Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Find your differentiator

We all want to be a bit different. It's what makes us stand out from our competition and allows customers to chose between us. It enables us to speak clearly about our own businesses and what we do. And it helps people who have worked with us tell their friends and colleagues about us - hopefully in a good way.  Differentiation can be seen as the fuel of strategy and marketing.

The basis of business differentiation has changed over the decades. Marketing used to focus on the product and its features.  It then matured and customers became important. And now, more and more businesses are choosing to stand out by focusing on their purpose and values - what they believe in.

Another development over the years has been how businesses have learned to differentiate themselves on the basis of their business model. I've written a couple of introductory articles on this myself if you want to find out more.

I've done a number of exercises with clients recently to explore how they position themselves in the market to stand out and be different.  It's always a really exciting thing to do and when they get it right it's a real light bulb moment! It involves a degree of introspection (who are we, what do we believe in, what are we truly good at) and external research (what do our customers value, what are our competitors doing etc) and quite a lot of hard work.  But get it right, the fog is lifted and the business just starts to 'flow' (especially when carrying out sales and marketing).

I read an article recently which really captures some of my thinking in this area quite nicely. It's by Hinge Marketing - a consultancy that focuses on branding and marketing for Professional Services Firms.  Find Your Differentiator: 21 Ways to Gain a Competitive Advantage for Your Firm

They start with a really good check list for differentiators...
To be successful, a differentiator must meet three important criteria:
  • It must be true. You can’t simply make it up.
  • It must be important to potential clients. If not, what’s the point?
  • It must be provable. If you can’t demonstrate that it is true, it won’t be believed.
The authors then go on to provide a list of 21 potential ways of differentiating your business. I really like this list and intend to use it in the future with clients to supplement my exercises.  The 21 ways cover all the areas I mentioned - product, customer, purpose and business model.

Here's the trigger list but please read the article for more detail. (Although the article is focused on professional services I think the principles can be carried over to other sectors).
1. Specialize in an industry.
2. Specialize in serving a specific role within your client’s organization.
3. Specialize in offering a particular service.
4. Offer a truly unique technology or process.
5. Focus on understanding a particular target audience.
6. Specialize in serving clients of a certain size.
7. All of your staff shares a specific characteristic or credential.
8. Specialize in clients that share a common characteristic.
9. Focus on solving a specific business challenge.
10. Have one or more individuals who are high visibility experts in their fields.
11. Offer a unique business model.
12. Have a specific geographic focus.
13. Offer access to a unique set of information not available elsewhere.
14. Offer a unique set of contacts or relationships not easily accessible.
15. Do business with a distinctive level of service.
16. Distinguish yourself by the clients you have.
17. Focus on the size of your firm.
18.  Emphasize your relationship with a parent firm or partner.
19. Focus on a notable signature accomplishment.
20. Specialize in producing a unique or very valuable result.
21. Look or act differently than all of your competitors.
So how do you differentiate yourselves?
Do you have a clearly articulated view that you and your staff share?
Do you use it in all your sales and marketing efforts - from qualifying clients through to website content?
How does your differentiation stack up against the criteria above?
And perhaps most importantly, do you feel excited and motivated by your differentiated position?

I'd love to hear your views.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

An ode to bicycle-based-businesses and a 3-wheeler for 4-eyes

I like bicycles. Cycling is fun, healthy, affordable, and sustainable. It's generally a force for good.

I also like exciting new businesses models.  Businesses that challenge the conventional and try and shake things up a little.

I REALLY like bicycle-based-businesses - BBBs. To me they score on both fronts.

Even better are Bristol-based-bicycle-businesses - BBBBs. They are a triple-whammy as I can get to visit them by bike, and they are run by 'can do' Bristolians who often inspire.

I've been lucky enough to meet and work with a number of BBBBs over the last year or so..
  • Roll for the Soul
  • Boneshaker Magazine
  • The Bristol Bike Project
  • Robin Mather Cycles
  • Pedal Power Transport and Velocity Cycle Couriers
...and had conversations with many more. Check them out.

I've started collecting a list of BBBs which I occasionally tweet. Here's one of the weirdest recent ones, a mobile opticians tricycle. A 3-wheeler for 4 eyes?

Tricycle Pop-Up Shop Pedals Eyeglasses To Salon Goers [Pics]

And along with Rob Wall at Roll for the Soul we've created a notice board (how old fashioned) for BBBBs - pop in, add yours, or just check it out with a lovely coffee.

Do you have any examples of interesting BBBs?  Do you share my view that they are a force for good, or perhaps you have come across a BBB that doesn't fit this mould?

Or are you a BBBB, or aspiring BBBB entrepreneur bursting with energy? I'd love to hear your story and perhaps be able to offer some support.

P.S. Apologies for the excessive use of the BBB / BBBB terminology - I might have got carried away slightly.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Fire drills and innovation: a story involving a corky kinetic mouse

We've just had a quick fire evacuation here at Spike Island. Don't panic, I'm fine, and it turned out to be a false alarm thankfully, but it got me thinking about how innovation happens.

Whilst outside at our muster point I got chatting to a couple of fellow Spike Design tenants*. I kept them entertained with a riveting story about how my wireless mouse had space for 2 batteries but miraculously worked on just 1. Not surprisingly, we quickly moved on to the idea of whether the mouse would work with no batteries, and from there the idea of a kinetic powered mouse was born!
A quick Google search revealed (unsurprisingly) that the concept had already been developed by a designer (the Corky mouse) but that's not the point. It was a perfect reminder that innovation almost exclusively happens away from your desk!

The 5 minute conversation was everything that a normal work meeting isn't:

  • It was hastily convened...
  • with a disparate group of individuals...
  • standing up...
  • outside...
  • and there was certainly no agenda!

So if you've got a problem to solve, or an opportunity to grasp how about replicating the fire drill?

  • get up
  • walk away from your desk
  • grab a person or two (the more disparate the group the better)
  • find a nice space
  • remain standing, do not sit down
  • shoot the breeze for 5 minutes
  • see what comes up!
You might be surprised what you come up with.  It's got to be better than another 5 minutes of internet research!

Innovation is for established businesses as much as inventing new breakthrough computer pointing devices. There's a whole heap of innovation material out there but I always recommend the Gamestorming approach by David Gray as a starting point.  Get in touch if you'd like to talk more about innovation.


* Thanks to kinetic mouse innovators - Ali of Yoke and Ollie of Hot Head Films

P.S I do not recommend deliberately setting the fire alarm off in your office. Unless there's a fire of course.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Take the faster route to growth - GrowthAccelerator

Looking to rapidly grow your business? Then your journey starts here. Welcome to...

GrowthAccelerator is a new, premium service helping England's brightest growing businesses achieve their ambitions for rapid, sustainable growth. It’s a partnership between private enterprise and government. And it’s affordable.

I am really excited by this service and the value for money it provides for ambitious businesses.  I have also been selected as a registered and approved Growth Coach, and am delighted to have got my first client onto the programme.

The service offers a personalised support programme for high growth businesses. Achieving 20% growth year on year is the hallmark of high growth businesses and GrowthAccelerator is designed to support a wide variety of businesses reach that figure. It doesn’t matter what stage of growth you’re at, or what sector you are in. As long as you can complete the following check-list, GrowthAccelerator may be able to help you.
  • Are you determined to grow?
  • Is your company registered in England?
  • Do you employ fewer than 250 people?
  • Is your turnover under £40m?

The service is driven by a single goal: fast growth. It's why the support is personalised to individual businesses and it's why there is a nationwide network of over 800 experts and a huge array of expertise to draw upon.

Put simply, if it's growth you are after then GrowthAccelerator might just be worth looking into.

To find out more then please do not hesitate to contact me at, or call me on 07787422617.  Information is also available on the GrowthAccelerator website.  I'd really like to hear what you think.

Friday, 6 July 2012

World's most accurate pie chart

Infographics are all the rage these days - creative ways of presenting data as information. I love this tongue-in-cheek example I spotted this week.

World's Most Accurate Pie Chart

See Creative analytics spotted in California for another bizarre use of data analysis.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Creative analytics spotted in California

I like to think that I combine creative thinking with insightful analysis but this is taking it to a whole new level.  Whilst bike touring in California last year I came across this little town which obviously doesn't take itself too seriously...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

7 questions to assess your business model performance

Your business model is the complete system of how your business satisfies your customers' needs and makes profit. In an earlier post I described what a business model is, and how new techniques can be used to design more successful and higher performing business models.

But how do you know if your business model is working well, or needs improving?
How do you know it is time to innovate your business model?

Moving beyond the product-market oriented business

These days having an excellent product or service that meets a well-defined customer need might not be enough. Even the best products and services increasingly struggle to achieve and sustain a competitive advantage. That's where your broader business model steps in. Innovating your business model is increasingly how you can compete and succeed beyond an excellent product-market fit.

7 questions to measure how well your business model is performing

By asking the following simple questions about your business you can start to understand whether your business model is fit for purpose.
1. Is your business model scalable?
2. Does your business model produce recurring revenues?
3. Does the cost of switching prevent your customers from moving to competitors?
4. Do you earn before you spend?
5. Do you get others to do the work?
6. Does your business model provide built-in protection from competition?
7. Is your business model based on a game changing cost structure?
How does your business model perform?

Each question gives an indication of whether your business model is giving you a competitive edge.

If you answered a strong yes to the majority then your business model is giving you an advantage.  If you answered no to the majority of questions, or only a tentative weak yes, then it could be time to try to rethink and redesign your business model.

The benefits to your business 

Looking at your business model takes you beyond looking at individual ideas and initiatives for your business. It takes you beyond product-market fit considerations which is all that most companies compete on. It's about looking at your whole interconnected business and how it fits together. It can be a blueprint for your business success.  

Ultimately business model innovation is about improving your competitive advantage, driving growth, achieving better margins, and perhaps even working less hard.

I'm excited to be working a number of clients in this area, many of whom are selling time - their own time and their staff's time. Many consultancies, agencies, professional services firms, and advisers are still using the same traditional model of day-rate fees and project-based billing. This is my business too and it's changing.

Ask the 7 questions of your business and see how it performs.  I'd love to know how you get on.


The '7 questions' have been adapted from work by Alexander Osterwalder 2011 - an inspiration to me on business model innovation.