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Winning Strategies

Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses: How to Differentiate Yourself

How do we stand out in a crowded space?

It’s perhaps the oldest marketing question of all time. OK, maybe not, if we’re going back to the days of bartering in quaint villages along the countryside – Yes, I’ll take two sheep in exchange for 50 pounds of salt please – there probably wasn’t much competition!

But, ever since the dawn of the Industrial Era, businesses of all stripes have been asking themselves how they can get noticed. Thanks to modern technology, and the widening of competition from here to Istanbul, companies are still asking themselves the same question (albeit, slightly modified): How to differentiate yourself online?

Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

Upon first inspection, one would think this was a horrible thing. If you had a hard time competing against two or three well-known competitors in your area, how are you going to do with 22 or 23? But here's the thing: The Internet has evened the playing field more than ANY other time in history.

Got a million dollars to throw at an advertising campaign? OK, great.

Got $20,000? OK, great.

Got $200? OK, not as great... But you can do something with that!

No matter your budget, you have easy access to the same tools used by the world’s largest companies to get your message in front of prospects: Websites, social media, SEO-optimization, Online Analytics, etc. It’s an incredible thing, really!

The key to maximizing such reachability? Changing the way you think about competition online and moving from – “How can I stand out from the competition?” to “How can I be more myself and forget about the competition entirely?” Put simply, standing out begins with creating a Unique Value Proposition (UVP) and developing a clear brand voice.

Your UVP and brand voice should be emphasized in everything from your user experience to your content marketing strategy to your customer service and everything in between. Let’s break these definitions down:

UVP: The succinctly summarized core message or brand promise you want to be associated with.

Brand Voice: The consistent tone, personality and subject matter communicated by your business through written, visual and verbal means.

UVP + Unique Brand Voice = Differentiation

OK, let’s discuss how to create that memorable UVP and how to begin developing a brand voice unique to your small business so you can hopefully stop Googling “How to differentiate yourself online?!”

How to Build a Memorable UVP

The reality is very few businesses truly sell unique products or services: Hardware stores, sporting good stores, air conditioning installers. Even B2Bs are fairly standardized in their offerings: SAAS, manufacturing, consulting. But that doesn’t mean such businesses can’t be unique unto themselves.

Creating a memorable UVP begins with the remembrance of a forgotten truism – people don’t do business with companies; they do business with the people behind them. Even the largest enterprise is nothing without the founders and team behind it. Conversely, your customers aren’t just faceless prospects; they’re people with unique motivations, needs, and concerns.

Thus, an original UVP will come from a). An honest assessment of your company values and b). A clear understanding of your customers. You can begin by asking yourself the following:

  • Why was this company founded?
  • What aspect of the business do I most enjoy?
  • What are the top 3 values we as a company hold?
  • What ONE thing can we potentially do better than anyone else?
  • Why do our repeat customers continually do business with us?
  • What is our target customer’s primary concern or goal, as related to our offerings?

Once you’ve answered the questions, you can begin looking for patterns that emerge. Continue by refining that one defining pattern, or customer promise, into a succinct, repeatable message. It should be broad enough to expand upon, but specific enough that it differentiates your company from competitors.

How to Develop a Stand-Out Brand Voice

Again, your brand voice is the defining factor of your content marketing strategy. In addition to the overall feeling, vocabulary, and cadence you communicate with, your brand voice IS the stories you tell. If you haven’t already, begin maintaining a master document of brand characteristics. It should include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • The tone of voice (i.e.,. folksy with a Texas twang to conversational corporate boardroom).
  • Adjectives used to describe company culture (IMPORTANT: Do NOT make this up. If you don’t think your company culture is appealing to begin with, it’s time to regroup).
  • Examples of appropriate cultural references that will be appreciated by your target customers.
  • Examples of personal, company stories that illustrate brand values and promises.
  • The primary questions and concerns prospects come to you with during each stage of The Buyer’s Journey.

Once you’ve organized your answers into Editorial Guidelines, you’ll want to provide copies to your writers, staff and anyone else who will be representing your company. Refer, refine and edit often.

How to Incorporate Them Into Your Marketing

Finally, you’ll want to begin incorporating your UVP and brand voice into your marketing materials so you can begin differentiating your small business online. This includes:

  • A professionally designed Website with a user experience that supports your brand persona.
  • Clear copywriting that emphasizes your UVP and company values.
  • Topical content marketing materials that use on-target language, illustrative examples, and unique company stories.
  • Blog articles, white papers, eBooks, email newsletters, videos, slideshow presentations and other forms of content that ALL exemplify the same brand voice and UVP.

As you’ve probably guessed, there is no one formula on how to differentiate yourself online. But it is something that can be done regardless of industry, competition or experience level. The Key Takeaway: Focus less on what the competition is doing and more on consistently creating your own unique messaging for your ideal customers!

Free Ebook: Climbing the Inbound Marketing Mountain

Written by Ryan Scott / February 25, 2016

is the Inbound Marketing Artist at Lean Labs. His marketing experience ranges from colleges to SMBs, and tech startups. When not marketing, he's sure to be enjoying something nerdy.

Articles by Ryan Scott