“You can’t sell sameness.”
This is one of my favorite quotes by former Coca-Cola marketing executive Sergio Zyman. Although Zyman has had his fair share of both successes and failures in the marketplace, you can’t deny that this quote holds a lot of merit.
You know how it goes: An innovative company develops a marvelous new product or service, which becomes highly visible and eventually profitable. Others start seeing dollar signs and decide to jump in on this cash cow. Before you know it, there are a lot of competitors coming out of the woodwork—seemingly all at once—all vying for the same customer dollars.
This situation doesn’t have to be a conundrum, but it does require some strategic creativity. Here are three tips for becoming a bigger fish in an already large pond.
1. Create Greater Perceived Value
While you “can’t sell sameness,” I’d like to modify that a bit: “You can’t penetrate the market with sameness.”
Think about it: There are tons of companies that sell virtually the same product. Many of them are merely treading water. The ones that are really able to penetrate their respective industries, exert influence, and see profits increase year over year are the ones who create an important differentiating factor.
Take a step back and look at your product or service. What does it provide that competing products don’t…or can’t? A great example of this is Curl Collection, a beauty subscription box targeting black women who wear their hair natural. Over the past few years, a large number of similar services have popped up, all targeting the same customer base. Most competitors provide a monthly subscription box that includes sample packets from a wide variety of haircare brands. Curl Collection, by contrast, successfully differentiates itself from its competition by providing a bi-monthly subscription of only full- size haircare products from a single brand partner. In doing so, Curl Collection provides an increased value to its customers by solely offering full-size items, providing their subscribers the opportunity to use the products repeatedly, and therefore give the featured brand a chance to impress them. Curl Collection also provides a unique opportunity to the brands they work with. Since only one brand is highlighted for an entire two-month period, their brand partners have a chance to market heavily to Curl Collection’s extensive subscriber list with zero interruptions during that time. Curl Collection provides a win-win situation for their customers and their brand partners, and as a result, has established a profitable, loyal following.
Action Item: Consider the chief differentiating factors you can market or build into your current offering(s) that will increase perceived value to your customers.
2. Build a Panel of Experts
As a former top level marketing executive for Fortune 10 companies, I know the following to be true: Consumers don’t trust brands. They trust people like them, people they admire, and third-party experts. Consider this: when Chrysler says it has the best cars on the road, do you believe it? Probably not. That’s what you’d expect the auto manufacturer to say. But what about when your car enthusiast friend or trusted mechanic recommends that you buy a Chrysler? Now, you might actually consider it.
The same goes for your company. Gathering a small, but trusted, group of experts who will organically vouch for what you offer can spell increased revenues for your brand. Let’s say your company makes organic foods in fun shapes for kids. A convincing panel of experts might consist of the following:
a.) A well-known parenting expert
b.) A trusted pediatric nutritionist
c.) A new celebrity mom (note: does not necessarily have to be an A-list celeb)
d.) Bonus: a small group of “kid taste-testers”
The best way to work this angle is to ensure that each of your experts has a large, influential following, particularly via social media. Combining their respective influence and reach can help propel your brand into the forefront of your industry.
Action Item: Contact three to five influencers related to your industry whose alignment with your brand would benefit both them and your company.
3. Position Yourself as a Thought Leader
The bottom line here is visibility. Today’s customers like to know who’s behind the brand. Putting an actual face to a logo can do wonders. Even more can come from it if you’re positioning yourself as a thought leader in your space, as well as related spaces. Author and creator of the Speak for Pay system, Marshawn Evans Daniels always says, “Speakers simply get paid more.” And she’s absolutely right. Tony Robbins, TD Jakes, Suze Orman, Les Brown…any of those names ring a bell? Believe me when I tell you that they have no problem selling their products and services.
Public speaking is one of the best ways to position yourself as a thought leader. This not only helps with building consumer confidence in you and your brand, but it ultimately drives sales. Anytime you go to an event, conference, or the like, the speakers always receive the most attention. I know from experience that when you’re a speaker, you don’t have to “work the room”—the room comes to you. And if you also happen to have your items for sale on-site, selling out of product is not uncommon. It’s one of the easiest sales opportunities.
Not only does this strategy help with on-site sales, it can also help your company obtain repeated media attention on both a local and national level. A great example of this is when I had the honor of winning the 2014 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition. I’ve said time and time again that being on that stage allowed me to not only pitch my company, NATURALICIOUS, to the judges, it also allowed me to pitch to everyone in the room. After winning the competition, I’ve had the pleasure of being featured on national news outlets and in several national print publications. I’ve received requests to speak at both local events and international conferences. Keep in mind that although my company manufactures natural and organic haircare products, I have been asked to speak on a number of topics ranging from how to successfully pitch for funding, how to build a business from the ground up as a mom, and, of course, healthy haircare. Since I am the face of my business, this has also helped to significantly increase both retail sales and the number of our wholesale accounts. These opportunities are due to a lot of hard work, as well as to increased visibility, the latter of which can come from positioning yourself as a thought leader in your space.
Action item: Consider the industry you are in and what opportunities are within reach for you to begin making yourself more visible on a consistent basis.
Gwen Jimmere is CEO & Founder of NATURALICIOUS, one of the fastest growing natural haircare brands in the U.S. She is the brains behind the revolutionary OooLaLocks Hair Box–the only all-in-one natural haircare system guaranteed to take you from wash to ready-to-style in 1 hour or less. A longtime, highly sought- after healthy haircare expert, Gwen is also a frequent keynote speaker and panelist on small business and entrepreneurship. Her natural haircare line is sold in select Whole Foods stores and other fine retailers across the country.