Creating Differentiation

Most people have a desire to fit in with the crowd. It’s human nature to look around and mimic behavior that will allow us to be accepted into the group. Yet as company owners, we strive for differentiation, seeking ways to separate ourselves from the masses of competition flooding the market. Thinking this way requires a paradigm shift in what we know and, more importantly, in what we do.

Be warned, differing too far from the norm will cause reactions in others. They might think we’re being too extreme or going through a mid-life crisis, or even begin to question our sanity. They will make every effort to rein us back in and get us back on track. This happens on the personal front as well as the professional one. Regardless of others’ reactions, know that only those who are willing to remain focused on their objective can truly create distinction in their market and get out of the commodity game that goes along with being common.

History dictates that our typical behavior begins with performing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis of our competitors. We then attempt to copy their strengths and/or exploit their areas of weakness. This might work in the short term but will create nominal differences at best. There was a time in this industry when delivering a quality product or offering warehousing would separate you, but that time is past. Today’s buyers expect the ability to deliver a quality product when they need it. Simply meeting expectations will rarely distinguish your company from the competition. There may be instances when a competitor is dropping the ball, which might allow some interim business to transition your way, but this is not a sustainable path to distinction.

The Path to Distinction

Let’s assume you possess the desire to separate your company and are willing to do the hard work to achieve it. Where do you begin? Price, product, and service are the only three ways to create distinction in our markets. Separating yourself on low price is never a good idea and high price requires some distinguishing factors to warrant it. Separating yourself based on product provides some short-term benefit. Specialty equipment or a hand labor department doing fulfillment makes us unique from our competition. It requires, however, enough people in our market that need it and are willing to pay us for it. Even then, how long will it take for the big boys to duplicate it? If product specialization has been a successful game changer for you, expect to be emulated; it’s only a matter of time. In reality, the service aspect of your business is the only area that will create real and sustainable distinction.

Changes to service cannot be a one-time event. Pulling staff together to generate a few ideas and then implementing those will not build what we desire. It is merely the starting point. Changing how we work and service our customers requires continual effort to maintain. We will always have to be ahead of the curve so that by the time other companies figure out our secret and duplicate it, we have already moved on to the next phase. We must strive to continually elevate our clients’ experience with us.

You can begin this process within your own organization by examining all of the points where you come in contact with your clients. Then create new ways, new ideas, and new areas that will impact them positively. This does not have to be large in scale, often it is the little things that matter most—and that will separate you. Here are some simple ideas to get you started:

  • Have your truck driver deliver a welcome kit to each client’s receiving department with the first delivery
  • Change your hold music to something more in line with your company personality
  • Create a thank-you statement to add to your load tags, Bills of Lading (BOLs), and/or invoices

Don’t forget your sales team in all of this: How do your salespeople separate themselves? We recognize that each individual has his or her own style of selling lest they not be authentic. Shouldn’t their personal area of distinction be exactly that, personal? Receptionists are bombarded with salespeople walking in the door every day. If you want to stand out from the crowd, be remembered, and get the appointment, then don’t be just another interruption.


Kim Brown, a 25+ year veteran of the industry, founded Corrugated Strategies to assist the independent sector in addressing their challenges in today’s competitive market. Brown may be reached at (317) 506-4465 or



About Ashley Reid

Editorial Assistant
This entry was posted in 2014 JAN/FEB, Departments/Columns, Issues, Selling Today. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Taryn Pyle

    Kim, great article! I once worked with a printer who would bring us a fresh pineapple, cut/core and slice it for us as a way of saying thank you for our business. In my homestate (Hawaii) a pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. It made quite an impression on me. Its a simple way to make an impact.