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Gaining market share in a competitive industry is a matter of differentiation. When Tesla realized that its competitors preferred function to form, it positioned itself as an elegant alternative to more pedestrian vehicles like the Toyota Prius or the Chevy Volt. Chipotle marketed itself as a fresh, authentic alternative to Taco Bell. Uber became the business alternative to Lyft.
This is standard branding practice. But what about principles to position your company? Can it be part of your company's signature to add character to make you distinctive without appearing flashy?
While a character-based approach has potential pitfalls, two companies have seen surprising success: Zappos and Tom & # 39; s of Maine. Here's what they can teach entrepreneurs:
1. Go to extremes for clients
Zappos is a quirky startup with a funny name and no more joking. From a humble start in 1999 to its acquisition by Amazon just a decade later for just under $ 1 billion, the online shoe store became Exhibit A for how counterfeiting a unique brand identity can pay off.
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What Zappos did was turn its greatest liability into an asset. The shoe retailer transformed its call centers from cost-cutting into brand differentiators.
Call centers were originally a minor part of Zappos' business plan. After all, only 5 percent of sales came from operators. But even if these employees didn't move a lot of goods, they got a lot of contacts. People kept them busy with all sorts of questions about the shoes that they examined online. The service they received from impatient Zappos staff wasn't always very good.
The Zappos leadership saw the opportunity to change their culture and brand identity. If customers wanted to be in touch with real people before making online purchases, Zappos would go to extremes to please its callers.
This required some changes: On the one hand, a 365-day return service was implemented. What's even more impressive is that customers are known to be on the phone for up to six hours. When the news of the strategy of relentless service spread, the way was set. The rest is history.
Related Topics: Follow These 9 Steps To Copy Zappos' Extraordinary Customer Service Strategy
2. Go back to nature
While Zappos built its reputation from a strategic hub for customer service, Tom & # 39; s of Maine was shaped from the start with the principles of sustainability and social responsibility.
When Kate and Tom Chappell moved from Philadelphia to Maine in 1968, they decided to make raising their children healthier and easier. They traded the Pennsylvania concrete jungle for the Maine wilderness to live closer to nature. However, they soon found that there were few personal care products that were free of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Backed by a $ 5,000 loan from a sympathetic investor, they started a company to fill that void.
Tom's business development was guided by three values: natural product development, sustainable business growth, and responsibility for activities towards the wider world community. The Chappells adhered to strict principles of natural product development, minimized their company's carbon footprint, and encouraged employees to spend up to 12 paid days standing up for issues that are important to them.
At the time, this strategy seemed more focused than market growth. But over time, the Chappells have proven their critics to be false. Customers looking for natural alternatives also valued the brand's social conscience. Their reach grew. By 2006, Tom & # 39; s had grown from a boutique brand to an industry player, selling it to industry giant Colgate Palmolive for $ 100 million.
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3. Be authentic
The remarkable success of companies like Zappos and Tom & # 39; s of Maine has inspired others to follow suit of using corporate values to position their brands. However, trumpeting your principles doesn't necessarily differentiate your organization. For it to work, these principles must be real.
Attentive customers can spot a gimmick a mile away. What they are looking for is a consistent follow-up, not a cynical marketing strategy. Tom & # 39; s was built on principles of wellbeing and the environment, so his social initiatives were considered serious. Zappos has not only applied as a customer-oriented and hired friendlier representatives. It has revamped its entire call center culture.
Related topics: Why authenticity is an essential part of business success
Donations can help demonstrate authenticity, but they're not enough. Patagonia, who makes clothing for serious nature lovers, supports its commitments not only with money, but also with socially and environmentally conscious corporate practices.
Are your initiatives read as expressions of principles or stunts? Analysts suggest asking the following questions:
Is this an isolated one-time project or an ongoing commitment?
Is the goal to evoke good feelings or to have self-sustaining, long-term effects?
Would the company do this even if it didn't make a profit directly?
4. Go against the grain
If everyone is doing it, it doesn't make any difference, does it?
Zappos worked because the efforts made to keep customers satisfied and entertained were unrivaled in the online marketplace. What made Tom stand out in the hallway was his novelty as a natural alternative; It was way ahead of the curve in terms of social and environmental responsibility.
Think how powerful values can be in a space that is not known to them. Keyser, a commercial real estate agent, builds his identity as a supplier of selfless service rather than an instigator of displacement rivalry.
Rather than continuing the standard practice of making the best deals for the brokers themselves, Keysers Brokerage focuses on what is best for the clients by meeting commitments and exceeding all expectations. In a dog food industry like commercial real estate, it's no surprise that Keyser's alternative strategy is resonating.
Related: 5 Weird Ways Top Business Owners Found Success Against the Grain
5. Be relentlessly consistent
Until people learn your principles, it is all rhetoric. But to really bring these principles home, you need to deliver that experience over and over again.
Skeptics (including CEO Tony Hsieh) thought an online shoe store would be in trouble – until they phoned one of Zappos' famous and dedicated representatives. Toms, too, seemed meant for co-op stores manned by patchouli-scented staff, but his values eventually went mainstream enough to get noticed in supermarkets everywhere. When Starbucks began providing health plans to part-time baristas, it spoke more volumes than a corporate responsibility talk.
What do these different companies share? By and large, integrity. They are aware of their impact on their employees and customers, the market, the environment and the wider community, and they keep showing this fact in everything they do.
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Integrity means persevering. Zappos, Tom & # 39; s of Maine and Patagonia have worked this way for years and reflect a deep commitment. When they refer to their principles, people believe them – and more importantly, they believe in the brand. Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a lot from these companies in order to define your principles and adhere to them no matter how your business grows.