What’s your point?

Bernadette Schwerdt

Using technology to create a valuable point of difference

In today’s competitive marketplace, it pays to have a point of difference that gives customers a reason to choose you over the others.

Knowing your point of difference, and being able to communicate it clearly, can be the difference between success and failure.

Technology is increasingly being used to help smaller businesses create a valuable point of difference that enables them to compete with the bigger players.

I had the good fortune to interview Ruslan Kogan a few years ago when I was writing a book about Australia’s top online entrepreneurs. I sat down with him in his boardroom and the first question I asked him was, “What’s your point of difference?” He was able to answer it in a flash. It was as if he was reciting a mantra. “Amazing prices. Biggest range.”

What enables entrepreneurs like Ruslan and others like him to make these large claims and go head-to-head with the big players is access to tech tools that let them deliver on those promises.

Dynamic pricing software, recommendation engines, heat map software, user experience programs and other website optimisation tools enable savvy entrepreneurs to create significant points of difference that provide their customers with a great user experience and give their customers good reason to be loyal.

Here are a few examples of how other businesses have used tech-based points of difference to offer their customers a reason to choose them.

Make a difference

One company who developed their own software to create a point of difference was Thankyou, the social enterprise. They didn’t make a better, tastier, cheaper bottle of water. They just did one thing differently: they offered customers the chance to feel good about choosing their product instead of the competitors’. That’s all. They did this by adding a unique code to each bottle so people could check in and see what humanitarian project their purchase had contributed to.

Customers reasoned, “If I have to buy a bottle of water, I may as well buy one that helps someone else”. This tech-based coding system was horrendously expensive to implement but it was necessary to prove to customers that Thankyou were delivering on their promise to support water-based charity projects. The investment paid off. Thankyou has gone from strength to strength, have now launched in New Zealand and extended their range to offer nappies, food and body care.

Make it a subscription

“Shave time and money” is the cute tagline for razor-blade disruptor, Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based service. They deliver disposable razors to your house each month, you pay a fraction of the retail price and it continues month by month until you opt out.

Their point of difference? They knew men found the process of buying blades boring so they took the headache out of it by using subscription software to eliminate those frustrations, and made the blades cheaper to buy as well, a win–win for the customer.

The best part is, once the subscription kicks in, the customer just forgets about it and expects to see the razor blades turn up. They don’t need to be convinced to buy again. That frees up the company to focus on acquiring new customers and use their marketing dollars to grow customers rather than maintain them.

NB: Google “Dollar Shave Club” and watch their launch video. It went viral and racked up 4.75 million views in a few months and went on to get more than 20 million views. This goes some way to explaining why Unilever paid $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club. A perfect example of how the clever application of technology can be used to help little start-ups compete with the big players, and win.

” In a world where speed, price and service are a given, what can you do to give your customer a good reason to choose you?”

Make it fairly

Ever wondered how the discount chains sell $5 T-shirts and still make a profit? Someone’s missing out on a pay cheque somewhere along the line, and in most cases it’s the factory worker. This has led to the creation of the fair trade movement and paved the way for conscious marketers to promote their commitment to fair trade as a valuable point of difference.

One of those is Everlane.com, an ethically driven, US-based fashion label. They have videos on their website and extensive summaries showcasing the factories they use. They are transparent in who they use and each factory is given a compliance audit to evaluate factors such as fair wages, reasonable hours and environment.

For shoppers interested in buying ethically sourced fashion, they know they can get it from Everlane. This is a great example of how a company can use their commitment to social justice and simple marketing tools like videos to create a valuable point of difference.

Make it cheaply

Let’s say you don’t have the budget or know-how to use sophisticated pieces of software. There are other ways you can provide a meaningful point of difference without needing a degree in software engineering to achieve it.

I have a client who runs an online education business. His competitor just released a whiz bang product that competes with his and makes his look less attractive. He’s already noticed a reduction in enquiries and sales and he’s worried this trend will continue.

We brainstormed some ways to combat this situation. He thought he should cut his prices. I advised against that because, as we all know, the only one who wins in a price war is the customer.

I asked him, “What do you think your students would really love to get from you? What do they need that will make their experience with you fantastic?” He thought about it and said, “They want support and guidance after the course is finished so they can implement some of the learnings and achieve their goals.” “Great,” I said. “So, what can we create that will help give them his support?” He said, “What about creating a 30-day ‘boot camp’ email series where they receive one daily ‘tip’ that will help them get to the next level?” “Brilliant!” I said. “That’s easy.”

So we wrote the content for a 30-day email series, he uploaded it to his email system and each day, using the autoresponder function, the graduate student received a personalised email helping them implement their learnings from the course.

The point? This email series did not cost a lot, it gave the student exactly what they were looking for, it was easily delivered via automated software and, more importantly, it gave him a valuable point of difference that set his course apart from others on the market.

While the actual cost to create this point of difference was negligible, the perceived cost was high and it’s proven to be a successful strategy. Enquiries and sales have lifted and the threat from the competitor has subsided.

In a world where speed, price and service are a given, what can you do to give your customer a good reason to choose you? It doesn’t need to cost money, it just needs to be valuable.

Bernadette Schwerdt, director, the Australian School of Copywriting, and author of How to Build an Online Business.

This story first appeared in issue 23 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.