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Differentiate Yourself
By Michael Angier

Competition is a fact of life in business. It's good for the economy. It's good for customers and it's good for us as business owners and managers. It keeps us constantly improving our products and services. It hones our skills and stretches our imagination. All very positive.

But just how can we compete effectively?

The best way to compete is to differentiate ourselves—to stand out from our competition because of the unique gifts and special style we bring to the marketplace.

Sometimes this can be done by being first. Xerox did it in copiers. Kleenex did it in tissues. They're not generic names, but these trademarked products have become almost generic and they stand out because they were well positioned.

For most of us, this differentiating factor is not within our reach. If we can't be first on the market, we're forced to do something else.

So how do we do this?

First, we must know what our unique assets are. This takes some soul-searching. It takes some thinking.

What do we do best? What do we love doing? Where have we received the most tribute?

Are we faster, less expensive, more responsive, cleaner, lighter, hipper? Are we friendlier or easier to do business with?

If we're not any of these things, we can reinvent ourselves. We can DECIDE what we want to be known for.

But don't try to be something you're not. This reinvention should really be a discovery of latent values and qualities—things that were always there but rarely exploited.

Once we're clear on who we are and what we stand for, we must take every opportunity to show people what we're all about. We must tell our story, tell it well and tell it often. The ideal is to get other people telling our story.

Most of this is just common sense. It's just not very common. Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue are about the only airlines making any money these days. What's their secret?

Well, Southwest is known for low fares, friendly people and fun flights. Jet Blue is known for new planes (all the same type), video screens in every leather seat, low fares and friendly service.

They're known for this because they deliver on this reputation day in and day out. And they're good at telling their stories well. There's good buzz about what they do, how they do it and how well it's working. People rave about their experiences flying on these airlines.

This isn’t rocket science, right? No wonder they're turning profits when others are declaring or trying to emerge from bankruptcy.

Besides having a clear vision, mission and purpose, there's probably nothing more important for you to do to compete effectively than differentiating yourself.

Of course it must be done with substance and based upon your core values. And it also must be backed up with commitment. With everyone paying attention to what's important, it will permeate the entire organization.

You'll be known for what you want to be known for. You'll have more fun doing what you do best. You'll serve your customers better. You'll stand out and step up your profits and your fulfillment—for you and your employees.

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