Play to Your Strengths

Business isn’t a level playing field, but you can create competitive advantage by working smarter, says Melissa Chevin.

News that two of the world’s largest retailers have entered the promotional merchandise marketplace in America, and the activities of Vistaprint and Amazon Print on Demand in the UK, are causing concern to many distributors. While it’s right to consider the potential impact on business, it is important to take a step back and define who you are, relative to your competitor set. Don’t assume the biggest and best-known brands naturally have a competitive advantage. There are other qualities, strengths and capabilities that can help you beat the competition.

Speed and agility

The recognisable name and impressive cashflow, marketing budget, customer base and number of employees that some of the global powers of retailing boast may turn heads, but their size can be a hindrance. With fewer layers and departments and less bureaucracy you are in a better position to be nimble and responsive to both changes in the market and the needs of your customers. Think on your feet and deliver what they want.

The personal touch

While economies of scale mean you may not be able to compete on price, don’t underestimate the value of the personal touch. We’ve all experienced being put on hold or being passed from department to department. Ensure your customers have the knowledge that they can talk to a real person everytime they call. A smaller team can see more clearly the direct effect of their actions and they can forge long lasting relationships that create genuine loyalty.

Added value

Assess your customer base. Who are they, what does your product do for them, what motivates them to buy? The greater the clarity about your ideal customer, the more focused and effective your marketing efforts will be. Don’t underestimate the value of your experience and expertise. If you are an authority in your field, people will trust you and welcome the sense of security that you offer. Ensure you are listening to your customers more than you are talking at them.

Innovative marketing

Effective content marketing and clever use of social media can put you in front of large numbers of people at low-cost. You can respond quickly to any questions or comments on social media and share your expertise in a way that attracts interest and generates business. Bigger brands may struggle to do this due to red tape, size, and the fact that it is rarely senior staff who run social media channels.

Ultimately, remember that you are never going to be able to compete with price promotion unless you’re prepared for your revenue to take a major hit. Compete in areas where you have the advantage – agility, personality and value – and your customers will reward you…

Melissa Chevin is marketing director at Globefish Consulting and a BPMA board director. Contact her on

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