May 2015

It Pays To Be Different

2017-08-19T17:55:38+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , |


Differentiation has become one of those marketing buzz words we hear too often. So frequently, the term seems to have lost its meaning. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental concept.

I prefer the term “remarkability.” Doing the things that cause people to make remarks about you – literally being remarkable.

There’s a great quote in the book Do Purpose: Why Brands With A Purpose Do Better And Matter More. Author, David Hieatt wrote…

Be Remarkable.
(People Don’t Remember Average)

Let’s take a look at why being remarkable is so important and why it pays to be different.

You: Serving Customer Needs

So here you are… offering your product. Doing what you do well and providing customers what they want. Sales are high. Everyone is happy. You own the market for your product or service.

We’ll give that a happy check-mark.

It Pays To Be Different: Serving Customer Needs

You & Competition: Serving Different Customer Needs

Next, we have a situation where you provide customers Product A, and your competition is providing Product B. For example, you offer Italian food, your competition offers French cuisine. Sure, you’re both in the restaurant business, but catering to different taste preferences.

So, you both do well.
It Pays To Be Different: You & Competition Serving Different Customer Needs

What is interesting about this situation is that we have been experiencing a trend where – instead of being happy with specialization – brands are expanding offerings to try to take business away from the competition.

Olive Garden hops on the burger trend with an Italiano Burger. Dairy Queen serves a quesadilla. Subway offers “Flatizza” pizza. And, Taco Bell – not wanting to miss out on the morning daypart – offers breakfast including a waffle sausage taco.

It Pays To Be Different: Fast Food Bandwagon

I understand the concept of increasing sales by expanding offerings to appeal to a broader audience. But, if customers aren’t going to come to you for your specialty, they probably won’t be attracted by something that isn’t your core competency.

Copying your competition is the opposite of trying to be different and remarkable. These are bandwagon offerings – making you fit in, be more similar.

Few of us are running a business where we are the only provider of a particular product or service. We are offering things that are popular, and we’ve got competition.

(And, if you are the first to the market – and there is a demand – competition is coming.)

You & Competition: Same Product / Same Customers

Now we’re in a situation where the customer has a choice in getting what they want from more than one provider who does it well.

Customers have a choice between you and your competition. The result will be a reduction of your sales.

Hmmm? What to do? This requires a question mark in our diagram.

It Pays To Be Different: You & Competition: Same Product / Same Customer

So, now what?

The best way to attract customers and prevent them from going to your competition is by offering, being, or doing something different… To be remarkable and provide value in a way that your competitor isn’t and can’t.

Be The –EST, not the –ER

Let’s say you’re in the restaurant business. We recommend you find a way to be the –EST in what you do, not the –ER. Here’s an example.

Your competition…

  • Is fast.
  • They’ve got a menu that’s tasty.
  • They’ve got service that’s friendly.

You could make your business “-ER” by being…

  • faster, tastier and friendlier than your competition.

However, if you’re going to make the effort, instead of simply trying to complete what they do, you should beat what they do.

If you’re going to stand out and be remarkable, make yourself the…

  • fastest, tastiest and friendliest.

Being the –EST gets you noticed and differentiates you, from your competition, in the mind of your customer.

We’ll put a star in that spot!

It Pays To Be Different: High Differentiation

By being different, by being remarkable, you can differentiate yourself from the competition. You are no longer offering the same thing, and customers will be able to notice the difference.

So, being different truly does pay!

Oh, by the way… this article was first posted as an article in our free Sand For Your Inbox newsletter. Maybe you want to subscribe and get articles like this sent directly to your inbox?

September 2013

What Is Your Competition Doing?

2017-08-21T16:01:25+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , |

Do you know how well your business compares to your competition? More specifically, when it comes to how well you deliver Customer Service and Product & Service Offerings; how comparatively innovative you are?

Also, beyond your competition, how do you compare with others in your industry? Or, how well do you compare in these categories to any business?

I know… these are big questions.

If you do know these things, how do you know? First-hand knowledge? Or, are you relying on a hunch? What you’ve heard? Assumptions?

In this scoop of “Sand for Your Inbox,” we provide the ideas and tools to help your team gain that first-hand knowledge!

Gaining Competitive Insight

Bucket o' Sand IconThe best way to know the answers to any of these questions is to visit and experience for yourself. Be a secret shopper of your competition, and of your industry.

We recommend not only touring your direct competition, but also those who compete in the same category. For example, if you are a bookstore, your competition naturally includes other bookstores in your area. But, you also compete with any retailer who sells books. Don’t just compare your pizza place to other pizza places… Your competition includes all dining-out options.

Go beyond product offering to see how you compare with any other business customer service, in-store policies, signage, speed of service, consumer promotions, etc.

The Process

You and your team visit area locations or locations in a different market to “secret shop” the competition. Divide into small groups, take notes, and share findings with the rest of the team. Here is more detail:


  • Determine what topics/categories you want to explore. Service? Pricing? Product Offerings? Merchandising? In-Store Experience?
  • Create a list of locations that excel in a category.
  • Plot – on a map – a logical path for visiting these locations.
  • Use our suggestions (below) to create your own questions “What To Look For” when you conduct the visits.

Tour Day:

  • Depending on group size, assign topics and visit locations / take notes.
  • Teams return to your meeting point and spend time discussing findings. Prepare 5 to 10-minute presentation to share back to the entire group.
  • Regroup post-tour and discuss finding.

A Few Additional Tips:

  • When visiting, be respectful of the operators.
  • We don’t recommend going in large groups – it becomes too obvious you’re “shopping” their locations.
  • Be careful if you plan to take photos – many businesses get upset when people start using cameras in-store.
  • Make your notes outside and away from the location. Think of how you’d feel if someone was in your location with a clipboard and pen writing things down.
  • If you can afford it – expand the search to a region where you live… or anywhere in the country. Or, if you don’t want to limit your research and have the budget open up the world for this type of benchmarking.

What To Look For

Here are some starter questions and things to look for.

At Location Entrance:

  • Is the entry area clean and inviting?
  • What do you notice even before you enter?

First Impressions:

  • How’s the lighting?
  • Is there music playing?
  • Does the store feel welcoming?
  • Does someone greet you as you enter? Does it feel sincere? Welcoming?


  • What is the overall feel of the location?
  • Is it a place you would feel comfortable to linger – shop leisurely? Or do you get the feeling you’re being whisked through?

Product Quality:

  • Do the products look high quality?
  • If possible, buy and try – especially if it is food or drink related. From what you tried, was it as good as you hoped it would be?


  • How is the product – food, clothing, etc. presented? Does it look fresh?
  • High-end fixtures?Unique fixtures?


  • What do they use to indicate everyday offerings?
  • Pricing?
  • Are their menus slick printed, or handwritten?
  • Does the menu match the brand?
  • Are there specials? Limited time offerings? If so, how did they let you know?

Point of Service/Register:

  • What is the experiencing as you are served and pay for your product?
  • Was the person on the register friendly, nice, courteous?
  • Is the POS area clean or cluttered?

Social Media:

  • Can you tell if they use Twitter, Facebook, etc.? If so, how do you know? Check their social media sites? How many likes and followers?

Lasting Impression:

  • Would you bring a friend from out of town to this concept?
  • Is it a destination?
  • Was visiting this location a memorable experience?

We’ve attached a Store Tour guide we created and used with a client in Washington DC. It features specific locations in the Georgetown area.

The “best” practices you collect allow you to catch up with the competition is doing.  This is the “bar” your customers are using as rate good versus bad. When you catch up to the competition, you should create “next” practices. Next practices – raising that bar – will help make you the leader.

[Download Store Tour Example PDF, 2.2MB]

So, if you want to know how you compare to your competition there is no need for an assumption, check them out firsthand.