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How to Compete in an Industry of Sameness

How to Compete in an Industry of Sameness

By Katrina Olson

This morning, I showed my Marketing Planning Master Class students the slide below. It’s about how to segment your potential customers by behavior versus, say, firmographics, vertical industry or psychographics of buyers. Next, I asked them which type of buyer they’d least like to target in their marketing. What do you think they said?

You’re right—price-sensitive buyers! Nobody wants to compete on price because someone can always offer a lower price and get the sale. No matter who gets it, prices are being driven down, narrowing margins and cutting into profits.

How do you compete when you all sell the same, or similar lamps, bulbs, fixtures, and brands?

You must differentiate your company in customers’ eyes. Most distributors will say they have knowledgeable and/or experienced employees, outstanding customer service, an extensive range of products lines, millions of dollars of stock, and on-time delivery. As a result, none of these are really differentiators.

Your point of differentiation must be unique to your company, something no one else is currently claiming, and it must be backed up with real expertise, action, process, or culture. So it’s not a challenge to be addressed by marketing only.

Here’s how it works.

My husband always tries fixing things himself (and usually succeeds) before calling a repairman. And he almost always goes to Ace Hardware. It turns out Ace really is the place with the helpful hardware folks. It’s not just a tagline; it’s true.

Instead of hiring teenagers or students, our local Ace Hardware hires mature people who really know their stuff. They answer questions and solve problems; and they’ll even walk you to the right aisle for the product you need. Contrast this to big box stores where I’ve actually said, “I need batteries for my dog’s invisible fence collar and I’m in a hurry. So please don’t say, ‘If we had them they’d be in aisle 5.’ I really need you to tell me where they are, or help me find them.”

How does this apply to you?

What can you offer, do, and promote that’s truly different? Lighting distributors and manufacturers are ripe for differentiation. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Be the experts. Share your knowledge by writing a blog, authoring white papers, conducting research, or hosting educational sessions in LED, energy savings, connected technology, home networking or other topics that position your company and your people as experts.
  • Be easy to do business with. That means having smart sales staff, empowered employees, trained technicians, expert engineers, online ordering, time-saving services and anything else that makes contractors’ lives easier.
  • Be helpful. For example, offer comprehensive energy audits and calculate potential long-term savings for those who update to more energy-efficient lighting. Provide free on-site training for “complicated” products like IoT systems. Produce instructional videos demonstrating product installation, proper use, or anything else customers need help with.
  • Be the company that cares. Recently, Schneider Electric donated 3,000 portable LED lighting systems and 12,000 mobile power packs to Puerto Rico. Topaz Lighting was named ReStore Partner of the Suffolk County, NY Habitat for Humanity. Summit of Asbury, NJ donated $25,000 toward hurricane relief in Texas and Florida. Thousands more of you have supported worthwhile causes. People will remember your good deeds; and your efforts will also help you recruit millennials

How you differentiate your company depends on your culture, expertise, and resources—and your willingness to innovate and change. But when you identify what makes you unique, you give marketing a platform on which to build your brand and gain a competitive advantage.

Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, trainer/coach, and host of a monthly podcast called Market Boldly on iTunes and Google Play. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and writes a regular column called Marketing Momentum for tedmag.com. She can be reached at Katrina@katrinaolson.com or via her website at katrinaolson.com.


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