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Weekly 3: Be a Better Teacher, Positioning Against Leaders & Happy Customers

Summary: Educate your customers better than your competition can. Use your larger competitor's brand

Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 4 · Issue #24 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Educate your customers better than your competition can. Use your larger competitor’s brand to your advantage. Make your customers smile. (~6 min read)

#1. When you don’t have as many resources as your competitors, “out-teach” them.
When you’re a small company, some of the tactics you can pursue to grow your business include buying ads, hiring salespeople, and sponsoring events.
But as Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson point out in their book Rework, when your competitors are doing exactly the same things, how does that make you stand out?
Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or out-sponsor your competitors, they recommend that you try to out-teach them, for two reasons:
  • First, most businesses are focused on selling or servicing and teaching never occurs to them, so your competitors probably aren’t even considering this as an option.
  • Second, big companies, who have more to lose because they face greater legal and financial risks, are “obsessed with secrecy.”
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson argue that teaching can also help you develop a deeper connection with your customers. They’ll trust and respect you more: “Even if they don’t use your product, they can still be your fans.”
They cite two companies that do an especially good job of teaching their customers:
  • Etsy, the online store for handmade goods, holds entrepreneurial workshops and circulates ideas about how its customers can best promote their own products on the site.
  • Hoefler & Co., a company that designs typefaces, teaches designers about how to use different types at
#2. Follow these steps to differentiate yourself from the leader in your market.
Author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki writes in his book The Art of the Start 2.0 that when you’re a small company with limited resources, one way to raise your odds of success is to deliberately position yourself against your larger, more established competitor.
Kawasaki suggests that you can save money on marketing and promotion by using the existing brand awareness of the market leader to your advantage.
To do this, take the leader in your market, and then identify an important point of differentiation in your own product – here are some attributes to consider:
  • Convenience
  • Cost
  • Customer service
  • Ease of use
  • Geographic location
  • Industrial design
  • Range of selection
  • Reliability
  • Speed / performance
Here are a few examples used by popular brands:
  • Lexus: “As good as a Mercedes or BMW, but 30 percent cheaper.”
  • Southwest Airlines: “As cheap as driving”
#3. When you’re a small company, act your size and make your customers smile.
Author and entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes in his book Anything You Want that, even if you want your small business to be a large operation someday, when it comes to interacting with your customers, you never need to act like a big, boring company.
As he points out, “If you find even the smallest way to make people smile, they’ll remember you more for that smile than for all your other fancy business-model stuff.”
Sivers founded the online music company CD Baby, and during his time running the company, he used different techniques to make his customers happy, including the following two examples:
  • He customized the “From:” field in the company’s outgoing emails, so that each message included the line “CD Baby loves {firstname}” – for example, if the customer’s name was Susan, each email she received would say it was from “CD Baby loves Susan.”
  • Sivers also encouraged CD Baby employees to try and get to know customers – even when it might have been operationally inefficient to do so. When a customer called the company, Sivers advised employees to, “Ask about her music. Ask how it’s going. Yes, it would lead to twenty minute conversations sometimes, but those people became lifelong fans.”
For Sivers, “It’s dehumanizing to have thousands of people passing through our computer screens, so we do things we’d never do if those people were sitting next to us.”
And while that may be true in general, we don’t have to run our businesses like that.
Quote of the Week
“Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”
- Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his book David & Goliath
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