“Features can be duplicated.”
Among other things, this is what Madeline Haydon, CEO and founder of nutpods, learned from one of her business advisors.1
The nutpods product is a non-dairy creamer made from almonds and coconuts that debuted in 2015. Upon its success, bigger brands swarmed the shelves with similar offerings. But even though they had more money and name recognition, the giants didn’t snuff out Madeline’s business — instead, nutpods has continued to soar.
What’s their secret?
Recently we talked about LaCroix’s ability to seize upon a particular opportunity with consumers. Their product became a wild success… until the competition came along.
LaCroix became a brand among a sea of other brands — and got into trouble particularly after their claims of flavoring their carbonated water with “natural essence” came under scrutiny.2
Since then, LaCroix has struggled to compete with other businesses that have released similar products and have optimized that offering with more intriguing flavors. LaCroix may still make a resurgence, but right now, it’s too soon to tell.
So why hasn’t the same thing happened to nutpods?
Madeline recognized that people needed to connect with her brand in a powerful way. Like Chobani, the nutpods company needed to draw customers in with their story and stay true to their mission.
There are several reasons why nutpods has been able to stand firm amid the competition so far, but one of them is that Madeline and her team have a very tight handle on what’s important to their customers, and they reflect that in everything from their formulations to company initiatives, packaging, promotions, and copy.
For instance, nutpods’ target market is wary of chemical-sounding and hard-to-pronounce ingredients. On their website, nutpods spends a section focusing on their real food ingredients, and any that sound mysterious — dipotassium phosphate, for instance — get a description in plain language: “This is a type of salt with a fancy name. It helps to provide nutpods smooth, rich mouth feel. It prevents nutpods from separating in coffee.” 3
Whatever competitors have been able to duplicate in terms of product offerings, they have so far been unable to replicate in terms of the relationship nutpods has with customers.
Staying extremely close to what your target market cares about must come across in both your mission and message — and be demonstrated on a regular basis — so that you generate that kind of authentic relationship with customers.
Nutpods has a unique method for solving their customer’s problem that is outside of their actual product formulation. Even if you have a very uncommon product, your method is essentially your differentiator (what distinguishes you in the marketplace).
When you began creating your products for the purpose of meeting a need, you probably thought about and looked into what others were doing.
While your competitors’ methods begin as a nice barometer (“Am I on the right track?”), they can easily become a negative influence toward conformity (“If mine doesn’t look like this / like theirs, it won’t sell”).
If your method looks too much like your competitors’, your potential customers won’t have enough reasons to choose you over them. Giving your potential customers the right reasons to prefer you is part of what building your mission is all about. So what does that look like when you offer mostly the same product as someone else does?
Subaru sells cars, like every other car company. They don’t sell the fastest, most aesthetically-pleasing, or most luxurious cars. Instead, what sets Subaru apart is the safety and durability of their cars.
Not only that, but they’re committed to the values of their customers. Their target market includes dog owners, adventurers, and parents of teenagers. Their advertising makes it clear:
The following Differentiator List outlines the items that might make your method unique. The more you have, the more you’ll be able to stand out. However, not every differentiator can take priority in your marketing approach, or your messaging will come across as cluttered and confusing to customers.
Being too different may even arouse suspicion around the legitimacy of your product. Your goal should be to choose a few key differentiators that will distinguish you from the rest of your particular market.
List of Common Differentiators:
Subaru uses Quality, Performance, and Values on the Differentiator List to separate their products from those of their competitors. And to return to our earlier example, nutpods has focused on the Quality of their product, which mirrors the values of their target market. As a second element of differentiation, they back up their product’s quality with Credibility (independent third-party certifications).
Which differentiators would be most effective for your business?
Pick your top three and number them in order of importance. Write out your method for how you solve the customer’s problem and include your differentiators.
This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.
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