Standing Out in a Crowded Industry

It can be a struggle to stand out from your competitors.  Especially in times of crisis, making your business memorable is critical to attracting and retaining customers.  Drawing on research from two of my favorite Harvard Business School Professors, Rohit Deshpandé and Frances Frei, we’ll explore examples of companies that are successfully standing out from the crowd.  Then I’ll offer ways I’ve helped my clients to do the same for their businesses.

Changing a Commodity into a Brand

Bikram Yoga built a unique brand out of an ancient art form.  Founder Bikram Choudhury developed a standardized series of 26 poses, and has now franchised over 5,000 studios worldwide, from Valencia to Oslo, Sydney to Rio.  You can get a yoga class anywhere, but their fans seek out a Bikram Yoga studio.

Boston-based Commerce Bank became the fastest-growing bank in the United States by being very clear on their unique differentiation.  Instead of following conventional wisdom and trying to offer the highest deposit rates, Commerce offered the worst deposit rates but the best service & convenience.  They are open seven days a week and offer newspapers, coffee, and other amenities.  They have attracted a very loyal group of customers for whom service is the most important thing.

Many Ways to Stand Out, but Choose Only One

How can other businesses learn from this to increase customer attraction and loyalty?  First, identify what makes your company unique.  Then, make this point of differentiation a focal point of your sales and marketing.  This way you build a brand that stands for your uniqueness.

In working with a wide range of small businesses, I have found many different ways to build uniqueness and to stand out.  Here are some strategies I’ve seen be successful.

  • Unique Customer Experience: Do customers feel different walking into your store or holding your product?  When you pick up a bottle of Voss water, you feel the difference immediately in their heavy, artfully designed glass containers.   And Voss charges USD 4 and up per bottle.
  • Lower Price: If it’s true and that’s what makes you stand out, make sure it’s clear!  The private label brand at the pharmacy says “compare to the name brand and save!”
  • Unique Service or People: Is your team just especially amazing to work with?  Commerce Bank’s staff is highly trained and much better compensated than its competitors.
  • Unique Process: Do you have a special way you work with customers?  Bikram Yoga developed a unique sequence of poses, and even got intellectual property protection for it.
  • Unique Story or Heritage: Is there a “why” behind your company that is unusual?  Or a great story about how the business came to be?  Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started HP while tinkering in their garage.

To stand out from your competitors, it’s critical to be crystal clear on how you are unique.  Successful businesses invest in strengthening this point of differentiation, even when it means reducing investment in other areas traditionally considered “necessary” in their industry.  By constantly communicating this uniqueness to your customers—in words and in actions—you will grow and retain a loyal customer base.


*Evan Horowitz empowers successful small businesses to grow faster.  His clients have a dream that’s bigger than their business experience, and Evan brings his experience: his Harvard MBA and 10 years running businesses as big as hundred-million dollar global businesses.  With Evan’s help, small business owners around the world have become smarter CEOs, and achieved much faster growth than ever before. Get more free business tips from Evan twice a month, by signing up on his website:


About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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