How to turn your business in to more than a commodity

An interesting piece of research passed by my desk recently which claimed 10 – 20% of my industry’s customers don’t know who their supplier is. They are so disconnected from their supplier that they don’t care, and that means they have no brand recall.

This is exactly the same for me with my gas supplier – I can’t tell you who they are. This should be the stuff of nightmares for any marketer!

This occurs in markets where there is no product differentiation (e.g. electricity is the same whoever I buy it from), or where it is perceived to be the same (like my own industry – where in fact there are huge differences).

In this post I will show you how you can become more than just another commodity for your customers.


The end goal is to create a connection between your brand and your customers; in essence make them care! Let’s look at how you can take that bit of theory and actually do it.


If your products are the same as your competitors’ then you need to add features, services or benefits that differentiate you and provide additional benefits for your customers.

This could be through:

  • Technology e.g. a management app
  • Service e.g. 24×7 phone support, same day delivery, easy self management
  • Customer engagement e.g. using customer’s faces on your website, prominent customer reviews, social activity
  • Your brand voice e.g. playful and cheeky
  • product features e.g. expanded colour range
  • Giving away a freebie e.g. get a £50 M&S voucher

Here is how British Gas try to differentiate their gas product:

British Gas

Stay in contact – Push & Pull

Push your message

Staying in contact is much more than sending a boring PR style email every month. In fact, if that is all you do, chances are you’ll just end up in the spam folder.

Email marketing is actually one of the most creative ways you can stay in touch with your customers. Costa Coffee do a great job with their monthly emails.

You wouldn’t think there would be much for them to say each month, but they always look great and have some nice snippets of information.

They almost gamify my buying coffee by reminding me about how many points I have and what that would let me get for free right now.

costa coffee newsletter

Pull your audience to you

The way you stay in contact with your audience is by adding value. This way, not only do you push your message to your target audience, you can pull them to you as well. As well as welcoming communications from you, they will actively seek you out.

Great content marketing such as blogging, competitions, research, free resources/tools etc. will bring people to you again and again.

Red Bull is more than just another energy drink, thanks to very specific sponsorship (adrenalin sports) and world-class content creation.

obviously Red Bull have a huge marketing budget, but you can apply the same model to any business.

Brand personality: Get one!

If you compete in an industry where all the suppliers either provide the same product/service, or are perceived to do so, the big challenge is how to compete on more than just price.

If you look at examples such as the mobile phone operators and utility providers they are all concentrating their marketing on brand messages first, product second.

You never see O2 use a telephone mast to advertise their network. They associate themselves with the opportunities their network provides you with to seek out fun, new opportunities. They enable you to have a fun time.

Find a message that resonates with your target audience that goes beyond simple price and service messages, and associates a positive emotion with your product. What do you enable your customers to do?

Help desk software provider Groove could just let you ‘support your customers’, but instead they give you the tools to…

Delight your online customers with awesome, personal support.

They also have an awesome blog that acts as their diary on their way to earning $100,000 revenue per month. This quirky and open take on a blog fits in with their general approach, and sets them apart from their larger faceless competitors.


You’ll see they are also using their blog as a lead generator.

Create a community around your brand

A more resource heavy option, but the benefits of developing a community around our brand include increased customer engagement, loyalty and brand affinity as well as increased word of mouth marketing.

The easiest way to do this is through a forum on your website that goes beyond just your products and services. There are plenty of plug and play forum software to choose from, the most popular being bbPress for WordPress or phpBB.

They can easily descend in to disgruntled customers complaining or people falling out, so they need clear rules and close monitoring. On the plus side, if you keep people focused on positive discussions about areas related to your industry, you can become a destination website.

T-shirt brand Threadless has forums for their community to discuss a wide range of design and artistic topics:


If you have the desire to push it further, you can explore creating a more in depth social experience with social network style functionality. Off the shelve tools such as BuddyPress or UserPro (both for WordPress) are a great place to get started.


And finally… talk confidently and with purpose!

Be confident in your successes, whether they are big or small. Confidence breeds confidence, so never be shy to retweet a positive tweet, put a great review on your website or direct traffic to happy customer testimonials.

Quick sprout 2

The example above is taken from Quick Sprout. Also, take a look at the way Apple launch any new feature. Small advancements are pitched as giant leaps forward, even if competitors already have them.

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