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Author Biography:

Stephanie Taylor Christensen  is a freelance writer who covers personal finance, career, health,and small business news. She is the founder of Indebtedless and Om for Mom prenatal yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter.@STCWriting or www.stephanietaylorchristensen.com



How Do You Stand Out From Your Competition
By Stephanie Taylor Christensen Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Setting yourself apart from the competition doesn’t require a significant investment, change in strategy, or earth-shattering product idea.  In fact, you’re already armed with most of the tools you need to start creating a brand identity that customers will notice, and remember. Here are few simple ways you can stand out from your competition.

Establish brand standards.  Brand guidelines help larger companies control the customer perception.. They ensure that a businesses logo, marketing messages, and the experience it provides customers online and off is reasonably consistent, regardless of where they shop, or what they buy. The more predictable these elements become, the more familiar they become to customers and prospects.  Assuming the customer perception is positive, this familiarity tends to breed trust, and ideally, brand preference.
 
Brand guidelines can help small business owners develop a recognizable and unique brand, too. This set of guidelines acts as an objective measure to ensure your brand presented consistently online, in print and email, in packaging and displays, and simplifies communications and expectations if you outsource any of your marketing functions. There will always be competitors who try to sell similar products, but your brand and what the customer perceives that it stands for is an asset you can leverage indefinitely.
 
Try these basic questions to create brand guidelines:
  • What two or three fonts work well with my logo?
  • What color/color palettes represent my brand?
  • What textures and materials help communicate the message behind my brand ?  (This can guide how you present your brand in festival booths, in displays, and packaging).
  • What kinds of photos, scents, lighting, and music capture the mood that supports my brand?
  • What language style captures the essence of my brand? (For example, is it casual, consultative/informative, formal, or conversational).
Tell your story. Every small business owner has a story. Tell it publicly, frequently, and consistently to make it a point of differentiation. Your business website, blog, social media, sales copy and product packaging are all venues in which to tell your story. These questions can help you share your story in a way that’s compelling, and identify product features and benefits that connect to it:
  • Why did I open my business?
  • What did I do before you had my own business?
  • What inspired the products I sell? 
  • Why do I genuinely believe they are superior?
  • Why did I choose my “niche” or product selection over alternatives?
Remember that stories aren’t just told in words: Your photos, displays, and even shopping bags are mediums you can leverage to visually share what makes you unique.
 
Invite your customer into your business.  Every person has creative ability, but not everyone gets the opportunity to create on a regular basis. Set yourself apart from the competition by educating your audience and helping them have a tactile creative experience they will remember. Kathleen Thometz of Doodle Art & Design says that very approach has helped her compete with larger paint and sip studios where each visitor paints the same picture. She differentiated her business by offering classes where each person makes a unique piece of art, though given the same materials. “I consider my self a guide, rather than an instructor; we focus on the process rather than the end product,” says Thometz. (You can use the same approach to build traffic to your booth at farmer’s markets, and craft shows).
 
Make your customers king. Most businesses say the customer comes first. But far fewer make an authentic commitment to customer experience that is apparently throughout their policies and procedures. Review your business from the point of view of your customer, and how a few small tweaks to your current process could become differentiators.
 
For example consider if your return policies are better than your competition, and whether store hours are based on those set by your competitors, or tailored to your customer’s life. If you capture the name and contact information for every customer you serve, do you put in the effort to make sure that they are 100% satisfied with their purchase after the fact with a handwritten note, or personal email? (If you don’t capture this data, why not start)?
 
Consider how minor shifts can help you stand out, while requiring very little investment on your part. From the vantage point of the customer, they could be the differentiator that causes them to return, recommend you to others, and support your business for the years to come. 


 
 
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