As nice as it would be to come up with something that is truly one of a kind, the simple truth is that the majority of "new" products and services already have several competitors in their niche. While you can certainly use your unique life experiences to help establish a competitive edge, the true key to success lies in how you differentiate your products.
The more crowded the marketplace, the more important differentiation becomes. Especially during economically turbulent times, your ability to stand out in positive ways will be key to your startup's continued growth.
Dive deep into a more specialized niche.
Each product is already a niche in and of itself. Whether you sell sunglasses, backpacks or baby clothing, you are already engaging in some form of niche marketing. However, you can find even greater success when you dig down into even more specialized sub-niches within your primary marketplace.
After all, there is a big difference between the backpack a wilderness hiker needs and the one that would be used in a business setting. Focusing on a specific market group may shrink the potential size of your customer base, but it makes it much easier to reach and appeal to the individuals within that group.
Niche specialization strengthens your brand authority and authenticity. It allows for more focused and cost-effective marketing. It also narrows the competition and gives you a price-setting advantage by focusing on the needs and interests of a potentially underserved market.
Offer value-added features.
One way to create added value for your products is to provide helpful features that the competition may have overlooked. This became especially clear during a recent conversation I had with Natalie Cox, founder of Māden.
Cox's company produces tote bags for women--a crowded niche. To differentiate their products, they came up with a design that featured top pleats and a half-dome shape, complemented by several interior and exterior pockets. The end result was a tote bag that made it easier for users to find what they were looking for simply by opening the purse and glancing inside.
The key to this and other successful added features is that they provide actual value to the customer. You don't have to dramatically reinvent the product. Even something as basic as offering "slim" or "extra large" sizing options that aren't available from the competition could make a difference for certain customers.
Differentiate with a meaningful cause.
Engagement in a social or environmental issue is a great way for your brand to make a meaningful difference in society, as well as make a positive impression with potential customers. A study conducted by Wunderman found that 89 percent of customers report being loyal to brands they feel share their values. Supporting a cause is a great way to show potential customers how your values align.
Just remember to follow Robbie Abed's advice when it comes to picking a cause: make sure it's one that logically aligns with your company. Choose a cause that you are genuinely invested in, rather than something that happens to be trending at the moment.
Finally, make sure you back up your support for a cause with meaningful action, whether that's through product or financial donations, special fundraising events, or something else entirely. Today's customers are remarkably perceptive and have little patience for lip service.
Provide consistent, quality customer service.
Your products are only one half of the equation in making your brand stand out. Strong customer support and valuable services will also make a significant difference in whether someone makes that initial purchase from you--and whether they choose to buy from you again in the future.
As just one example, surveys have found 45 percent of customers will immediately exclude products that come with additional shipping fees during an initial product search. Other areas that matter include warranty coverage, fast shipping, and hassle-free returns. Even a robust FAQ or online customer chat system can help alleviate concerns that might otherwise keep someone from buying.
Your goal should be to provide a consistently high-quality experience beginning from the moment a customer places their order. Even simple things like communicating shipping updates or ensuring a fast turnaround on support inquiries will help create a positive impression of your brand and its products.
Finding ways to differentiate your products may require some additional market research and tinkering with your product development and advertising. But as you successfully emphasize your uniqueness, you will be far more likely to find the customers who are most likely to become impassioned followers of your brand.