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Differentiation … at least the practical idea of it… came to mind when I first moved to the suburbs outside of Philadelphia 15 years ago. One of my more interesting discoveries—having grown up in Manhattan, where pizzerias are on every corner—was the sheer number of pizzerias in Wayne, PA. Unlike the dense population of where I lived in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, Wayne is a bucolic, suburban town with a very spread out community and its own nice little main street.

And yet, despite its size, there are at least a dozen pizzerias all within one or two blocks of each other. This struck me as unusual for such a small town. And of course, it’s a great illustration of this thought: are you in a crowded community in the way you’re doing business?

Remove an Option from Your Customer

Well, it turns out that the many pizzerias in Wayne had some differences after all. Some are aiming to be high-end osterias while others will only serve pizza pies….I learned the latter the hard way one day when I was in the area looking for lunch. I walked into what looked like a very simple, small pizzeria and asked for a slice, only to be summarily told that they only sold pizza by the pie! It was annoying to me at the time and I candidly never went back there to buy a pie. They may be fabulous for all I know, but it did strike me that they figured out a way to set themselves apart for a different market, a market of people buying only take-home pizza.

“Withholding involves offering fewer options, fewer locations, fewer features, fewer products, fewer services, fewer hours, fewer perks, and fewer discounts,” says Stan Phelps, author of Purple Fish. “This is about deliberately and relentlessly shrinking the things that everyone else is expanding.”

When the choices are overwhelming, taking away some of the options for your customer actually increases your visibility to a more specific customer. This is a form of specialization. And, counter-intuitively, rather than shrink your opportunities, it can actually increase them.

So, how do you stand out in your crowded market?

Perhaps you offer a difference in service (i.e. “we only sell pizza pies”). Maybe in your world, it’s not pizza, but equipment that includes some sort of services. Maybe it’s a parts subscription. Whatever it is, the reality is that the general marketplace is willing to try new things. Whether that is B2B or B2C, no idea is crazy these days.

If you haven’t really thought of new ways of delivering or packaging your service, and getting it out there differently, chances are, you’re really forsaking a lot of growth. Growth doesn’t usually happen when you just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Even mighty Apple has found that out with its iPhone. The real point isn’t that doing the same thing is bad—companies specialize all the time to one thing. It is doing the same thing as everyone else that is a problem.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. How can my business stand out from a crowded marketplace?
  2. In what ways can we minimize options for the customer in a way that helps us specialize with one particular audience?
  3. What practical and different steps can my business take in order to promote growth?

Thank you for sharing!

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