Look at all you’ve accomplished… you’re an expert. You’ve been in your trade for years, maybe even decades. You’ve slogged through certifications, board meetings, happy and unhappy clients. You’ve innovated in your niche, creating new ways to deliver value to your customers.
Maybe you’re even an active member in the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary. You understand the benefit of giving back to the community.
Anyone could see that you are a seasoned expert in your field of work. Nearing or even passing your 10,000 hours of experience, you’re grasping the much-deserved medal of mastery.
Then, some new guy moves in down the street and hangs a shingle that says he, too, is in your line of work.
Suddenly, this new competition commoditizes you and you’re marginalized into a box. You’re just another xyz. Just another programmer, or just another web designer. Your years of study and deliberate practice, while they’ve made you miles better than this new guy, have done nothing to show that you’re different.
Ask any customer of yours, you know your stuff. But ask the layman on the street and she’ll say that you’re just another xyz.
That is the commoditization trap.
A “commodity trap” is a situation where services or products are perceived to have limited differentiation, and where prices drop in order to garner sales.
To add fuel to this unfortunate but very common fire, this new competitor is offering his services at a 30% discount to yours. Now, not only does he look just as good as you, but he’s also charging less. You’re being squeezed to drop your prices, racing to the bottom, all in order to attract the customers you otherwise had a nice monopoly on.
Call me crazy, but I don’t like people competing against me. I want a monopoly. I want to own a space.
Sure, I like competition in other industries, where entrepreneurs are forced to improve their product or service at breakneck speeds, but that’s not what I want. I want to deliver a superior product and be known for it, never fighting against the new guy down the street.
You probably do too… think of how much time you waste just showing that you are, in fact, superior to your competition.
In order to break free of the perceived commoditization of your industry, there are a few strategies I’ve seen work very well.
Write a book
Writing a book, or even just writing in trade journals that your customers read, is a fast way to break free of the commoditization trap. You’ll quickly be seen as an expert because you’re an author. You’re a syndicated columnist at Business.com, or Forbes. You’ve created a level of celebrity status that your competition just can’t co-opt.
Books don’t need to be 500 pages, or printed by a major publisher. Instead, many experts are finding it straightforward to write a book 50-200 pages in length, and having it published by Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book then becomes a glorified business card and allows you access to things you otherwise had to fight for.
This is one that the more showy entrepreneur tends to lean into first. Branding yourself is about having a clear, concise message that is broadcast in all channels you enter. Branding yourself is about how you look (clothing, hair, watch, rings, etc), how you act (friendly, exclusive, caring, accessible, etc), and how you use marketing to describe who you are.
There are ample examples of entrepreneurs who are exclusive. They know that being “too available” lessens their perceived value. Then there are others who increase their accessibility, like Gary Vaynerchuck, so they can reach more people.
Notice how an individual is branded and when it feels great. Congruence in dress, action and marketing increases overall perceived value.
Create Industry Jargon
Just recently, I was listening to Kai Ryssdal, senior editor at NPR’s Marketplace, interview Tim Wu. In 2003, Wu coined the term “Net Neutrality” and it has brought him a sort of celebrity status. Tim isn’t just another law professor; he’s the guy that had the foresight to name a problem on the rise.
It’s impossible to look at net neutrality without seeing Wu in the shadow. Wu is forever linked and his status forever elevated.
Brand your process
I learned this strategy as a member of Strategic Coach, an entrepreneurial coaching program. By first defining the process you take a prospect through, you can then systematize it and label it. Once you label your process, it becomes uncommoditizable.
What do you do that’s different than your customers? What do you do that’s the same?
These things have allowed me to transcend the commodity. It’s a rare day when I’m on a sales call and someone says “Oh, so you’re just like <>.” It’s easy to see that I’m no longer a commodity and if you follow these tips, you’ll no longer be a commodity.