. After a few trips to several car parts stores – bulb purchased. But wait. This is where I set the stage. I expected to pay a bit more for the fancy bulb. But how do you think I felt when I found the bulb for 40% less on Amazon? Well brought the bulb back and the store returned my money. They won’t get me back as a customer. I mean really, isn’t that a dangerous game to play “today”? Again I was expecting to pay more over a standard “bulb”. I also was in the store so a little more cash in exchange for the availability of the item. But really. 40% less and in my mailbox less than 24 hours later. Dangerous. The only reason I’m not mentioning the chain in this article is that the Store Manager was incredibly polite and accommodating – so points there. Stage now set.

What sets you apart?

Ask any retailer what sets them apart. You can probably tell what they think it is because it’s splashed all over their tags and displays. You will get a lot of flavors of low price, great service, trained staff, in-stock product, years in business, etc. But it’s to the point of sounding like a script they all sourced from the same book or commercial. But really, do any of these typical responses work? Do they matter to the customer? Hold off on the knee-jerk response for one moment. Please press the pause button. Let’s just think about it for a minute. Does or “can” a retailer survive being the guaranteed low price in the world of same day online (bulb story above)? Can one say, “great service”? With the power of Social Media – can one really afford to have “not great service”? Knowledgeable staff. That is a slippery slope with the high turnover in the retail sector and the ease of information access. Years in business? Only if they are great and you have done great things in the community that everyone knows about. I think you are starting to see my point. In my opinion – what was once often considered effective retail differentiators – no longer apply. They are expectations.

It’s 2019! Simply put – we live in an experience economy. We complain when funny cat videos don’t instantly load. Terms like “micro-moments” apply to all things – especially retail! Consumers are being groomed by the leaders of the leaders of the leaders. (Think retail and how quickly you can identify retailers that really have it together). Now as a leader in your retail business, put on that consumer hat. Look at EVERY consumer touch-point in your business. Everything the customer experiences, reads, sees, touches, hears. What does it say? Does it say reputable, knowledgeable, best-in-class, leader, proven, value, someone they should trust? Most importantly – someone they should buy from? Or does it scream the complete opposite? (as I stare at a burned-out light bulb where I sit… in a well-known coffee shop. fail) We can analyze every aspect of the retail business (and you should) – but I want to focus on the need to boil it down, so you know what your true value propositions are. What really sets you apart from the pack? Carrying the price example just a bit further – look at your top 5 competitors. Do they say, “Low Price”? If you all are low price – doesn’t that really mean that you all have a low price. Do you really want a zero-profit margin model? Cause it is a race between so many retailers to get there. We have all seen it. Oh, and by the way – the consumer already knows what the price should be. Sorry.

Time for an exercise.

For awareness – This is a not an easy exercise. It will be a little frustrating. And it applies to any sized retailer so you can all participate. We must come to grips with the fact that in the micro-moment consumer mindset, it all matters. Product, price, service, support. (Note – these items always have an impact – but 9 out of 10 times they are not differentiators. It may have sparks of success, but you need a raging fire to move the needle and that will come from a true differentiator.)

Get out a piece of paper. Draw a grid. 5 Lines across left to right and then 5 lines top to bottom – letting the far-left column have a bit more room; the rest equally spaced. Now down the left-hand column write down 5 things that you feel really set you apart. Not a narrative, but a word or short phrase. Now across the top, list your top 5 competitors. Once complete, compare yourself to each competitor you listed across the top. Check each box that matches – including the “kinda”. Simple rule for this exercise – If your initial response is “yes”, then it’s a yes.

Now I hope that you have very few check-marks after you are done! Job well done if that is you. Most retailers however have some work ahead of them. Because if 2 or 3 of your competitors also claim your differentiator, then unfortunately it probably isn’t. It definitely isn’t as strong as you need it to be! Matching 4 of 5 or 5 of 5, I would make sure you do it awesome whatever it is and stop using it as a selling statement! That is a must have expectation to compete. (I will argue that if 2 of the 5 competitors have “it” to claim, it shouldn’t be a contender for differentiator. You need to be unique!!)

Now have some fun (and some pizza – cause it will take some time)!

Time for a fresh list. Try phrases like “We are great at” – or- “We are the best at”. Come up with a couple that work for you. Then as you are compiling items, run each one through that comparison exercise (the grid above). Get ready to cross things off. But eventually – you will find a few that really hit home. But it is going to take some time and refinement; and then refinement again as you take that phrase and make it something you can communicate in as few powerful words as possible.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Once you come up with a solid list that really sets you apart – hang on! Your competitors will pick them off and level the field.  Imitation. I say it is a lack of creativity and uniqueness. But whatever. It is something worth a quick quarterly check-in and secret shop for sure!

You gotta love business! Always so many chall….opportunities!


Great resource for Micro-Moments –

Jesse Akre

President - Retailsystem