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Great guitarists and lessons for business

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In a recent conversation with my friend, colleague, and business author Andy Bass, I mentioned that he sounded a lot like Peter Frampton both in speech and as fellow guitar players. I actually clarified that further by saying they were both “great guitar players.”

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In a recent conversation with my friend, colleague, and business author Andy Bass, I mentioned that he sounded a lot like Peter Frampton both in speech and as fellow guitar players. I actually clarified that further by saying they were both “great guitar players.”

Although he appreciated the compliment, he stated he had a specific definition of what a great guitar player is. He said that great guitarists had their own unique sound that is distinguishable from others. When you hear a few bars, you know who it is. Legends like Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Angus Young, BB King, and select others. He added that there are very skilled players that do not necessarily have a unique sound and are, therefore, hard to pick out of a crowd.

In reality not everyone may like a particular guitarist’s style. These legends are not overly concerned as they appeal to their core fans and build their audience that way. When you consider the previous names, this is exactly what they all did.

As we discussed this further, I noted that this is similar to the challenge that businesses face. How do we get customers to know us, try us, and select us? Great business leaders know they will not have everyone as their customer. Steve Jobs didn’t want everyone to have a Mac computer. He wanted those that did get one to have the best tool available for what they needed to do.

The approach savvy marketers use to properly distinguish and position their products or services (referred to collectively as product offerings) in the minds of their ideal customers includes the following key steps.

First, you must understand why customers use your product and what is the most valuable benefit to them from using it. The reasons will be different for different types of products. Consumer products are often in highly competitive markets with international competitors. Look at the chocolate bar market and consider all the options when you walk down that confectionary aisle in the store. Certainly, taste is important. But people have various tastes. Some like sweet chocolate, others like dark chocolate. Some like nuts, and others do not. The key is to determine if there are enough people that prefer your particular product offering to create a profitable market for your company. Consider the highly successfully Snickers campaign “You are not yourself when you are hungry” that featured a unique value proposition with the promise to improve the customer’s sense of well-being. This approach was used across all media and Snickers achieved dramatic sales growth.

In business products, there are other considerations because many products are more expensive and not purchased regularly, such as information technology solutions. In these situations, companies selling to businesses really need to know their actual purchaser and any influencer within the company to understand what specifically drives them to select one product offering over another.

The second consideration is to determine how to differentiate yourself from other solutions. What is it that makes you special or unique and adds value to your customers? Bass notes in his book Start With What Works that one of the best ways to determine your true (versus imagined) value is to see what customers actually do and not just to accept what they say. It is not that people deliberately lie in research settings; it is that their statements often misrepresent what they would do in real life. In order to determine what the value truly is, you must observe the customer interacting with the product.

He also says that “businesses tend to play it safe and imitate their competitors.” This appears true for everything from on-hold messages when you call customer service to the general approach to advertising and sales collateral. Our question is, “Why would you want to be like everyone else?” Standing out in a crowded field is the position you want. Be noticed for what your product offering is, and the unique value delivered to your customer.

Finally, you need to articulate your position internally and externally. Customers need to have confidence in receiving the value they are looking for and that you are providing. Just like the great guitarists, you need to play to your most avid fans. This means your style and uniqueness is conveyed consistently and it is what your customers will know you for. This is an opportunity to be bold and proud when staking claim to your greatness. When someone hears about or interacts with your product offering, they will recognize you for what you are. There is no confusing you with the others that all sound the same.

Tim’s bits: This approach sounds simple enough and yet it is challenging to articulate a unique value proposition that doesn’t sound like everyone else’s. In this case, your unique position helps you stand out and be noticed because this is how customers choose. They want someone that delivers unique value to them and feels personal because you “get them.” This is fundamental to your winning game plan.

Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.

Tim Kist

Tim Kist
Columnist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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