There is a lot written about creating Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) and offering unique products and services to your target market. But what if what you sell is a commodity?
By that I mean: what if you are prohibited (by law or by your head office or by some other force) to sell anything more than what is being offered by other competitors? This is one of the markers of a commodity — it’s a sameness between your offering and your competitor’s offering. (Another marker is a similarity in price regardless of who you buy from, although this is not always the case).
If you can’t change the product, how do you separate yourself so that your audience prefers you? Here are some ideas:
DO NOT COMPETE ON PRICE
I say this as much as I can: do not be the low-price provider! This is not a winning position for the long-term. You might gain marketshare in the short-term but you need to scale up to make it work. (Yes, some companies do try to be the low-cost provider and they make it work but I think it’s a short-sighted mistake).
There is one exception: If you have a lot of fees or add-ons, and if you’re able to, consider eliminating the fees. Customers resent the extra fees, which can feel like a money-grab. If you have to charge exactly the same as your competitor but you can do so without fees then that can be a powerful way to compete on price without actually competing on price.
OFFER BETTER SERVICE
Okay, let me be clear on this: I’m very, very reluctant to suggest to anyone that they offer better service because many companies fall into the trap of saying they offer better service but the end up offering exactly the same service. In general, I don’t think you should compete on service. However, I’ll make an exception: If you indeed give absolutely astonishing service that leaves your customer in tear then go ahead and compete on service. But be careful not to fall into the all-too-common trap of believing you’re giving great service when all you’re really doing is giving the same baseline service that all customers receive and expect.
OFFER A BETTER EXPERIENCE
This is sometimes lumped together with offering better service, and it is similar, but I’ll mention it here anyway because it can get overlooked: When possible, offer a better shopping experience. If your customer can get the same product or service anywhere, make it easy and attractive to buy from you. Make your shopping experience simple to transact but also enjoyable (and perhaps even fun, when appropriate).
If possible (again, there might be a legal restriction or head office restriction), provide extras. These could be low-cost or even no-cost add-ons that add value to the customer’s purchase. They could be another thing (such as another product), or they could be another service (such as helping the customer to bring the product home or assembling it for them), or they could be some extra bonus (such as great advice about how to derive more value from the product or service.
I think this is the most powerful and effective strategy of the ideas I’ve listed here. If you must offer exactly the same product or service as your competitor, consider specializing in who you sell it to. If your competitor is selling to just about anyone, it can be tempting to take a similar approach and try to sell to anyone as well. But you have the potential of attracting better clientele (and potentially more clientele), who pay a higher price, if you specialize. Specializing allows you to offer exactly the same product or service but to position it very differently. (As a bonus, your marketing can become more effective, too!)
END COMMODITIZATION NOW!
If your product or service suffers from commoditization, it can become frustrating as you play what feels like a zero-sum game with your competitor, trading less loyal customers back and forth depending on who happens to have the best coupon that month. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Embed these strategies in your business to add value to your product or service.