product differentiation, differentiating my product, how to stand out, business advice, small business advice, small biz tips, daymond john advice Daymond John looks at his phone while leaning up against the balcony outside of a building. Daymond John looks at his phone while leaning up against the balcony outside of a building. Daymond John looks at his phone while leaning up against the balcony outside of a building. Daymond John looks at his phone while leaning up against the balcony outside of a building.
Small Business

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Daymond John, on how to differentiate your product

This is part of a series of columns by Daymond John, an American businessman and author. It is presented by Chase for Business.

Choose what’s right for your business

Remember those old Army recruiting ads from back in the day? The ones that kept urging us to be all that we can be? When I was a kid, those ads made me want to push myself to be the very best. Trouble was, I wasn't the best student, wasn't the best athlete, wasn't even the best at keeping all my side hustles going.

At the time, I thought those Army ads were telling me to aim high, think big and reach for absolute excellence—and, in a way, they were. But there was an important underlying message in there that didn't hit me until I started out in business. The Army recruiters weren't necessarily selling us on the idea of being the best, but the idea of giving it your all and pushing yourself to achieve whatever it is you are meant to achieve. It's about figuring out what your strengths are and taking full advantage of them. You might think this is just a small difference, just semantics, but to me that difference was everything.

Here's how to apply that lesson to your business:

1. Take an objective look at your competitors

We’re at the point where it’s getting pretty tough to create something entirely new in this world. Even a product as revolutionary as the iPod was an evolution of existing MP3 players, which were an evolution of the Sony Walkman and Discman. The only way to differentiate your product or service is to assess the competition and the marketplace to see what you can do a little better, a little differently and a little more efficiently.

At FUBU, we started out making T-shirts—nothing new, right? But what was new and exciting about our clothes was the way we tailored them to the style of hip-hop culture, unlike the other brands out there.

2. Decide how you're going to be the best of the best

The next step is to find your competitive advantage. First, understand the price point that you fit in the marketplace. You don't want to be in the middle of the market, unless you have a really great product and following, because the middle gets crushed when a competitor makes a push to gain market share during tough economic times. Aim for the high or low end.

Now, you've got to isolate your strength and capitalize on it. It's not about being “the best of the best," but figuring out which category you are going to be the best in. You can't possibly market the best-priced jeans, the best-feeling jeans and the best-made jeans, for example. The key is to figure out where you want to be and make sure the story you're telling consumers is communicating the same idea.

In the FUBU days, our competition wasn't tapping into urban hip-hop culture, at least not in a genuine way. So, we made our bones by putting out quality shirts that we couldn't find anywhere else—clothes we wanted to wear in the clubs, in the streets, everywhere. Our mission was right there in our name—FUBU... For Us, By Us.

3. Speak authentically to your customers

Once you have identified your competitive advantage, the key is to market your brand and tell your story in a way that customers can connect with.

FUBU was authentic, and folks could see that. Obviously, the quality had to be right, and the price had to be right, but the look had to be fresh, and the colors had to pop, and it also had to come together from a genuine place. That's the way we stood apart from everyone else making T-shirts and casual wear at the time. Without realizing it, we created a movement. We tapped into a product line that spoke to us and to our friends, and somewhere along the way we bet that it would speak to other people just like us, and to their friends. We knew how to connect with our community because we were part of it. We even utilized “street teams" (more formally known as field marketers or influencers) and eventually celebrities that our customers could identify with.

At the end of the day, we succeeded because we figured out how to keep it real. Were our T-shirts the best in the store? Probably not, but we were borrowing a page from the Army recruitment handbook by being all we could be—because, hey, we were exactly where we needed to be to make just the right amount of noise to get in the game and stay in the game, for a good long while.

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