A digital marketing expert on how to make your business stand out from your competitors

And see how business icon Richard Branson also makes use of these strategies


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What makes you truly different?

In an increasingly competitive business landscape, it is the business that is able to capture the attention of its customers ahead of its competitors that stands a chance at success.

Your customers, both current and potential, should be able to immediately tell what your business does, what your brand stands for and what they can get from you that they cannot from any of your competitors.

To find an example of how being different and doing things differently can play a significant role in your success you need to look no further than one of the most famous entrepreneurs around, Richard Branson.

The Virgin difference

One of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world, Branson is seen as a business icon by many entrepreneurs, trailblazers and rockstars. He is the founder and chair of the Virgin Group and, according to Business Insider, has overseen approximately 500 companies, with his brand currently on somewhere between 200 and 300 of them.

Virgin's focus on aspects such as pricing and service has differentiated the business from its competition so much that the company has been able to set itself apart to become one of the leading brands in the world today.

"Don't bother doing something unless you're radically different from the competition," Branson says.

What does it really mean for a business to differentiate itself

Differentiation comes from a business that understands it's industry and its clients so well that it is able to focus on the things that really matter, says Mike Saunders, founder and CEO of DigitLab, a digital marketing agency.

"Differentiation has less to do with slogans and tag lines and more to do with developing a product and service matrix that meets your customer's unique need," says Saunders, an expert in digital customer experiences.

Saunders is also an international speaker, and has worked with organisations such as Vodafone, IBM, Microsoft, KPMG, Norton Rose, Mr Price, Toyota and Exxaro.

Any business that differentiates itself in a manner that can be copied, in definition will lose it's differentiation, says Saunders.

Saunders shares 5 strategies you need to follow this year to make sure that you differentiate your business from the rest and how Richard Branson used these strategies to turn his business into a global giant.

1. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS - Understand why they have chosen you above your competitors.
Learn from Richard Branson: Thinking like a customer is the first step, says Branson in a recent column for online news portal, The Star Online

Tackling the challenge of winning over consumers is one of the toughest and most fulfilling tasks for many entrepreneurs and in the race to make profits, companies often overlook their customers' needs, he says.

"The first thing to do is put yourself in your customers' shoes. Entrepreneurs should focus on what potential customers care about most as this will help you to find an edge," Branson advises.

2. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES - Understand why they chose to work for you as opposed to any other business.

Learn from Richard Branson: "It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy," Branson says in an interview with Inc. president and editor-in-chief Eric Schurenberg.

The formula is very simple, Branson says, happy employees equal happy customers. Similarly, an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers.

"If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile," Branson says. This is why, he says, Virgin prioritises employees first over everything else, customers come second, and shareholders third.

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3. ANALYSE YOUR INDUSTRY - look for gaps that no one has yet filled and align those with the information gathered from your customers and employees
Learn from Richard Branson: In an interview with founder of entrepreneurship magazine Foundr, Nathan Chan, Branson says that first and foremost a successful business must have a sound knowledge of its market and work on how its product or service will be different, stand out and improve people's lives.

"If you can ensure it responds to a real need out there in the market place, your business can punch well above its weight," he says. 

Writing in his company's blog, Branson says what routinely fools a Goliath (larger incumbents) is when, instead of going after their market share, someone instead goes out to create a whole new niche market.

"When someone arrives on the scene with a hybrid product that they cannot pigeonhole – as was the case with the biblical David's slingshot – it can cause massive confusion in the enemy's ranks. Virgin Atlantic really muddied the equation by arriving on the side of the field with a product that was every bit as good if not better than our giant competitors' first-class product and streets ahead of their distinctly mediocre business classes."

4. INVEST IN CULTURE - Lasting differentiation starts on the inside of a business.
Learn from Richard Branson: "People are fundamental in driving the success of a business. If you treat your staff like the smart and capable adults they are – and give them a choice to make informed decisions – you will cultivate an environment in which everyone can flourish," Branson says in a blog post.

"The key is working out what's best for the team and creating something unique in order to be able to deliver even better performance. Offering something that will set you apart from the competition can be your greatest asset, especially for new companies trying to break into competitive markets," he writes in a LinkedIn Influencer post.

5. INNOVATE - The best differentiation opportunities don't exist in the market yet.
Learn from Richard Branson: We are all capable of innovating, and should be encouraged to do so whenever possible, Branson says in another post on Virgin.com.

"Even the most simple innovations can revolutionise the way we think and live, and in turn move the world forward. It's been key to driving success at Virgin – where we have never entered an industry just to add to a cluttered market, but instead to reinvent the game with innovative and disruptive products and services. By not limiting ourselves to what we know or have been told to be true, we have been able to dream big."

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