Getting Ahead in a Crowded Market

It may appear that certain industries are so packed with competition these days that it’s hardly worth jumping in. But don’t let a crowded market deter you. Follow one simple rule you learned as a child and your business will get noticed and hopefully, get ahead.

“One of these things is not like the other…” It is a lesson Sesame Street has been teaching and helping shape children’s minds for decades. But it is the most forgotten lesson on the small business landscape today. Apply it to your business, however, and watch your sales skyrocket.

There are two common factors in all business today that pose challenging for business owners. They are the overwhelming list of product choices and the challenge to get the consumer’s attention in a society rampant with attention deficit disorder.

A Sea of Choices
Stroll down any supermarket aisle today in America and the choice of products is overwhelming.

Need some toothpaste? You can choose tartar control, whitening with peroxide, freshening gel, sensitive teeth, baking soda whitener, all day protection, tartar and whitening, cavity prevention and many other combinations.

Starting to feel sick? Try a pain reliever, fever reducer, decongestant, sinus or stuffy nose, day or nighttime, flavors cherry or orange, tablets, capsules or liquid, flu, cough and cold, and countless combinations. Which one to choose?

According to Emily Nelson’s, April 20, 2001 article “Too Many Choices—Nine Kinds of Kleenex Tissue, Eggo Waffles in 16 Flavors; Blame Brand Managers” in the Wall Street Journal, over 31,000 products were introduced in the year 2000. The average grocery store now stocks over 40,000 products. This product explosion has led to an increased choice selection for consumers which has led to a major dilemma for small businesses to stand out.

ADD for the Consumer Set
Welcome to the age of information overload. Information is everywhere and it is not in short supply. With the internet, hundreds of channels on the TV, magazines by the thousands and loaded with advertisements, information is raining down on people in a torrent. The most limited commodity out there today is not talent, information, ideas or products—it’s attention. The ability to catch consumers’ attention and hold it is a scarce commodity.

In this attention deficient, over stimulated society most businesses miss the point. They believe if they work hard and do a good job, customers will come. Therefore, they’ve missed the fact that their marketing is exactly like their competitions’. For instance, a scan of a New York advertising directory for hundreds of carpet cleaners produced the following taglines, messages or unique sales propositions:
• We Do It All
• High Quality Carpet Cleaning
• Choose The Best
• Job Done Right
• Experience The Difference
• No Job Too Big or Small
• Number 1 in Carpet Care
• Reliable Service

Hard to know which one to choose when they all seem the same. So what is the answer to this overcrowded market dilemma? Back to Sesame Street we go.

The lesson of “One of these things is not like the others…” taught us at a young age to look for patterns and to single out the unusual. The lesson for small businesses today, then, is simple: be different, stand out and that’s the way you’ll get noticed.

In the list of carpet cleaners, which one of these things is not like the others? Zero. How can a consumer with little attention and multiple choices make a decision? The answer is that, quite often, they don’t.

A small business has a great opportunity to differentiate itself among the crowd, and here are five tips on how:

• Survey the Landscape: Compile a list of competitors’
marketing taglines and key messages. Group similar messages together for a portrait of the competitive offerings. Be sure to include indirect competitors who offer your customers an alternative choice.

• Brainstorm: Bring together a small group of advisors to brainstorm on alternative market positions. Look for ignored customer needs and simple focused ideas.

• Research the Target: After you have narrowed down your choices to a select few market positions, research the target market. Select markets that are distinct, growing and large enough size to be profitable.

• Develop the Tagline: A tagline is your one sentence pitch that briefly describes what your business does and who it’s for. Make your message stand out.

• Solicit Feedback: Talk to actual customers in the market and key industry experts for feedback. Look for the WOW factor…as in, “WOW, we need something like that!”

So the lessons we learn in childhood even pay off today. Put your business and its marketing message through the Sesame Street test and see how you stand out. Remember lack of attention and unlimited choice does not have to be your enemies. Use them as fuel to get creative and think outside the box in order to solve specific needs in your company’s market, and you’re sure to reap rewards.