Comparatively Speaking: The Positioning Tell-All

When it comes to marketing, how you position your company in relation to your competitors can speak volumes about your business, and also set its course for success. Conversely, if not kept in check, how you speak about your business can deter prospects from becoming repeat customers.

That’s why in addition to marketing materials, many companies create specific language (sometimes an entire vocabulary) for staff to use when speaking directly with customers.

So how best to position your business against your competitors? Let’s explore a scenario.

The Lowest Common Denominator A customer walks into your retail shop — a chocolate shop, for example — and while the customer does enjoy the products, she raises a health concern over the way the chocolate is handled. One way you wouldn’t expect the shop owner to defend his shop is by saying,

Misguided, yes, but across many industries, from manufacturing to retail food to professional services, I’ve heard this rationalization used often. I understand the desired effect is to pump up the company as compared to a competitor’s poor practices, but this reply does little to instill confidence in the well-meaning customer’s eyes, and it certainly doesn’t build loyalty. Such statements are meant to deflect attention from the matter at hand, leaving the customer feeling empty, invalidated and, most importantly, perhaps unwilling to grant the business owner with repeat business. It’s essentially a distraction technique, and it’s not a good one.

Compare Up, Not Down Just as playing a sport with players who are better than you makes you work harder to play up to their level, business owners should make realistic comparisons that push them to get better and better at what they do.

Take time to think which companies out there have a mission statement that’s similar to yours or operations that serve as a model for your company; those are the businesses you should be emulating in your daily practices, in the tone of your marketing messages and in your interactions with customers. Telling people your establishment is “the neighborhood’s answer to Starbucks” is a respectable and easily understood comparison.

Decide on Your Differentiator So what can you, as a small-business owner, say to position your business, and how can you say it in ways that build up your business while remaining respectful of other establishments? You need to determine your differentiator — what sets you apart from the competition. Some common considerations:

1. Emphasize Your Value

If price is what sets you apart, then emphasize your affordability when speaking of your competition. And remember, emphasizing price doesn’t mean that your product or service lacks quality; perhaps you provide most of the value at a fraction of the cost. In downtown Harrison, Paul’s Cleaners, 368 Halstead Ave., is able to offer 30 percent less than the competition for quality service, and that is how they position themselves.

2. Emphasize Your Service

Perhaps you provide such exceptional service that the difference in price is well worth it. Say you’re looking to display a special photo or piece of art. If you go to your local picture framer — for example, Igor at Masterpiece Framing, 243 Halstead Ave. — you’ll pay more than if you were to pick up a cheap frame at Target, but the value is far greater. What you’re getting in return for your investment is the skill of a craftsman who takes great pride in finding your perfect look, as well as someone who stands behind every frame he sells, so you know your special photo will remain a treasure for all to see.

3. Emphasize Your Quality

Is there an aspect of your business besides price or service that sets you apart from the competition? Perhaps it’s a restaurant’s unique ambiance. Or it could be that your food is gluten-free, like 97 Lake in West Harrison, which also emphasizes that none of its dishes are frozen; every item on the menu is fresh and cooked to order. For many people, that will be the selling point that gets them in the door.

Talk Back Once you’ve determined what your value proposition is, you’ll be able to say it with confidence when speaking to customers about how you hold up against your competition. Give it a try, and e-mail me if you need help crafting yours!

Now get to it,



NOTE: This column was originally published in The Harrison Report. It is being reprinted here with additional photos.