Jerry Osteryoung: Capitalize on your businesses unique qualities

December 6, 2013 

"That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!"

-- Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

I was recently in Foley, Alabama, where I had a very enjoyable lunch at Lambert's Café. Besides ridiculously generous portion sizes, Lambert's is known for their "throwed rolls" -- so named because they literally throw the rolls to you from across the room.

Grammatical correctness aside, throwed rolls are great. It is so much fun to catch them, and they taste incredible as well.

I was not able to find out just how this tradition began, but if I had to guess, I would say it happened by chance and simply grew to become part of the Lambert's experience. Today, their slogan is, "The only home of throwed rolls."

Moe's Southwest Grill gives us another example of a restaurant providing a unique dining experience. When you walk into any Moe's, the staff greets you by shouting, "Welcome to Moe's!" in unison. There is more to this chain than a simple greeting, but that one little feature helps differentiate the restaurant from its competition.

Then there is Mary Kay Cosmetics, which has become synonymous with pink Cadillacs. The company has been reward

ing their outstanding sales personnel with pink Cadillacs for decades, and over the years, the car has become part of their brand identity. General Motors has done much to help promote this concept, and songs about pink Cadillacs by Bruce Springsteen and Aretha Franklin have helped too.

These are three separate examples of very different companies, but they all have one thing in common. They are all firms that developed or recognized something they did differently and used that uniqueness to help market their business.

But what if your business provides standard products and services? How do you distinguish yourself from the crowd if everyone offers something similar?

Remember, uniqueness is not just about products and services. It can be any attribute that allows you to differentiate yourself clearly from the competition. Location, for example, can be a differentiating feature. To illustrate that point, here are several signs I have seen touting a unique location:

1. Last gas station before long bridge.

2. Last chance to get fireworks before leaving Alabama.

3. Gamble here before you leave Nevada!

I really believe that every business is unique, and if you take a minute to think about it, it is not hard to find something that sets you apart. This can be how long you have been in business, that you are family-owned or that your customer service is heads and shoulders beyond the field, just to name a few of the tried and true options. You can always ask your customers to tell you what they think makes you unique as well.

It is important to realize, however, that simply knowing what makes you different is not enough. Once you define what makes you special, next comes capitalizing on it by using it in your marketing. This is the critical step. If you cannot present your uniqueness in a way your customers will relate to, how can they see the value in doing business with you?

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by email at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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