By John Monroe

It’s summer and school’s out. You’re eight years old and sitting on the back porch crying because you can’t find a friend to play with. Your mom comes out with a glass of cold milk and a warm chocolate chip cookie she just pulled from the oven. She sits down next to you and asks, “Why the long face?” You respond, “Nobody wants to play with me because I’m not popular or cool.” Mom puts her arm around you and says, “But honey, you have so many great, unique qualities that make you, YOU!”

Mom is always right! And just like you, your business has unique qualities, known as company differentiators, that make it stand out to your target market and target customer (a more refined group in your target market). Your job is to decide who your target market is and then determine what your differentiators are in the eyes of the target customer. Remember, as a small business you must allocate your limited resources toward a specific target market and not try to be something to every market.

Once you’ve determined your target market, perform a SWOT analysis on your business. To identify your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, you need to have a strong understanding of your competition. What aspects, resources, or capabilities of your business are viewed by your target markets as providing an advantage (strength) or disadvantage (weakness) compared to your competitors? Remember, you can’t say you have a strength in the marketplace if your competition can do or say the same thing. Identify the changes taking place with your customers, the economy, industry regulations, demographics, or competitor activities that provide opportunities for your business to grow. Then identify threats to attracting new customers or to retaining the customers you have.

Be careful not to look at your competition with the clouded perception that they are one step away from their demise. With today’s fast-changing and competitive market, you should not only consider traditional rivals as your competition but, using Porter’s Five Forces Model, consider new market entrants, suppliers, customers, and substitute products as competition as well.

Now that you have a target market and a SWOT analysis, the next step is to determine your company’s differentiators. Having clean trucks, lots of equipment, and uniformed employees are not unique and long-range differentiators! The competition will most likely have these, too, or could have them in a short time. So, what is a differentiator? To understand your company’s differentiators, you must understand the difference between a value proposition and a company positioning statement.

A Value Proposition describes the services and products a company provides in the language of the target market. It defines in an easy-to-understand statement of how the product or service fulfills a need over similar products or services in the market. It’s a list of benefits or features that your company supplies to the market.

A good value proposition has five characteristics:

  • It is easy to understand.
  • It lists concrete results of using your product or service.
  • It explains how your product or service is better than the competition’s product or service.
  • It does not contain any hype or business jargon.
  • It can be read and understood in five seconds.

Company Positioning defines your differentiators tailored to the unique needs of your target customer. It highlights the benefits that are most relevant to that specific customer, rather than the more general and broader reach of the value proposition.

Here are the three components of a company positioning message:

  • A short but memorable opening statement (not a slogan).
  • Tells a story that addresses the needs of the target customer.
  • Includes a hook that creates a call to action.

To create a solid company positioning you need to do your homework and understand your target customer’s specific needs and pains. Walk in their shoes to determine how you can help them. Sit down with them and ask what they are looking for from a company like yours. What do they put the highest value on? Is it reliability, customer service, affordability? What are your customers saying about your business? These might be differentiators!

Remember, mom is always right. Don’t dismiss what might be some of the most important differentiators: you, your team, and your current customers (raving cheerleaders). You are special! No one else can 100 percent do what you do or how you do it or say it. No one else has the same story you have, the same passion, the same values or sense of humor.

One final piece of advice: Keep your personality and core values a part of your differentiators. Think about Apple (Steve Jobs), Amazon (Jeff Bezos), or GE (Jack Welch) and how their personalities as CEOs were vital to their companies.


John Monroe is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Monroe is a leading expert in marketing, sales and sales management for the restoration and cleaning industries with over 30 years of experience in those fields. Through Violand, Monroe works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call 800-360-3513.