All Else Being Equal . . .

Question: Competition is tougher than ever. What is the most effective way to be different?

Answer: You have certainly asked the right question. Whether we are selling a product, a service or looking for a job, the key is differentiation. Think for a moment about great companies in America today and how they are different. Walmart is known for huge selection and low prices. Nordstrom is a champion of customer service but sells at a higher price point. TOMS Shoes donates one pair of shoes to a needy person for every pair of shoes a customer purchases.

Identify your niche and figure out how you can be the absolute master of that niche. But don’t stop there. Make sure that everything about your company, your product/service and about you – is reflective of this mastery. Allow me to share an example. One of our companies acquires, owns and operates apartment communities across the country. Buying apartments is a very competitive business these days. We have chosen to focus on purchasing properties that were initially developed using affordable housing tax credits. There aren’t as many buyers for this type of property due to the complexity of the tax credit program. We have become known as a buyer that understands the program and will pay a fair price.

We’ve taken the niche a step further. We market extensively to prospective apartment sellers and have attempted to be just as unique about the way we go about doing this. We don’t use e-mail – everyone does that now. Instead we send personally addressed high-quality marketing materials via snail mail. Our kick-off piece was a gold cardboard tube that contained a cover letter and a black velvet bag. Inside the bag was a gold dollar coin with a message saying, “Consider this to be a down payment on a profitable relationship.” Every three weeks an announcement of an apartment acquisition is sent to our prospective sellers. And one of our associates makes follow-up phone calls every 60 days. Believe me it is having the desired effect.

Here’s the takeaway. Do your homework and find that area in which you can specialize. Get creative and devise unique ways to deliver your message. Remember that those who win are able to convey a value proposition that resonates with their customers (or prospective employers). Above all remember that life is about making a difference in the lives of others. From an entrepreneurial perspective, those who follow through and truly make a difference will prosper.

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