How to Flatten Your Competition

flatten your competition

Every business, big and small, has competitors, and we all want to beat them.  But what if you didn’t have to?  What if you could learn how to flatten your competition; to even make them irrelevant? That way, it wouldn’t matter what they did.

Here’s how competition usually works.  Each year, the big TV networks compete with each other to get higher ratings during “sweep” periods. They use “stunt-hosting” to pull in more viewers to their respective morning news shows.  They’re fighting over the claim to “most popular” show.

Does any of this really matter to their viewers?  Is the show more interesting? Has all that effort, and money spent really gained them anything (other than bragging rights)?

Carmakers spend millions of dollars each year on ads, trying to outsell each other.

Do the cars and trucks last longer?  Or get better mileage? Do their customers (and non-customers who are bombarded with all these ads), feel better about the companies?  It’s old-fashioned interruption marketing — lots of money spent, plenty of annoyed viewers, and not much human connection.

How to Flatten Your Competition

Instead of trying to beat the competition, why not ignore them entirely.  Do something they can’t (or won’t do). Offering something unique, or a solution that solves a tough problem can help you stand out from everyone else.  If you’re known for a speciality, clients will seek you out.

For example, circus attendance is declining, but Cirque de Soleil is thriving. Why? Because they ignored the traditional circus audience of children and went after adults and corporate clients instead.  Their shows are definitely not for children, and they charge much higher prices than traditional circuses.  Since there is no other “adult” circus, they have no competitors to worry about.

Make a You-Shaped Hole

Remember watching Bugs Bunny cartoons?  Every time Bugs went through a wall or a solid object, he left a Bugs-shaped hole.  Take a tip from Bugs (and Cirque de Soleil) and create something that’s unique to you.

Be the writer who creates annual reports that look like infographics.  They’re easier to read, more fun, and remarkable.

Or, be the photographer who travels the world solely on airline mileage points, and then teach other people how to do the same thing.

Do something unique, over the top, or simply remarkable (how about late-night fresh chocolate chip cookie delivery?), and your competition won’t matter.  They’ll simply be irrelevant.

Master One Thing

Develop expert knowledge on a particular subject that people will pay to learn or have done.  Pick something that you care about, that you could talk about all day.  Gary Vaynerchuk loves wine, and found a way to talk about it that was obvious (in retrospect) but unique.  He never mentions “nose” or “finish” or other technical wine terms, he talks about wine in ordinary language that consumers use (not the language of wine experts).

There is a woman who has a coaching practice focused solely on helping pet sitters to grow their businesses.  She helps pets sitters only, not babysitters, not plumbers, not web developers, just pet sitters.  She has mastered that one service for a particular group of people.

Become a Partner, Not a Vendor

Another way to do this is to become an essential partner with your clients, rather than just a vendor.

If you help them with their business strategy, listen carefully when they talk to you, and above all, be helpful, they will start to regard you as a key part of their business success, rather than another expense.

If you think they’re making a mistake, tell them, even if it costs you money.  For instance, I had a client who wanted to do a large mailing from a list he had accumulated over time.  I would have made money writing the sales letters, but it was a mistake.  The list was no good and the mailing would have wasted his money.

I talked him out of it. Yes, I lost that particular project, but I gained more trust from my client.  And, it was worth it to both of us.

The competition didn’t matter much after that.  I was his trusted advisor.





5 Lies About Niches That Everyone Thinks Are True

Truth lies

Image via Wikipedia

There are a lot of misconceptions and untruths about niches.

Sometimes, it’s a question of not understanding what a niche really is.

Other times, it’s a bit of bravado.  Some of the biggest lies:

“Having a niche will kill my sales; look at all the business I’m ignoring.”

Actually, the opposite is true.  Once you specialize, you’ll become known for that specialty.  People and businesses will seek you out, because you’re now a recognized expert in that field.

You can also use that specialty to cater specifically to your chosen market.  For example, if you’re an expert on organizing, rather than trying to help everyone, focus on busy  moms.

Then adjust your schedule, and  your services accordingly, offering appointments during the early morning, when the kids are in school.

“It’s OK to combine two different businesses, like office supplies and fitness, under one website.”

Mashing two entirely different businesses together will just confuse your clients and customers.  People who want to exercise have completely different needs and wants than people who need to buy copy paper.

If  you want to run two businesses, set up two different websites.  Actually, better yet, start one, get that going, and then worry about the second one.

“We don’t need to specialize, everyone will want our product.”

This one is astonishingly persistent.  I’ve heard it from software companies, business event planners, pet food producers, you name it.  When you love what you do, or what you sell, it’s easy to think that everyone will want it.

That isn’t necessarily true though.  If that software is written in Chinese, it’s useless to people who don’t speak Chinese.  Yes, many large businesses use event planners, but most small businesses won’t.

You’ll have better luck targeting specific people, or setting your services apart in some way.  How about an event planner who understands both logistics and marketing/budgeting?  Or who specializes in exotic destinations for corporate meetings.

“I’ve got a big list of names, from several career changes, I can earn lots of money from it “

A large, random group of people who you’ve met over the course of several years isn’t a niche marketing list.  If you’ve changed careers or industries from selling accounting software to producing handcrafted guitars, not everyone on that list will necessarily be interested.

In order for a list to be profitable, they’ll need to have something in common, a need for your services (you solve their problems), and the money to pay for them.

“The more I offer, the better. I’m going to branch out.”

There’s a store near me that offers tech support services (fix your PC, troubleshooting and so on).  They also have a sign saying they buy and sell gold.  It doesn’t really make sense, does it. Those are two entirely different areas of expertise.

Figure out what your market wants, and stay with it. Only add something if it complements what you’re already doing, say PC services and Mac services.  Think about it this way, would you go to a fitness expert for brain surgery?  Or would you go find a neurosurgeon?

Marketing and the Salad Dressing Rule

Thousand Island Dressing on a plate of salad. ...

Image via Wikipedia

I just read about this today on the Well-Fed Writer blog (seems appropriate, doesn’t it).

The salad dressing rule means that when you’re marketing salad dressing, you first look for people who already enjoy and appreciate a fresh, crisp salad.

You ignore anyone who hates veggies, frowns at salad and would much rather eat a Big Mac and fries.

Market to the people who want you

Spending a lot of time and effort selling snowshoes to Arabian desert dwellers is a waste of effort.

Selling design services or writing to people who don’t see the value in those things is also a waste of time and effort.

Instead, focus on those who do appreciate (and understand) the value that strong writing skills brings to a project — sometimes literally.  If you write strong ad copy for example, your architect client may earn more money from her ad than if she wrote it herself. Make sure to point that out.  If she doesn’t agree that professional copywriting is important, she’s not the right client for you.  Move on to someone else.

Why your dressing is the best (for them)

Once you find people who already like salad, then you have to make it clear why they should buy your dressing, rather than someone else’s dressing.

What do your clients want from salad dressing anyway?  What’s important to them (not you, them)?

Do they want the freshest possible dressing?  Make yours daily (and tell them that).  Or, are they concerned about pesticides or artificial ingredients?  Point out that yours is organic.

Why do people who already buy your dressing like it?  If you’re not sure, sit down and think about it.  If you’re still not sure, talk to some clients and ask them.

Of course, unless you actually sell salad dressing, your real clients are more likely to be concerned about earning more money, having less stress, or doing something hard more easily.  Find out what most worries them, what keeps them up at night.  Then structure your product pitch to solve those problems.

Once you’ve done that, go have a nice salad. 😉

Why Your Marketing Needs More Chocolate

Hersheys Chocolate

Image via Wikipedia

Chocolate! The best food ever (closely followed by cheesecake, roast duck, and fettucine alfredo).   Chocolate was once very, very expensive.  Only the upper-classes could afford it.

Then Milton Hershey came along and figured out a way to make it cheaply.  His chocolate tasted different than the old world brands, but it was cheap.  People bought it and people ate it. It was “the chocolate” around here.

Chocolate goes upscale

Now, of course, we have Green & Blacks, Dagoba, imported Dutch chocolates, and Amazon to bring us single plantation chocolate, higher cocoa content chocolate, imported chocolate and on and on.  New kids on the block can distinguish themselves by being organic, completely over the top (Max Brenner, or, my favorite, Michel Cluizel – which flies chocolates in regularly from Paris).

Why chocolate on a marketing blog?

Well, one I have a craving for it.  But more importantly, it shows how companies in a crowded field, or an industry that was ordinary, can stand out and differentiate themselves. Change the packaging, change the contents, make it harder to find, easier to find….

Copy the chocolatiers and make your business stand out

How do you stand out from other designers or writers?  Are you faster?  Slower? Do you make your illustrations by hand with pen and ink? Or work wonders with Photoshop and Illustrator?

Not everyone wants to (or can) pay $5 for a chocolate bar.  Likewise, not everyone will appreciate the value of a hand-drawn one-of-a-kind blog header.  Some will (those are your tribe).

How do you stand out?

Share your strategy in the comments.  Or, ask for feedback.


When I was a kid, my dad would buy imported Dutch chocolate shaped like little wooden shoes.  Haven’t seen them in years.  Does anyone know where to find them in the US?

Are You Marketing Backwards?

Da Vinci notebook
Image by tiny_packages via Flickr

We all know that Leonardo da Vinci wrote backwards, though nobody knows exactly why.

It may have been to keep his work secret, or because he was left-handed (and writing that way was less messy).

Doing things backwards worked for Leonardo, but it’s not a good idea for your marketing.

Is your marketing backwards?

I was just reading this blog post in the NY Times by Jay Goltz.  He owns a picture framing company and his team was doing some sales planning for next year. They were trying to think of some ways to increase business.

A brainstorming session about a hypothetical 100 people in the area who needed framing, but went elsewhere, came up with the following possibilities :

  • “5 percent used us and for some reason decided they didn’t want to come back (we have a very high repeat and referral rate).
  • 25 percent are loyal to another frame shop and have no reason to leave.
  • 20 percent consider us too expensive.
  • 50 percent don’t know about us.”

Self-focused marketing is looking the wrong way

So, they decided to increase their advertising to get the word out. Obviously, this isn’t scientific, and the author readily admits that.  However, there’s another, bigger issue.

Say they spend more on ads, radio, adwords or whatever. Now more people know they exist. Is that enough?

Do you buy from the place you heard of (along with all the other places)? Or, do you buy from the place that’s remarkable? That treats you differently or offers something the other framing stores don’t?

There are lots of places near me (this store isn’t one of them), but no particular reason to choose one over the other. It’s a commodity. I have something I’ve been meaning to frame, and when I do, I’ll just pick one.

They were focusing on themselves, not their clients

They were looking in the wrong direction. They stopped and asked themselves how to get more sales, and their solution was focused inward – we’ll advertise more!

They never asked what the customer might want, such as pickup and delivery of large paintings or faster service. Neither did they focus on building a niche – maybe focus on museums (large, high-quality frames) or hotels (mass frame purchase).

What if the experience was special or unique in some way?

Like this dry cleaner (apologies in advance for the forced commercial; Seth Godin fans look closely at 1:55).

The reason that Hangers Cleaners is doing so well is that they made it convenient and made it fun with silly signs and t-shirts. How many silly dry cleaners have you ever seen?

Marketing forwards (outwards and toward the customer has led this company to improve its revenue, while its competitors are losing money.

Which way are you marketing?