How can job shops and industrial manufacturers better differentiate themselves from their competitors?

Differentiating your industrial company, products, and services from your competitors is crucial to success in your market… particularly when the market is extremely competitive. Your company needs to truly stand out in the minds of your engineering customers in a way that makes them actively want your offerings more than those of your competitors.

Many industrial manufacturers operate in a “me-too!” mode of competition – trying to outdo their competitors by being better but not attempting to be different. They really focus on trying to cash in on their competitor’s successes by launching similar product lines or similar strategies to grab the same customers. They then promote the “superiority” of their offerings over any other company. Sound familiar? In today’s competitive world that simply doesn’t cut it. But, why is that a bad thing?

Whether or not your offerings truly are better than your competitors isn’t the differentiating strategy you may believe it to be. Engineers already expect your products to be built well and that your company will offer them exceptional customer service. These are expectations, not features and they certainly do not differentiate you from your competitors. How many of your competitor’s have these phrases, or very similar ones, on their websites or marketing materials:

  • Superior products
  • High quality
  • Value added
  • Profitability
  • Premier
  • Number one
  • Lowest price
  • Best service
  • and more

These are timeworn and trite phrases used over and over worldwide and they all tend to look insipidly similar after you have read them a few times. So no matter how much better your actual product is, or how responsive your service is, those alone will not attract or retain customers. Basically if your strategy is simply to lower your prices, or to improve your services and offerings – you have chosen to do exactly what your competition is doing… but you intend to somehow do it better, of course. May we suggest something else?

Be Boldly Different

Today’s global competitive industrial marketplace gives your engineering customers a very wide range of choices and in order to survive and thrive you need to be different and stand out. Ignoring your uniqueness and attempting to emulate (only better!) what your competitors are doing will only get you ignored by those you are trying to entice.

Start by defining your company’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Every piece of marketing that you put out should feature that USP – “work with us and you will get this specific and different benefit.”

Don’t be afraid to focus on your strengths out of fear that you will sound arrogant. You want to simply and clearly state what you do better than your competition and focus on that message when presenting yourself to your prospects.

This may sound counterproductive – that you may be leaving work on the table – but the opposite is the truth. When you hone in on your message you will find that you get more overall work, particularly more of the specific work you are looking for with the margin you want. Dedicating your industrial business to this unique offering helps you build a more favorable image in your market, sharply defines the personality of your company, and will help you grab a larger share of the overall market.

Make it Simple

The best thing you can do is to make your differentiation as simple as possible. Some of the most powerful marketing messages are the ones that focus on a single word (maybe two). Think about company slogans and reputations that you are very familiar with – DeWalt, Nike, Amazon, Dodge vehicles, Coca Cola, etc. What are their slogans that pop into your head? Durable. Just do it. Work hard. Ram tough. The real thing. Simple, to the point, memorable.

Your differentiation isn’t your company story – you don’t need or want to tell everything. You cannot be all things to all people no matter what you do. The more variations that you attach to your offerings, the more your customers will lose focus on what makes you the company they should select. You want to center on one product, one benefit, and one memorable message.

The question now is – how do you do that? How do you differentiate in a memorable way that stays true to who you are as a company?

Here are a few ideas to help guide you to defining your USP:

  • First in the Field. Were you first in your market to offer your products or services? People are creatures of habit and tend to stick with what they know. If you were first to get your offerings out there that also means your competition had to copy you. This a great way to out-position the later me-too companies by stressing that you started it.
  • Unique Attribute. Do you have a single simple, benefit-oriented, unique distinctive feature, peculiarity, or characteristic you can focus on? Once a company markets their unique feature that attribute is no longer unique for their competitors to use.
  • Authority & Expert Leadership. Are you a leader in your field? Positioning yourself as an expert leader in your field can really set you apart from your competition. Engineers, like most people, can be more easily swayed by those they perceive to be big, successful, or powerful. How often do you ask for a Tissue… or do you say Kleenex? When asking someone to look something up online do you say type it into a search engine or do you ask someone to ‘Google’ it? Take ownership of your position and use it to draw more customers to you.
  • Heritage & History. Has your company been around for a long time? You may think that your lengthy company history is a tad on the boring side but to a customer that history will make them feel more secure about your company and, by extension, your offerings. This one also ties back into being an expert in your field, engineers want to work with companies that really know their stuff and will deliver exactly what they need. This can even work in the reverse, in the right situation… a lack of heritage or the wrong heritage can be a great differentiator. Focus on a positive in the lacking. For example, what region first comes to mind when you think about wine production? Most likely it was either France or California. Are those the only places on earth where wine grapes are grown and wine is bottled? Absolutely not.  
  • Specialize. Are your offerings extremely narrow? Again, back to experts – engineers love companies that narrowly focus on a service or product. This concentration helps boost your perceived expertise in that area since that is all you do! Trying to be all things to all people dilutes your message and will not help you gain new customers. Stay specialized and really hone in on what you know.
  • Word of Mouth. How often do you buy something based on a trusted recommendation? People tend to buy what everyone else is buying… this goes for industrial buyers too. When they search the web for the best products and services they need – where will they find your company’s website? Does your marketing stress other people’s options of you? This is why reviews are so powerful no matter what you are trying to sell – from a single screw to a pair of shoes to a carpet cleaner to a pick and place machine. Getting others to recommend your company/service/product is one of the best strategies for differentiating yourself from your competition. Also, One of the best things about this strategy is that you get you make up what other people think about your offerings. What do I mean? Let’s think on a couple of examples: Do you think that Nike shoes are honestly preferred by professional athletes? Do “9 out of 10 dentists” really agree that one toothpaste brand is better than another? Honestly? No. Nike gives shoes to pro athletes to use and they also give some of them multi-million dollar endorsement deals. As far as the dentists – what dentists? Who are these people? The reality is that those companies came up with those slogans or campaigns to differentiate themselves from their competition to sell you more of their products. Of course you cannot outright lie – your claim needs to be able to stand up to scrutiny, but if people do honestly prefer your offerings you need to exploit that differentiation.
  • How it is Made. Does your offering contain something else that is unique? This is a great unique differentiation to focus on. This can be everything from another company’s item inside of yours, a different shape than what is considered standard, system innovation, process improvement, or some other special characteristic that you can promote. For example, items that are “hand-made” tend to be perceived as better or made with more care than ones that are machine-made.
  • Next-Gen. Is your offering cutting-edge? No one wants obsolete products and you can beat your competitors by positioning your offerings as the newest, latest and greatest. People want what is leading edge and they love to be “in the know” with what is “hot” in the market.

The best part is that you don’t need to be totally unique or offer different things than your competition – it is more about how you present yourself, your company, and your offerings to your prospects.

Overall, the key to differentiation is focus. As your company grows and offers more products and services it is easy to lose focus on what makes your company unique. Adding too much, too quickly can weaken your overall growth potential. Don’t get caught up trying to emulate what other successful companies in your field are doing in a vain attempt to try to claim customers they already own. Doing so will only distract you from what makes your company and your offerings unique and different. Find what your company does extremely well, deliver it perfectly every single time, and emphasize the uniqueness of your specialty.

Industrial manufacturers tend to be blind to what they do best or how they can best differentiate themselves from their competitors. You do it all day every day, it is your life, and thus it can be difficult to easily identify something so close to you. This is a good place where an industrial-focused marketing company (like The Rico Group) is so valuable. We utilize our marketing eye, coupled with our extensive industry experience, to help narrow down what makes your company or offerings different or unique and help you craft your message to reflect that.

Need assistance? Let us help!

With over 30 years of experience, The Rico Group specializes in helping ambitious industrial manufacturers and job shops eliminate the stress and confusion of finding consistent new business in the digital age by developing and executing ongoing processes that generate sales-ready leads to increase and diversify your customer base, set you apart from your competition, and achieve higher year over year growth.

We are all industrial, all the time! We know how engineers think and what they are looking for. We know your processes, equipment, and materials. We also know that you have very little time to take away from your production and getting your customer’s orders delivered.

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