4 Tips for Creating Competitive Advantage That’s Sustainable

Marketing is all about promoting your business and its products so you can convince people to buy from you. Throughout your marketing campaign, you should make a concerted effort to highlight the key benefits you offer that set you apart from the competition. Then, use these key benefits to promote purchases by featuring them prominently in your marketing campaigns. Highlighting these unique benefits helps you stand out and makes consumers see why you’re a better choice than rival businesses, something marketers call competitive advantage, which only works when you understand your competition, your consumers’ needs, and communicate your benefits effectively. Today, we’ll focus on tools for creating a competitive advantage that’s sustainable regardless of your industry.

creating competitive advantage
Image courtesy of Insead

Below, we discuss 4 key benefits to promote in your marketing campaigns regardless of your industry, market, or competition. But first, let’s talk about competitive advantage, especially sustainable competitive advantage as a tool to increase your market share.

Sustainable competitive advantage

Sustainable competitive advantage refers to the preference among your target market for your products over those offered by competitors. Because your target market prefers your products, you attain a higher market share over the competition, as you can see in the graphic below. In this graphic, you can track your performance across key metrics, like share of voice (share of voice assesses awareness of a brand and its attributes, which is the first step toward making a sale), against your major competitors and assess how this changes over time. Note that Air France achieved some success in improving their share of voice but then shrank back down to the original percentage near the end of the measurement cycle. Armed with this information, the company can map its actions during the high points and low points to determine what changed to increase or decrease its share of voice.competitive advantage

The sustainable part refers to a competitive advantage that’s hard for the competition to copy, hence it provides a benefit over several years, at least. For instance, price is a tool for creating competitive advantage (as you will see below), but only when you can offer a lower price because your costs are lower. Otherwise, a competitor can quickly lower their price to match yours until the entire industry operates at a lower profit (or even a loss in the short run). This type of competitive advantage isn’t sustainable and may even violate antitrust legislation in the US, where such pricing models have the effect of driving businesses without a lot of cash reserves into bankruptcy, which lessens competition. For instance, Campbell Soup was sued when they reduced the price of their soup such that it was lower than the cost to produce the soup. Competitors argued that the lower price was designed to drive them out of the market. While this may sound like a win for consumers, however, in the long run, lower competition almost always results in higher prices. This forms the basis for antitrust legislation, which is unique to the US, but the idea is spreading internationally.

There are much better tactics out there for creating a competitive advantage that’s sustainable because it’s hard to copy. Often, the tactics are specific to an industry. Today, we’ll focus on four tactics for creating a competitive advantage that works regardless of your industry, target market, and competition.

Creating competitive advantage regardless of industry

Quality & reliability

It’s always smart to promote the quality and reliability of your products/services. For products, that means creating product offers that solve consumer problems in unique ways since consumers buy solutions to their problems rather than products. An example is when Honda added the ability to fold the seats in its minivan to effortlessly achieve various configurations for handling passengers and gear. At the time, competitors required owners to remove and store unused seats, which was awkward as the seats were bulky and also meant you couldn’t change the configuration on the fly.

We call this unique package of benefits a value proposition. Below is the value proposition canvas for the typical grocery shopping experience. You can build one yourself for any product/service you provide or one you’re building by accessing the download and instructions from Strategyzer. Once you have your canvas, compare it with those you develop for your competition to determine ways you can alleviate pains better, provide more benefits, or offer unique products and services that solve customer problems (in this model they call these customer jobs). Companies must not only develop a unique value proposition but must effectively communicate that value to their target market.

value proposition canvas
Image courtesy of Bridge Innovate

A start in providing value comes through a focus on the materials or the manufacturing method. Highlight materials that are synonymous with quality, like silicone. If you work with silicone material manufacturers, make sure people know about it. For instance, PCs commonly cobrand their computers by putting the Intel Inside sticker on the product and using it in marketing materials. This cobranding infers greater value.

All products (goods) have a service component, such as the staff there to answer questions. Providing superior service helps create a competitive advantage that’s very hard to duplicate, as it can take years of high-quality service to create a good reputation and only a single failure to destroy that reputation. Also, you can’t mandate great customer service. You must train, motivate, reward, and respect your staff if you have any hope of providing superior customer service.

Sustainability and shared values

We strongly recommend leaning into the sustainability angle as a key selling point. Show the world how your business is committed to sustainable, ethical business practices and you will see a seismic increase in conversion rates, as you can see in the graphic below. In this graphic, you can see how shared values (beliefs) translate into sales across the world.

corporate social responsibility
Image courtesy of Customer Insight Group

 

A recent Harris report shows that 82% of consumers want a brand’s value to align with their own and 75% have switched from a company whose values didn’t match their own. Forbes reports that consumers are four to six times more likely to make a purchase, recommend, and defend a brand with shared values.

Obviously, actions speak louder than words. You must implement your company’s values with employees, partners, and suppliers if you want consumers to care about your values. For instance, Starbucks buys only fair trade coffee for its shops and retail outlets. Changes to consider implementing include using recyclable packaging, supporting environmental and societal causes, partnering with sustainable suppliers, removing advertising and marketing efforts from platforms that don’t support your values, etc. For instance, after Elon Musk supported antisemitic posts on his platform X (formerly Twitter), advertisers left the platform in droves.

Pricing

As mentioned earlier, pricing can provide a competitive advantage, although it’s a little tricky unless your costs are lower than your competition. A further complication is that consumers don’t always buy based on which product is cheaper. Price is mainly a factor for convenience goods because consumers don’t see huge differences among the offerings in this product category.  For instance, a consumer might choose the lower-priced item between brand-name canned goods. There’s little loyalty among buyers for this type of good, hence it’s hard to sustain this advantage over time as consumers choose whichever brand is on sale or offers a coupon at a given time.

For other types of goods, consumers make a tradeoff between price and quality. For some products, a higher price connotes a higher quality and consumers may prefer the higher-priced good, especially when they can’t objectively assess the quality of the product. Jewelry falls into this category. In other cases, consumers build a consideration set of products that they find suitable and price may be a factor in entering a consumer’s consideration set. The consumer then chooses a product from the consideration set without using the price as a decision variable. For instance, when buying a car, you have a set of criteria such as price, seating capacity, fuel, style (ie. a sedan versus an SUV), and maybe a few others. You then choose a car that matches your needs regardless of whether your choice is a few hundred dollars more expensive than the cheapest model in your consideration set.

If you’re able to produce products at a lower cost than your competition without sacrificing quality, this needs to be your USP (unique selling proposition). Show people that they get the same product from you but at a much better price. For instance, Walmart offers lower costs for many products it sells and sustains that lower cost by making massive purchases from manufacturers (with associated volume discounts) and reducing logistics costs through operating its own transportation hubs and trucks.

Or, embrace the fact that your prices are high. Provide information on why your pricing strategy is how it is. Perhaps your products are more expensive because you’re using reusable materials that cost more. Or, maybe your service offers more things than a comparable one, which is why you charge more. Don’t shy away from high prices – make them your key selling point and focus on value for money.

Guarantees

One of the easiest ways to get people to purchase your products is by emphasizing the guarantees they get that protect their purchase. Offer a money-back guarantee on purchases so consumers can return anything that doesn’t match their needs. It shows how confident you are in what you’re putting out and builds confidence in the buyer. They don’t see the purchase as a risk because they will get their money back if it’s not up to standard.

Or, offer a free trial so the consumer can see exactly what he/she is getting before spending their hard-earned money.

Conclusion

Use different aspects of your marketing strategy to emphasize these key selling points for creating competitive advantage. It means that people start noticing the best things about you the moment they come into contact with your brand. Some well-thought-out key selling points can be all it takes to boost sales and beat the competition.

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