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Concubines, Coffee and Change

"Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique..." (Song of Solomon 6:8-9).

This Old Testament verse, interestingly written by one of my very distant relatives (Solomon), beautifully makes a point that modern-day language can’t quite convey.

Every business must have a unique niche if you want to separate yourself from others to compete in today’s marketplace. This is especially true if you are competing in an industry that is very crowded with competition like ours.

In some sales situations, low price can be a motivator that drives purchasing decisions, but that’s not always the case. A previous commentary, Business Lessons from Mickey Mouse, touches on how building a powerful brand enables you to charge what the market will bear. What can we learn from a mouse? Plenty.

It used to be that a cup of coffee was just a cup of coffee. Then a company came along and completely changed the rules. They violated what we might perceive to be conventional business wisdom. This company overpriced their product. They changed the language - a small is actually a Tall. A medium is Grande. And a large is a Venti. Today most of us know what these sizes relate to.

The specialty coffee retailer Starbucks is one of the great 21st Century American success stories. Starbucks has changed the way people drink coffee.

More remarkably, the company successfully transformed a commodity into a high-end accessory. It has created a "Starbucks lifestyle" that people embrace. They have created a community around their product.

My son has become a coffee connoisseur, and I now know what good coffee is. The reality is that Starbucks coffee is not great. I acknowledge their brilliant marketing. I’ve got a “gold card” and earn “stars” for free drinks. Many casual business meetings are held at Starbucks. They are everywhere, and I accept that…even though the coffee is terrible.

We should all ask this question: "What's unique about my business or product?"

Every company is unique in their personality, character and approach to business. Define this uniqueness and promote it with integrity. That will put you in the best position for success.

Our industry is changing, and it will be those who can adapt that will survive. Those that can’t won’t make it in today’s marketplace.

Change is a common theme in my commentaries and for good reason. Things aren’t like the good old days…and we aren’t going back. Our industry’s Supplier/Distributor/End-User Model is challenged. End-users and distributors buy direct. Suppliers sell direct. Our promotional marketing medium is degraded as swag and purchasing them is banned by some government agencies. Ironically they use our products to promote their campaigns.

Product safety, which is obviously a huge topic, has changed everything. Our industry needs to deliver quality, safe products. Despite diligent efforts by the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) and accreditation organizations like the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) I still think that many just don’t understand the importance of being Product Safety Aware.

In the midst of an evolving marketplace, a simple truth written over 2000 years ago can be applied: "Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique." Despite numerous and varying elements that effect our business, the perfect one is “unique”.

Consider what you can do to be unique. Today’s successful distributors and suppliers will be offering more than just promotional products. Creative services, artwork, web development, social media positioning, e-marketing and inbound marketing consulting are all things you can do to stand apart from your competitors. It seems overwhelming, and it is, but much of this can be outsourced.

Consider how you present your products. Suppliers and distributors would serve themselves well by not just sharing an endless stream of product specials and “deals”. Show how products can be used to provide an effective marketing solution. The videos we provide on our end-user safe website have been beneficial for many distributors.

Might I suggest taking a few minutes to enjoy a cup of not so great Starbucks coffee…or a better beverage of your choice and consider how to best present your “unique” value proposition.

© 2015 Jeff Solomon, MAS​​


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