By Katrina Olson
A doctor specializing in physical therapy and rehabilitation runs a clinic in a small, rural town. She also provides routine medical care and operates a gym in the same building.
Seven miles away in the larger town is another clinic. It’s part of a vast health care system with 400 physicians and thousands of support staff, plus three more locations in town and 14 clinics in outlying communities.
Patients call a scheduling center to make appointments, often waiting up to 45 minutes before reaching a live person. They schedule three to six months out for routine appointments. When you arrive, you use a kiosk to check in (or wait in line for a real person).
By contrast, the rural clinic’s staff personally greets patients, promptly answers the phone and offers patients a reduced rate on gym membership. Visitors to the gym are cheerfully greeted by Mary Ann who works on craft projects at her desk.
These two businesses have very different brands. The large healthcare system’s vision is to provide world-class health care through an integrated delivery system incorporating technology, research and highly qualified physicians.
Obviously, the small clinic cannot compete on the same playing field but has its own strengths. The staff is friendly, scheduling is easy, parking is close, wait times are short and care is extremely personal. They know their patients by name. They know whose kids play football and whose are in band or theater.
Further, many of the small town’s residents are older and work at physically taxing jobs like farming, trucking, nursing or manufacturing. Staying physically healthy is vital to their livelihood. And they expect their doctor to understand that and not make them wait for months when they have a problem.
What does health care have to do with electrical distribution or manufacturing? Not much—but this example can teach us about branding.
Every business must have a competitive advantage to survive.
That advantage can be based on anything you do better than the competition. For example:
Are your people uniquely talented, qualified, personable, or customer service oriented?
Is your corporate culture particularly innovative, positive and accepting of change? Or is it just a fun place to work or visit?
Do your processes enable you to work more quickly, efficiently or with fewer frustrations than your competition?
Does your company have proprietary knowledge that would be difficult for the competition to obtain? Can you continue to improve on that knowledge to sustain an advantage?
Do you have unique technology that supports innovation, production and customer relationships?
Do you own unique capital that no one can easily access such as a great location, patent, raw materials or a large fleet of delivery vehicles?
People care about a company’s impact on the environment and many will choose to do business only with those that act in an environmentally friendly manner.
Sometimes your competitive advantage can be very simple, like offering no-questions-asked returns or Saturday delivery. For distributors, services like kitting (packaging various materials by room, area, floor or assembly), advanced technical support, or an accessible electrical engineer may provide an edge because it shows they’re willing to go the extra mile to make the contractor’s job easier.
Maryland-based CapitalTristate offers a Spanish language hotline to provide better ordering and technical support to their contractors with Spanish-speaking employees. Now that’s going the extra mile!
What do you do better than your competition? Think about how you can highlight your strengths and turn them into a competitive advantage. And if you’re not sure, ask your customers. There’s a reason they keep coming back to you. Find out what it is, leverage it, and build on it to reinforce your brand.
Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. She can be reached at Katrina@katrinaolson.com or via her website at katrinaolson.com.
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