Commodity, Schmodity

One of my favorite bookstores is The Strand in New York City. Whenever I’m in New York visiting my wife’s family, I do whatever I can to head down to the East Village and browse their selection.

(It’s wonderful. You should go.)

But if you listen to some people, The Strand shouldn’t exist.

“You can get books cheaper on Amazon.”

“People don’t buy ‘dead tree’ books anymore.”

“It’s too crowded.”

Yet it’s (probably) not going anywhere.

What gives? The Strand differentiates itself from standard brick-and-mortar bookstores in lots of different ways. Did you know, for instance, that the good people at The Strand will help you design a new library or even furnish backdrops for movie sets?

And that’s the great part about successful businesses, isn’t it? They’re typically successful because creative owners found a way to stand out by providing their customers greater value than anyone else. Some really clever businesses make their competition largely, or even entirely, irrelevant.

Don’t call it a comeback

Whenever you’re tempted to believe you’re in a “commoditized” business where you have to compete largely on price (and face the pricing death spiral), you’re either: 1) not aware enough about what makes your business uniquely valuable to customers, or 2) you’re not seen as unique and need to do something about it before low-cost competitors eat your lunch.

To test my theory, think about your business for a few minutes:

  • What do you sell — I mean, really sell? (That is, what problems do your products or services solve for your customers?)
  • Is there a way to repackage what you sell? Or bundle something with it? (Experiences matter.)
  • Could you create scarcity around some or all of your products to make them more valuable? (Think of ‘retired’ American Girl dolls.)
  • Is there something else you can tell your prospective customers about how your existing customers value your products? (Believe it or not, this ‘aha’ moment around customer perception of value comes after just a few actual customer interviews.)

Living in hope

You can run a different kind of business focused on creating and then delivering crazy great value for customers. (And you don’t have to call it a comeback. You’ve been here for years.)

Still don’t believe me? The Strand will gladly sell you a book on value pricing to set you straight.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn blog.

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