Specializing in a unique product or service that solves your customer's problems, or finding your niche, is critical to earning profits in a competitive market. To stand out among competitors, businesses need to understand their differentiation and be first in customer's minds when it's time to buy.
The success of your community also depends on differentiation. Your objectives may be different (such as growing membership instead of increasing revenues), but you are competing for an arguably more precious resource than dollars — attention.
So how do we stand apart, and drive important behaviors like repeat visits, time spent on the site, and referrals on our communities?
Let's turn to our own experiences as consumers. It's easy to come up with the reasons why we choose one company over another, such as:
- Service – driving across town to have your oil changed because you like how your garage treats you
- Experience – walking into an inviting place like the Apple Store and being greeted with a friendly smile
- Convenience – popping into the Starbucks next door to the office in the morning
- Choice – ever walked down the cereal aisle at the grocery and felt overwhelmed by all the brands?
- Exclusivity – the feeling Lexus and BMW owners enjoy knowing their cars are finer than most. Really.
- Relationship – being on a first name basis with your physician
- Location – RedBox DVD rental kiosks placed in MacDonalds restaurants. Dinner and a movie!
- Loyalty – insisting on Canon cameras, Tide detergent, or any number of beloved brands
These are all examples of firms providing value that fulfills a unique need for a specific group of people. Your probably thinking about similarities with your community, but here's the key: you can't be all things to all people.
There are only so many hours in the day, and so much leverage you can squeeze out of technology, and other people. To achieve true differentiation, you'll need to decide on one or two qualities that makes your community special, and make sure you are doing these things better than anyone else.
Let's use location as an example. Many of you run support communities for companies with established web sites, and its common to link to community resources from existing pages. What about going beyond links, and surfacing discussions and expertise directly? Use the "RedBox" effect to your advantage — draw in web site visitors and engage them via the community.
Excellent service is hard to find, and another ripe opportunity for differentiation. Look for ways to delight and surprise your members at every touch point. For example, it's easy to send new members a generic welcome email. Adding small personal touches, like your signature and contact information, tells people you care. Better still, a quick thank you phone call might even get you a "Wow!" response.
Exclusivity is a cachet that takes significant effort to build and maintain. If you want people to seek out your community and ask to participate, your community will need a carefully guarded "star" quality. One example: a "relationship and opportunity network," with access to a powerful and well-connected group of people, such as Cx0s of Fortune 500 companies.
How does your community distinguish itself? Please share examples of differentiators you are using effectively today.