What is Your Secret Sauce?

Does your business have a special something that sets it apart? A ‘secret sauce,’ so to speak, that no other competitor can claim? It should, if you hope to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Here’s how to go about finding your true differentiator.

But First, What It’s Probably Not: Two Differentiator Myths

It’s Probably Not Your People
Unless you’re hiring Nobel Prize winners or superheroes, your key differentiator is not your people. Sure, they’re great – you hired them after all – but if you hadn’t, a competitor would, making your differentiator theirs, which simply doesn’t add up.

People move from job to job and employees come and go. Some are better than others, but for the most part they’re the same – and hanging your hat on an employee base that’s homogeneous across your industry isn’t enough. Does it sound good to say your people are the difference? Absolutely. Is it a true differentiator? Not necessarily.

It May Not Be Your Service

Do you keep your doors open past closing time to take care of straggling customers?

Do you set a plate of cookies out for clients to munch on? Do you go out of your way to deliver on time and on budget? Guess what – your competitors are doing this, too, all in the name of good service.

To really differentiate with service, you’ll have to work harder to make the claim stand out. Whether it’s a 24/7/365 call center, a triple your money back guarantee or something else, it has to be memorable and meaningful. When Jimmy John’s offers ‘Subs so fast, you’ll freak,’ then serves you your sandwich in less than two minutes, it’s an unparalleled service claim you can literally sink your teeth into.

Now For What It Should Be

It’s Something Everyone Does, Only Different

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the personal computer. In fact, there were several competing manufacturers that could easily out-produce Apple back in the early days of home computing. What Jobs did, however, was to focus on the design aesthetic to deliver machines that were truly different. From the shape to the icons, Apple products looked like nothing else, inspiring a following that’s still growing and going strong.

Have you thought about your differentiator? Some high-profile examples to look for inspiration include:

Krispy Kreme: They took transparency to new and delicious heights simply by making the machinery visible. The result? Nearly exponential growth before the recession.

Aldi: One of the few grocers that truly differentiates by price, they’ve succeeded with a Spartan approach toward staffing, merchandising and some nifty deposit carts.

Nike: Attitude was – and still is – this sportswear manufacturer’s differentiator that implores competitors of all ages and skills to ‘Just do it.’

It Has Be True

Differentiators that are forced or faked eventually lead to failure. If your restaurant plans to differentiate with ‘farm to fork’ dining, everything from the peas to the pork chops better come from nearby providers. If American made is your differentiator, using parts that come from China will undermine your credibility.

Your Secret Sauce Litmus Test
Once you’ve landed on a differentiator, ask yourself these questions to see if it really fits. One, is it different? Two, is it believable? Three, can my business deliver? If the answer is ‘yes’ to all three, your secret sauce is ready.

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