The marketing conundrum

You believe your business has myriad USPs. But is it really all that different? What you see as unique may be precisely the same as your rivals. Time for a rethink, contends Robert Craven

To be frank, traditional marketing is a modern version of the emperor’s new clothes – everyone points and marvels at how wonderful it is and we seem to invest a lot of time and money in marketing. But in general, the promised returns are not there.

To survive in today’s marketplace you need to do more than simply copy the competition – that is a recipe for mediocre performance. You won’t be remembered if you blur into just another provider who sells just another product or service.

Traditional marketing doesn’t work so well nowadays because it is a crude and bygone way of behaving. There was once a direct correlation between advertising spend and increase in sales. This is no longer the case. The returns on advertising are falling as a result of simple supply and demand. Too many products are chasing the attention of time-poor, lowattention consumers through an everincreasing number of media. The sums just don’t add up anymore.

Hero mentality

Trading on the old tag lines no longer works. If you and your competitors are competing on the strength of the usual banners (faster, smarter, better value), why should people bother to buy from you if you are all just the same?

Analyse your business and try to make yourself different on at least one signifi – cant criterion. It’s a question of the herd mentality. Zebras in a herd look the same – and are safe – when they run in the herd. Those animals that don’t run with the pack are the ones that are noticed, which usually means an untimely demise in nature, but in the business world means that you are more likely to catch a customer’s attention and make a sale.

Similarity is not a good thing. Or as Homer Simpson put it: “You know those balls that they put on car antennas, so you can find them in the parking lot? Those should be on every car!”

Stand out from the pack

One cause of this tendency for too much sameness – or too much safe differentiation between competitors – is an over-supply of participants. Just look at the management consultancy industry, where the barriers to entry are also relatively low.

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However, you might be perceived as different by customers if you have promoted something different; say, an ability to demonstrate one of the following:

… Fixed-price agreements

… A thought leader, a category authority, a prominent public-speaking profile

… A published expert, a new wave thinker

… A list of testimonials from recognised characters

… A real guarantee (money back or payment on results only)

… True innovation or thinking that defies conventional wisdom, even total honesty

It is time to figure out how to look different from, rather than the same as, the competition. This is not about cheap gimmicks but rather about offering your clients and customers something they value and can relate to.

Robert Craven is a keynote speaker, MD of the Directors? Centre consultancy and author of Kick-Start Your Business and Customer Is King. His new book , Bright Marketing ? why should people bother to buy from you?, is out now (?12.99, www.crimson He can be contacted at rc@ or on 01225 851044.

Are you different?

Most of your competitors? websites are at pains to demonstrate that they:

– Offer value for money and the best price

– Deliver contracts on time using recognised methods and approaches

– Employ well-qualifi ed, experienced people

– Are systematic

– Have a history of important clients

– Have exuberant but anonymous testimonials


You will be just the same as everyone else if you try to attract work by celebrating the same qualities as those touted by your competitors.

Robert Craven is an entrepreneur, businessman and author who has run Mastermind Groups and action-centred learning with Warwick Business School, Business Growth Programme and London’s Accelerated Growth Programme among others. His latest book, Grow Your Service Firm, is available now . He is managing director of The Directors’ Centre.



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