It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, starting a business is tough. And what’s making that OMG-it’s-so-hard job even worse? The crowded market. It’s more than little crowded. It’s like Santa Monica Pier during a concert crowded.
And this doesn’t only apply to businesses in popular industries. No matter how unique you believe your idea or niche is, other players are already trying to elbow their way to the front of the pack and become the go-to in your market. If you’re trying to start a business in a crowded market, be ready to face the crowds. But there are ways you can set yourself apart to rise above and get the attention of your ideal customers.
How to start your business in a crowded market
1. Know your POD
With a crowded market (just about every market these days), you can’t just be another player in the game.
You’ve got to dare to be different.
Your point of difference (POD) is one of the most important part of your branding. It’s what makes you different from the hundreds of other businesses in your market and the hundreds of other options your potential customers have.
Think of your POD as your special sauce. It’s what makes you a delicious Big Mac in a sea of hamburgers.
If you come at your customers with the same message, same product, same service, same anything as your competition, you’ll be forgotten just as quickly as you launch. You need a unique spin, unique angle, unique something to grab their attention and convince them you’re the brand for them.
If you’re having trouble figuring out your POD, ask yourself:
- What do we do better than anyone else?
- Who’s the biggest player in our industry? What are we doing that they’re not doing?
- What’s something we can offer our customers that no one else can?
- What’s something we’ve got up our sleeve that our audience has never seen before?
A great example of a company with a strong POD is coworking behemoth WeWork. Before they entered the market, coworking was by no means a new concept. But the visionaries behind the brand saw an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the bland, corporate coworking spaces of the past by creating coworking communities that appealed to younger, hipper generation of freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Their POD? Top-notch networking events, jaw-dropping architectural features and all the free coffee (and beer!) you can drink. As a result, WeWork quickly dominated the market and now has more than 200 locations in 49 cities around the world.
When it comes to launching your business in an overcrowded market, remember: don’t be a hamburger. Be a Big Mac.
2. Step it up
Design—whether it’s your logo, website or business card—is most likely the first interaction a potential customer will have with your business. If it’s is a step above the rest, they’ll assume the rest of your business is too.
But the opposite is also true. if your design leaves something to be desired, they’ll assume that’s what you’re about.
That’s why design is so, so important.
If you want your business to rise above the competition, let design lead the charge. Your design should feel (at the bare minimum) on brand, well-conceived and professional. If it doesn’t and it’s too similar to a competitor, doesn’t match your brand story or looks like you paid the kid next door $20 to slap something together, then you’ll never grab your ideal customer’s attention.
Just look at website builder SquareSpace. They launched to what was (and still is) an extremely crowded market in 2004. To establish themselves from the million-and-one website options, SquareSpace placed a heavy emphasis on design—both on their own brand and the design options they offered users.
Did the design-centric strategy work? Sure did. SquareSpace now has nearly 600 employees spread across offices in New York City, Portland, OR and Dublin, Ireland. Membership has grown well into the millions. In 2014, experts estimated that they signed 1000 new users per day.
If you expect people to invest in your business, then you need to invest in your design. If you’re not a designer or don’t have one on your team, hire a professional designer (from 99designs, of course!) to make sure your brand is on a whole other level from the competition.
3. Be convenient
Your customers are probably busy. And even if they’re not busy, they don’t want to do business with brands that make things difficult. Make people fall in love with you by making things as easy as possible. Seriously, there aren’t many things people love more than convenience.
Look for ways to simplify life for your customers (and be trés simpler than your competitors). If you have an online shop, offer the quickest and simplest checkout process in the land. If you sell copywriting services, make your client briefing process so simple that a four-year-old could fill it out. If you’ve got a branded Etsy shop, make the process of requesting custom orders a breeze.
A perfect example of convenience equaling success is Venmo. They launched in one of the most crowded markets in tech with countless companies trying to elbow their way to the top. But Venmo differentiated itself by launching a so-simple-my-grandma-could-figure-it-out platform, free of unnecessary bells and whistles, that made social payments easy-peasy.
Focusing on convenience was a clear win. As of 2016, Venmo is on track to process $20 billion in payments per year.
Moral of the story: the more convenient it is to work with you, the more people will want to work with you. And the more people that want to work with you, the better it will be to start a business in a crowded market.
4. Make it about more than just you
As a business owner, your responsibility is to provide your customers with great products and services. But if you want to stand out in a market of competitors, show your customers what else is important to you.
More and more, customers want to know they’re doing business with a company that has a sense of social and environmental responsibility. They need to understand that you’re not only doing good by them, but you’re also doing good for the world.
Do you donate a percentage of your sales to an organization or charity close to your heart? Are you a green corporation that does everything possible to lower your carbon footprint? Are you giving back to the communities you serve? This is all information that your customers need to know.
Just look at Patagonia. The upscale outdoor apparel company focuses its marketing efforts on their dedication to environmental sustainability. Not only did this help them separate from other outdoor apparel companies, it appealed directly to their target demo, which helped them grow sales during the recession when most retailers struggled.
When it comes down to it, if customers have the choice to work with a company that’s awesome or a company that’s awesome and trying to make the world a better place, they’re always going to go with the latter. Be that company.
5. Take care of your customers
It sounds so simple. If you want to launch your business to applause in a crowded market, take care of your customers. The sad truth: most of your competition isn’t.
For whatever reason, good old-fashioned customer service seems to be becoming more of a rarity. And consumers? Yeah, they’re not stoked about it. If I had a dollar for every time I sat on hold for an hour with a company’s customer service department…
Show your customers you’re committed to taking care of them, and you’re already light years ahead of most businesses out there.
Go above and beyond to show your customers you’re the kind of company that will take care of them every step of the way. Make your customer service team the best in the biz. Make the process of returning or exchanging an item as painless and hassle-free as possible. If a customer has a negative experience, do everything you can to make it right. Offer extra incentives like discount codes or coupons.
Just look at Apple. In arguably the most overcrowded and competitive markets in the world, they have established themselves as the industry leader for a number of reasons—including their dedication to customer service.
Apple took a page straight out of the hospitality book with their Genius Bar, a concierge service for Apple customers where they can meet face-to-face with a “Genius” who will answer questions and solve problems in one easy visit. This level of customer care puts them light years ahead of the competition and keeps them the most successful tech company in the world.
Taking care of customers will put you in a different class from most of your competitors and will help set you apart in a crowded market. Or, in other words, take care of your customers, and they’ll take care of you.
Break through the clutter!
Unfortunately, you can’t control the fact that we’re living in a crowded business world. But you can make your launch even more successful by following these five tips. So, get out there. Fight your way through the crowd. Establish yourself as the most awesome, unique, can’t-miss business that the world has ever seen.