Is solid surface careening headlong down the road toward commodity status? Does it matter if it is?
Few of us have the power to control the destiny of a product category. The truth is, market forces will have their way, regardless of whether or not we "buy in" to the process. That truth notwithstanding, we all have the power to control the destiny of our own companies. How much and how effective that control will be depends on how we view ourselves and how we project that image to our customers.
Take, for example, the case of the lowly cup of coffee. What could be more common? It is available in any restaurant or convenience store virtually anywhere in the world for the price of small change. You might argue it is the ultimate commodity product, or was, until one company elevated its consumption from a mundane activity to that of an exalted, ritualistic experience for a significant segment of the population. We refer, of course, to the Starbucks phenomenon.
What is the secret of Starbucks' success? "They have taken the brand out of the realm of just drinking coffee and made it a pleasurable experience," explains Bob Paradiso, vice-president of sales and marketing for Caesar Stone. "They did that by offering different flavors; by associating it with Barnes and Noble bookstores, where people meet over a cup of coffee. Today, people stand in line for it. They pay big money to get a cup of Starbucks coffee."
According to Paradiso, a major reason for the coffee chain's success lies in its ability to establish a strong and recognizable brand. "Branding is really the distinctive core of a business," he says. "It is what ultimately distinguishes a company from its competitors.
Whether you are a medium, small or large company, you need to get involved with branding because that is the essence of marketing and sales."
Don't Fall Into The Trap Of Wishful Thinking
In order to distinguish your company from every other stone or solid surface fabrication business in your market area, you need to know two things: (1) What are your particular strengths and weaknesses, and (2) What products and services do your customers want and need?
For information on how to discover your business' strengths and weaknesses, we refer you to Mike Duggan's article "Mapping Your Way Through the Winds of Change". To learn what your customers value in terms of products and services, the best, easiest and cheapest way is to ask them. Remember, as you go about your research, your ultimate objective is to determine the answer to the question, "Why should I do business with you?"
"A very poor answer to the question of why someone should do business with you, is 'Because we offer quality and service,'" Paradiso says. "Everybody says they offer quality and service. It goes much deeper than that. The two traps people fall into when defining customer wants, are rationalization and wishful thinking. It is very easy to say, 'I know my market and I know what is best for my customers.' The only way you can truly know what your customers want, is if you ask them."