Focusing Your Content Marketing on Your Competitive Advantage

I’ve talked a lot in past posts about understanding and using your competitive advantage to develop content that helps grow your business.

But, the question that both of my readers are probably asking themselves is: how do you identify what your competitive advantage is? What process can you go through to figure that out?

One of the ways is by answering another related question, which is: what business are you in? To many, it may sound simplistic – “we’re in the accounting business” or “we’re in the restaurant business”. But those answers, more often than not, are not the best ones and they don’t help identify your competitive advantage.

To get a sense of what a strong answer could be, think about Grocery Gateway. They deliver groceries to your home and if the average person was asked what business they’re in, that’s probably the answer they’d give – grocery home delivery.

But if you caught the billboard ads they’ve used in the past, you’d get a glimpse into what business Grocery Gateway thinks they’re in. One ad carries the tagline, “we deliver more ‘do not disturb’ time” with an image suggesting a woman relaxing in a bath (very non-sexual). The business they’re in, then, is the time-saving business, not the grocery delivery business, and this has big implications for the direction their content marketing efforts could take.

As a grocery delivery business, the range of themes and topics they could develop is relatively limited to – you guessed it – groceries and food, speaking to an audience passionate about those topics. Now there’s a lot of topics that could be addressed in that area but far fewer that would help differentiate Grocery Gateway in the minds of consumers from other grocery delivery services that exist.

However, as a business focused on saving consumers time (or enabling them to spend more time on the things they love to do vs. the things they need to do), this opens up a whole range of content topics related to time-saving tricks and hacks for a busy life, or on topics related to living a more passionate life. Either of these ideas has a much broader audience because, arguably, more people are interested in productivity, lifehacking, or “do what you love” content, for example, then food-related content; Grocery Gateway could become a daily read for a market not enamoured with groceries or cooking but with living a more enjoyable life, yet who still need grocery delivery, vastly expanding their reach. Or, at the least, it’s a topics that clearly differentiates them from the competition.

So to develop content that will focus your business on your competitive advantage, take a dip in Grocery Gateway’s tub and ask the simple question of, “what business are you in?”

A Lesson in Content Strategy From Sesame Street

I came across a blog post the other day that sounded promising: ”Top 15 Most Effective Content Marketing Strategies for Businesses” it read.

I bit.

Unfortunately, the hook was the the furthest thing from guidance on developing content marketing strategy.  Here is, in part, what was written:

“According to the report, here are the top 15 most effective content marketing strategies and trends that businesses are implementing for growth and to increase brand awareness (GT’s note: I’m not including the link because a) I don’t want to criticize/embarrass this specific site – I’m sure they’re doing their best, and b) I don’t want to drive traffic there because the information is inaccurate):

  1. Social Media (marketing content via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter)
  2. Articles (posted on your business website)
  3. eNewsletters
  4. Blogs
  5. In person events and meet-ups
  6. Case Studies
  7. Videos
  8. Articles on other websites
  9. Whitepapers
  10. Online Presentations
  11. Webinars
  12. Infographics
  13. Reports (educational guides)
  14. Microsites
  15. Branded Content Tools

You know that Sesame Street song where it say, “one of these things just doesn’t belong…” Well, these 15 things just don’t belong with the strategy headline because THEY’RE NOT STRATEGIES! These are a list of tools you may include in a tactical plan based on a strategy, but they’re not strategies themselves.

So what is a strategy, you may ask.  A good definition I’ve found comes from an article from Strategy + Business that describes strategy as defining, “where to play and how to win, to maximize long-term value.” In developing a strategy, you’re basically answering the following questions for your business:

  1. Who is my target market and what needs to do they have that I can address?
  2. What are the dominant forces/factors influencing their behaviour?
  3. Who are my competitors, what are their respective competitive advantages, and how do they position themselves in the market/how do they address the market’s needs?
  4. What is are my company’s key strengths and competitive advantage (i.e. our BIG Diffs)?
  5. How can my company create value for its target market and itself?

The answers to these questions are your strategy and in aggregate they act as a map or compass to provide you guidance on how to “…choose a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value”, as Harvard’s strategy guru Michael Porter puts it. Or put another way by Joan Magretta, “strategy explains how an organization, faced with competition, will achieve superior performance.”

To develop a content strategy, almost the exact same questions should be asked and answered but with a focus on content, not the entire business. (For an even simpler but arguably no less effective approach to developing a content strategy, check out my earlier post).

With that definition, hopefully you can see why the above list is the furthest thing from a content strategy. Not to say that they don’t have value in providing options/tools for bringing your strategy to life through an action plan (another topic all together), but there’s no strategy there.

And if you make the massive mistake of thinking they are strategies, the “one of these things just doesn’t belong” song will be about your business not making any money.

 

Exis-business-tential Angst: Different or Interesting?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a strategist and content marketeer (yes, that spelling is intentional), I’ve always searched for the B.I.G. Diff in the brands I’ve been involved with – the one (or more) thing(s) that differentiate one brand from the next and leads to competitive advantage.

Yet this article, and the book How Brands Grow referenced therein, challenges the validity of a differentiation approach to business/marketing, suggesting that being interesting may be the better way to go. You could, of course, argue that being interesting is, in itself, a form of differentiation. But at a strategic level this “interesting” approach accepts that fundamental organizational differentiation is a) extremely difficult to do at best, and b) at worst has little effect when achieved at all.  This leaves the ability to differentiate-by-being-interesting as an executional challenge for “marketers”, not a strategic one for “business people” (both are in quotes because clearly they’re not exclusive, although many tend to think they are).

I’m still not completely convinced.  Harvard’s Youngme Moon has published the book Different that supports the idea of differentiation and I’ve clung to the mantra of strategic differentiation for too long and with too tight a grip – but it’s an interesting proposition and one that small business (or any business for that matter) should consider.

At least until their source of differentiation is uncovered and my resolve returns.

 

Planning to Use Content to Grow Your Business with The Three Simple Circles

Stains

If you’re a small business that wants to use content marketing to grow your business but don’t know where to start, I’m here to help. And as usual, I start by developing a plan.

There are a lot of people that dive into great detail about creating and executing content strategy/planning, and that stuff is all great – if you have the time to read it, I recommend you do so. But, if you’re time-crunched – and who isn’t these days – here’s a quick and dirty plan you can use to get started with content marketing.  As with any good plan, this one is made up of questions that should be asked and answered in order to guide your actions.

That said, here are three key questions you need to ask and answer in order to use content marketing to grow your business. If you picture each question representing a circle that overlaps the others like a venn diagram, then the common area of this Three Simple Circles approach is where you want to be:

  1. What’s my competitive advantage or my “BIG Diff“? Why would someone choose to buy from me vs. anyone else? What are the things about my company/product/ service that would influence someone to choose them? For example, I LOVE The Keg, and the thing about The Keg for me is that it’s great value for the money, it’s a good atmosphere with good service, and it’s very consistent experience – those things are very rare (no pun intended), if not unique, for steak houses.
  2. What are the key challenges or higher-order needs of the people/organizations I want to sell to? The answer doesn’t have to be limited to the problems your product/service solves – it could (and arguably should) be anything related to it. For example, if I run a dry cleaner, my clients have a variety of problems they need solved that go beyond having their clothes cleaned. They may need to find time to drop their clothes off, or may be having trouble keeping up with the latest fashion trends given the wardrobe they’ve got. Neither problem is directly related to having their clothes cleaned, but nonetheless, they’re still problems those clients face.
  3. Given your competitive advantage, and the problems that your clients have, what are the topics you can comment on that address your clients’ problems AND that reinforce your competitive advantage, without discussing your products or services directly?

To tie this all together, let’s go back to the dry cleaning example, and assume that you’re known for getting stains out that others can’t – that’s your competitive advantage.  Further, let’s also say that you recognize that your clients (like most people) have problems with stains on a variety of surfaces, not just clothes, including table tops, cutlery, and carpets. Putting these two pieces of insight together could lead you to develop content (e.g., advice, perspective, news) focused on anything having to do with stain removal.  Not only does it reinforce your brand/competitive advantage and speak to problems your clients have, but in this case, it also opens up a whole new world of topics you could educate your clients about that go beyond clothing stains, keeping you more top of mind than if you were just focused on clothing.

For a quick and dirty (this time, pun intended) plan to get you up and running using content marketing to grow your business, asking and answering these three questions in the Three Simple Circles approach is a great place to start.

The Secret Any Small Retailer Can Use to Defeat Walmart

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There’s been a resurgence of talk lately about how Walmart is killing small retailers, and that it’s unfair for Walmart to charge prices that are putting retailers out of business.

Assuming that Walmart’s on the up-and-up and not selling below their cost, I couldn’t disagree more.

Why?

Because I know the secret any retailer can use to defeat Walmart: supply and demand.

After all, it’s not Walmart that’s forcing people to shop there – people shop there because Walmart offers products they want at a price they like; in other words, Walmart is providing supply for a demand for low-priced goods.  And while that supply-demand approach gives Walmart a competitive advantage, it can work just as well for the small retailer.

The reason being that price is not the only factor that’s important to people as they decide where to shop.  There are many other aspects that people value and are willing to pay higher prices for.  I know this because there are some things I’m willing to pay more for, due to:

  • A more enjoyable shopping environment – I prefer to buy my groceries from the higher-priced  Loblaws than from its lowed-priced sister company No Frills because the physical store environment, layout and design is nicer (to me) than at No Fills.  It’s not about selection, because they both offer about 90% of the same products (including the all-important private label brand President’s Choice) being owned by the same company, but No Fills (as the name suggests) offers those products at lower prices with a similarly no-frills approach to the store design.
  • Better customer service – I prefer to shop at my small, local hardware store, and pay more, because the customer service is better than shopping at the huge Canadian Tire.
  • Product-specific characteristics I value – I’ll buy a cut of beef from a boutique butcher (and pay more) instead of a larger grocery store (where I’ll pay less) because I value the organic, grass-fed-ness of the beef, and the expertise and access to the butcher.

These are all examples where I’m willing to pay more because of factors that go beyond price.  So how can small retailers apply this to compete against Walmart?  Again, it comes down to supply and demand, and there are a few ways to figure it out:

Supply then demand: stock products that Walmart doesn’t offer, then find the demand (i.e. a different clientele) who wants those products using marketing, promotions, and word of mouth.  It’s not easy, especially given Walmart’s selection, but easier than going out of business.

Demand then supply: better understand what your existing clients need/demand/value that’s related to your existing products and store, and then supply it to them.  As already mentioned, it could be through better customer service or through a different shopping environment.  It could even be by aligning yourself with a greater purpose.

Regardless of whether you change your product selection and find different clients, or keep your products, and get to know your clientele better in order to supply their other demands, either option provides smaller retailers with a means of competing (i.e., developing their BIG Diff) that has little to do with price and everything to do with growing a profitable business.

 

Learn How Curiosity Can “King” the Cat

Amanada Lang, co-host of CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange and senior business correspondent for CBC News, has a unique perspective on competitive advantage.

Over the years of her business reporting and interviewing, she’s come to believe that curiosity is a key source of individual and organizational competitive advantage.  In her recent book The Power of Why, she outlines why curiosity is so important to success and how you can leverage it in your personal, and business, life to achieve your goals.

You can read my full review of the book at PROFIT Magazine.

Enjoy!

The Difference Difference Can Make

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As you can tell, I believe that understanding and communicating your BIG Diff is one of the most important things an organization can do.

In my last post, I talked about how Toyota is able to align with a greater purpose – something that’s only distantly related to cars – to differentiate itself.  This is a real feat considering that many people would consider cars in Toyota’s competitive set (e.g. Honda, Kia, Hyundai, etc.) as overall being “generic” or “commoditized”, i.e. there’s little to tell them apart (that wouldn’t apply to Toyota’s Lexus brand though).

So here’s an example from another “commoditized” category – beer – that should act as a warning of what NOT to do.  This TV ad is filled with generic scenes (golf, the beach, a patio) and talks about generic things that really mean nothing (“you’re a complicated diverse creature”).  You could substitute Michelob beer with a host of other low-calorie beers and you wouldn’t need to change a thing about the ad, in either look or content.  The only reason I noticed it at all was  because my business background gives me a different POV on ads.  At least Coors Light creates a somewhat differentiated personality for itself.

So how do you avoid becoming generic? Once again, it comes down to defining your BIG Diff first.  It could be found in the product itself (as Lululemon or Canada Goose do), the personality (as Coors does), in a higher purpose (as Toyota does), or the experience (as Porter Airlines does), but you need that defining idea first before anything else. Once that’s done, you then have a clear understanding of what makes your product/service different from the competition, and you can execute your marketing to focus on those things to build your business.

That’s the difference your difference can make.

Tying your BIG Diff to a greater purpose

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Toyota makes cars.  Good cars.

That’s not news and it’s not a lot different from what Honda and other quality car makers do.

But once you’ve watched this video, I bet you’ll feel differently about Toyota than you do about Honda (and the rest).  It has little to do with the cars themselves and it may even influence your next car purchase.

So why is that?  What does this video do that helps Toyota differentiate themselves from the competition in a way that their existing and prospective customers will value?

As the title of this post suggests, it comes down to associating Toyota’s “BIG Diff” to a greater purpose.  One of Toyota’s “BIG Diff’s” is its approach to making cars (aka lean manufacturing).  That, in itself, offers consumers a great reason to buy Toyota because it ensures high quality cars at low cost.  But when they apply that same manufacturing expertise to helping those in need – a greater purpose beyond cars – it elevates the company in the mind of the market to a different place, a more emotional place.  And considering how important emotions are in the buying process (research shows it’s responsible for at least 50% of any decision), this ability to create an emotional connection is critical.  Now, Toyota can be associated with not just great cars (rational) but also with enabling a better community, society and even world, and its this emotional link that is differentiating and valuable to the market.

The question of how to do this is complicated and warrants its own post.  But, at the simplest level, you can ask yourself how the net benefits of your product/service can be expanded to positively influence your community or society.  For example, if you run a hair salon, you could tie your company to the greater purpose of helping people improve their confidence, instead of just focusing on cutting and styling hair.

It may at first seem a small thing but I’d argue that it’s a critical difference in an economy where there are so many options for your clients and prospects to choose from, and one that can help you develop your BIG Diff to grow more profitable.

It’s a sign!

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I was walking up the street the other day when I saw this sign out of the corner of my eye.

It was 20 paces past before I registered what it said (yes, I’m slow) and it struck me such that I walked back to take this pic.

I don’t think it requires explanation, although I’m not sure why it made such as impact on me.

Great lesson for any business.

What’s your BIG Diff?

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As my first post, I think it only makes sense to talk about a topic that should be the first question every organization asks itself – what makes us different?

What is it that separates you from the crowd and helps you drive more profitability and growth?  Afterall, being different in a way that doesn’t drive the bottom line won’t pay your bills.  So, what is your big difference?

I’ve recently developed an acronym that helps me identify which of the many strengths a company possess should be the one(s) focused on to drive competitive advantage.  In other words, it answers the question of what is your company’s difference by saying it must be B.I.G. :

B = Brings value to your prospects and customers, as determined by them, and brings value to your company in the form of profits.  How many times have I sat through meetings where colleagues have arbitrarily identified things they think their customer wants without really knowing for sure.  And how many competitive advantages actually drive profitability based on the existing business model? Whatever your company’s “BIG Diff” is, it must hold value for your market and for you.

I = Integrated into your operations to ensure it’s lived everywhere and offered to your customers and prospects at every touch point, making it sustainable over the long term.  Your “BIG Diff” can’t just be your latest marketing campaign that’s fun and creative but has no bearing on how you actually run your organization – that’s easily copied.  It must be woven throughout your organization at every point as that is what will ensure it’s effectively delivered. Plus, the act of integration throughout the business makes it that much more difficult to copy.

G = Gets noticed and is provable.  If your difference isn’t noticed, it doesn’t matter.  And, if you can’t prove that it exists, or at least that you’re trying to create it, no one will believe it.  It must get noticed and be provable to be considered your “BIG Diff”.

And that’s it.  In order for your competitive difference to be considered the one that your company should focus on to drive bottom-line results, i.e., your “BIG Diff”, it must be valuable to your marketd, be able to be integrated into your operations, and noticeable and provable.

Start by answering that question and you’re on your way to making your dreams grow more profitable.