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November 1998


Differentiating Your Company:
So Vital…And So Few Do It!

BY NADJI TEHRANI


An alarming trend has emerged that truly concerns me. Over the last few years, more and more individuals have contacted me to try to learn which companies are the actual leaders in a variety of product and service fields. Why, I've wondered, do these consumers need to take the time and expend the extra effort to contact me, when the companies in question spend vast amounts of money advertising in various media?

When I began to investigate the question, the answer immediately became clear - companies are ignoring a vital business principle in their advertising and promotion, i.e., the need to differentiate themselves from the competition. Worse yet, the true leaders, those that are unmistakably number one in their field, are doing nothing to tell the world of their superiority. This is beyond my comprehension! Not only do these leaders/innovators lose a great opportunity to attract buyers, by saying nothing about their leadership position, they are inviting copycat companies to enter their market and prosper from their innovations. Copiers gain strength from the leader's lack of positioning.

Once copycat companies enter a silent leader's market, the leader that has not done a good job of positioning itself is at great risk of being positioned by their competition! Obviously, this is not to the leader's advantage.

Finally, when a market is populated with companies that do nothing to differentiate themselves, consumers become confused. Businesses cannot assume the buying public knows what they do and what they have accomplished. They do not. They have to be told. And they have to be told in a very bold way, not once or twice, but all the time - every day, week, month, 365 days a year, every year. Simply put, there is no time-out in marketing, positioning, advertising and differentiating.

Consistent, regular promotion is vital, but it is not enough to maintain a competitive advantage. To truly succeed in staking your claim as number one, you must not be shy. In fact, there is no room for shy people when it comes to sales and marketing. Unfortunately, many of today's leaders don't seem to understand this concept. If you don't believe me, stop by the newsstand tonight and grab one of the consumer publications that carries ads for a type of product you might need to buy in the near future. (I recently did this when looking to buy running shoes.) I'll bet you find that all of the ads say pretty much the same thing. When you're done with this little exercise, you probably still won't know which company came to market first, which company has the best product, which company has the most repeat buyers, which company has the best track record, which company has brought innovations to the market, etc. Wouldn't you feel better buying from a company that proudly stated its leadership position in one or more of these areas? Of course you would.

A handful of companies come to mind that have understood the vital role of positioning and differentiation and have used it to great advantage. Think about Xerox - how many people refer to copies as Xeroxes? I've never heard anyone refer to a copy by using another brand name. The same thing holds true for Kleenex. And in the Middle East, razorblades are referred to by the brand name Gillette.

How did the practice of using brand names for common items come about? Without a doubt, it happened because these marketers brought a clear message to their audience: We are the original, we have the best technology, the longest track record, the most accumulated knowledge and have earned the trust, respect and goodwill that goes with being the leader. People expect more from a leader, so they will go out of their way to buy from them.

Perhaps the greatest leadership-positioning example I can think of is Microsoft. To be frank, I don't think it's fair to say their competition is a distant second. The truth is - they leave them in the dust! And it's easy to see why. Open any computer-related magazine and you will see the Microsoft logo everywhere. In fact, this company is so strong, it has faced an antitrust suit, not because of what it's doing today, but because of what might happen down the road.

Not too long ago, I read a book entitled something like The Greatest Marketing Blunders of the Decade. In that book I recall reading of some astounding mistakes made by many businesspeople, a number of which came from improper competitive research or user group formation, or from neglecting to consider customer needs and not consulting with customers to learn about their requirements. So products were made, not because the marketplace needed them, but because someone in the company had a pet project and that someone could have been a universe of one who thought there would be a great need for such a product. As such, millions of dollars were poured into R&D without any actual market requirements. Worst of all, when these products were made, no one spent the time to do proper market development for them. And the few who realized a useful application for their product did not do a good job of marketing it. As a result, many companies that were pioneers in their own right are either nonexistent today or, at best, they are not market leaders. For example, the company that invented the first no-lead gas has kept this fact a secret for nearly three decades and no one seems to know who the inventor was. As a result, everyone buys everybody else's product because the pioneers didn't do anything to position themselves in the mind of the consumer that they were the original and imply that others were simply copycats. They never positioned their product as "#1," even though they invented it nearly three decades before government regulations required all manufacturers to develop a similar product. And so it goes - wasted opportunities.

I was recently reading comments by Steve Chase, chairman and CEO of America Online, in AOL's 1998 annual report, and I found a number of comments by him extremely apropos to our line of business (as more and more call centers will have to accommodate Internet calls and e-mail) as well as this particular editorial and I would like to share them with you:

  1. "We are on a mission to build a global medium as central to people's lives as the telephone or television … and even more valuable."
  2. In further comment in his presentation, he says, "It is time for being nimble and pioneering. That's what AOL has always worked hard to be. More than a decade ago, when we set out to build a service that could change people's lives, we quickly learned that being nimble and pioneering was the only way to grow. Today, we know that is the only way to survive and thrive."

It seems that Mr. Case has precisely the same opinion about the key to survival of corporations, that being original, innovative, and as he added, the welcome word nimble, is the key to survival for any and all corporations.

Yes, when you ignore the first law of positioning and you ignore differentiating from others, then the competition will definitely position themselves as market leaders and in the absence of promotion by the pioneering company, everyone will believe the copycats to be leaders. To me, why bother inventing a unique product and let a group of copycats reap the benefits? As I have stated before, in my judgment, copycats have no raison d'tre and consequently, what these people contribute to the well-being of our society is less than nothing. I recall my father telling me that, "If God wanted us to be copycats, we would all be created as monkeys." I am sure you recall, "Monkey see, monkey do"? If you look around you, you will see several copycats for every one originator. I hope it becomes abundantly clear that there is no point being an inventor or originator in any business unless and until you are prepared to position yourself as an industry leader and keep reinforcing the message every single minute, every single hour, every single day, every single year, simply because marketing is not a part-time job. More than anything else, marketing is more than a full-time job.

In short, if you have a great product, market it effectively, position it correctly and, above all, do everything you can to differentiate yourself from competitors who simply copy your product and share in your good-will and hard work.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Sincerely,

Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher
Editor-in-Chief
ntehrani@tmcnet.com


Don Levin and Willy Gissen of Levin Public Relations & Marketing, Inc. respond to this Publisher's Outlook with their article "Achieving Your Company's Goals Through Differentiation." Read it here.


Comprehensive Call Center Track At
CTI EXPO Deserves Your Attention

Please refer to our CTI EXPO home page www.ctiexpo.com and study the all-new call center conferences. Be sure to visit the Exhibit Hall and attend the many Learning Centers and Demo Theater, and stop by the various Partner Pavilions. The information you will gain there is free, but is vital to the productivity of your call center. Please join us in San Jose, California December 1-4 and bring your colleagues.

CTI EXPO And The Call Center
These days, we are all so busy that it becomes very easy to develop tunnel vision. No doubt we've all experienced this at one time or another, whether we realize it or not. Tunnel vision is common even in the call center industry and as it relates to voice and data integration as a whole. To illustrate my point, let's consider the following.

In addition to [email protected] CENTER Solutions, Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC) also publishes CTI and INTERNET TELEPHONY magazines. CTI is the industry's most technology-oriented magazine. Not only does it focus on call centers, it also focuses on other productivity-boosting technologies, such as fax servers, remote access and other technologies in the data communications space. INTERNET TELEPHONY covers topics that revolve around the transmission of voice, video or fax over the Internet or other networks adhering to the Internet Protocol (IP).

These three magazines all support TMC's trade show, CTI EXPO. As such, many of the articles you read in each of TMC's publications have an analogous conference session at CTI EXPO. Moreover, the various product categories discussed in these publications are represented by the diverse exhibitors at CTI EXPO.

CTI EXPO evolved from TCCS (Technology for Call Center Solutions): TMC's prior trade show that focused exclusively on call center products. Just as TMC grew its publication base from one magazine focusing exclusively on call centers to a family of three publications, CTI EXPO embodies this same growth in the trade show space.

There are many people within the industry who consider the CTI, call center and Internet telephony markets as distinct segments. At the first CTI EXPO in Baltimore, it was evident that this is not necessarily true.

One of the most revealing displays of the convergence of these industry segments is the interesting Internet telephony gateway testimonials we received from managers of distributed call centers that came to the show to learn more about transferring large volumes of calls between centers. Internet telephony gateways allow phone calls to be transferred inexpensively over WAN or Intranet connections while incurring no additional per-minute charges. As call centers have extremely large telephone bills with respect to the size of their overall operation, it makes sense that distributed call centers that transfer calls between centers can easily justify the migration to Internet telephony. So CTI EXPO was the perfect information source for their needs.

The same holds true for the many call center professionals who came to CTI EXPO to learn about unified messaging. Unified messaging is a technology that integrates voice mail, fax and e-mail in a single, centralized inbox. It is an essential tool for the productivity-conscious worker. There was a time, however, when unified messaging was not even remotely considered as part of the call center industry. Nevertheless, as time went on and call centers began dealing with fax and e-mail, it has become essential for call center agents to embrace unified messaging as well.

Every day there are more examples of the convergence of these industry segments. The PC has brought telephony into the world of open systems. Many of the companies that exhibit at CTI EXPO are companies that are relatively new, having founders that have worked for years at computer companies. The PC has allowed products to be developed in the call center that call center managers could have not even fathomed a few years back. The ingenuity of these recent start-up companies, coupled with the power of integration enabled through CTI, has resulted in an abundance of products that make the call center run more efficiently and cost-effectively.

There is no substitute for a trade show that brings together such essential industry segments under one roof. The call center market has become a lot more interesting and complicated. To get a handle on all the changes in the market, there is no better place than CTI EXPO to help you understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

As if this wasn't enough reason to come to CTI EXPO, we are giving away a brand new Volkswagen Beetle to one of the lucky attendees at the show. Of course you must be present to win. We look forward to seeing you in the San Jose Convention Center, San Jose, California, December 1-4, 1998.

 

 







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