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Type your product or service into a search engine and you may get millions of results. The truth is, the market is oversaturated in some areas, such as finance, wellness and digital retail.
In these spaces, standing out is tough. Whether through lower prices, higher quality or simple convenience, you need to find ways to position your product as a better choice than others in the space.
Not sure where to start? Here are five strategies to differentiate yourself in a crowded market:
1. Know thy competition
All those search results aren’t completely bad news for you. Use them to your advantage by clicking on the top hits. They are, after all, your competition.
Research features, price points and return policies. Take note of branding and messaging. See if you can find information on their suppliers and procurement strategies. Scroll through their social media and pay particular attention to five-star and one-star reviews.
Anything consumers don’t like about your competitors is a chance for you to do better. Something your competitors do especially well is a base to cover in your products or services.
2. Carve your niche
Within every market is an infinite amount of niches. Some landscaping companies specialize in lawn care; within lawn care, some providers stick to either B2C or B2B services.
In a crowded space, it may seem like every niche has already been taken. If so, don’t try to compete directly; instead, create your niche.
Dating sites have done this well. VeggieDate debuted as a site specifically for vegetarians. Geek2Geek specializes in connecting proud nerds. Alikewise pairs people up based on their book tastes.
If you’ve already launched your product or service, this may require a pivot. Before investing in redevelopment, do your research. Is the niche large enough to support your company? What are those consumers’ pain points? Before diving in, make sure you can meet them profitably.
3. Narrow the channel
How is your product distributed? In some markets, complex supply chains mean products pass through a half dozen hands before reaching the end consumer.
Eliminating some of the middlemen will not only help you price your product more competitively but will also enable you to build tighter feedback loops with your customers. Do a thorough supply chain audit to look for steps you can cut out of the chain.
Some companies, like Tower Electric Bikes, eliminate middlemen altogether. Because the market for electric cruiser bikes is so full, Tower skips bike shops and ships directly to the consumer. While consumers do have to assemble the bikes themselves, they save money and get home delivery.
4. Establish your street (or online) cred
In a crowded market, credibility is everything. Consumers simply don’t have time to read up on a thousand different brands, so they choose the one they know and trust.
Building a credible brand is a marathon, not a sprint. Monitor your social media to see what customers are saying about your product. Read every rating and review you get. Pay attention to what customers like and dislike about your product, customer service, delivery and everything else.
When you see negative reviews, don’t get angry. Respond by making changes that address those concerns and highlight your best features. Being responsive will increase consumer trust and generate positive word of mouth around your brand.
5. Don’t just make a sale. Build a relationship
Another reason branding takes time? Building meaningful relationships with customers doesn’t happen overnight.
Creating real connections with customers is like cooking an authentic dish: The right ingredients — stellar customer service, a quality product and a dash of personalization, among others — must be combined appropriately and simmered patiently.
Even online and at scale, personalized products and services are possible. Shutterfly stands out among photo-printing sites simply by using an algorithm. After identifying photos with faces on the user’s phone, the smartphone app places them on products like mugs, which can be purchased directly in the app.
Whatever the density of your market, distinguishing your business from its peers is never a walk in the park. To encourage loyalty from old customers and to help new ones choose you, do your homework.
Use what you learn to perfect your product and outpace your competition. That’s good advice for any business, but in a crowded market, it’s the secret to success.