I work with many small and medium sized businesses and many of them are struggling with the same thing. What is it that makes them unique?

They start with telling me that their customer service is the best, that it will make them stand out from the crowd. My reply (with a smile and an English accent) is that is just saying “once you buy something from us, we’ll be really nice to you” – amazing customer service should be a given, something that happens at every business. Once you have it your customers will tell you, and they will tell your friends. It’s not your uniqueness (unless it’s so incredibly extraordinary that people will pay for it).

Zappo’s are always quoted when it comes to customer service, but that wasn’t their primary goal. They needed to sell shoes online. No-one bought shoes online. So they came up with ways to make it easier for their customers to do that. They have year-long return policy, free shipping both ways, yes- you can order the same shoe in endless sizes and colors and just keep the one’s you want. Their great customer service came as a bi-product of their uniqueness. They set up phone lines, not for people to order shoes, but to get their questions answered and their doubts reassured. They also treated their people very well, and when you do that, those people treat your customers well. (Yes, the customer comes 2nd but that’s another column).

To find your uniqueness you must first know your market. Yes, we all want to think that our target demographic is ‘everybody’ or ‘everybody who shops’ or ‘everybody with a cell-phone’ – Unless you are a big box store only competing on price then that’s not true (and even if you are, it’s not true).

The great news is that demographics have changed, whereas traditional target audiences were defined as age, sex, income, location, etc., many companies are now reaching different sectors by targeting passions, skills, beliefs, hobbies, values, attitudes etc. You can define your market any way you like, just know who they are. Know what they want, what they think they want, and solve a problem or help them get it.

Those of you that read this column or have met me in real life know that my motto in life is BE YOU (I even write a column called that in The Times of Acadiana) – this isn’t just the secret to life for individuals, it goes for businesses too. If you are selling something that I can order from amazon, with minimum effort and have on my doorstop the next day, you better have something special to make me buy from you. If you are selling a service that I can get from 20 other people in a 5 mile radius, you better offer something different.

So if you are in business, sit down with a cup of coffee and ask yourself who you are. You may find the answer interesting, and it may help your business succeed.