Burning rubber on the competition
1. Understand Your Customer First
What are their needs and wants? What really matters to them? Is it price and convenience or quality and service? Do they want the latest and greatest design or a piece of nostalgia? Do they care deeply about the story behind the item? Be as specific as you can and note that your shop may be serving many kinds of customers with the same product. Alison from dishyvintage, an Etsy shop that specializes in vintage lace and trim, articulates this point well:
“My customers really run the gamut from the occasional crafter who needs lace for a small project to the Etsy shop owner who needs yards of trim for a product to the bride who’s embellishing her wedding dress to the serious doll artist who’s looking for heirloom quality lace for her art dolls.”
The more you know about your customers and their particular needs, the better prepared you’ll be to resonate with them.
2. Research the Competition
Who else is serving them? Who makes or sells the same thing as you? And don’t stop at your direct competitors — are there other products that satisfy your customer’s needs? Is there a need you identified above that’s not currently being met? Jennifer Slyuseranskiy of WatchMeWorld puts it this way:
“Some of my shop’s most popular and best-selling items are the result of a customer asking me to do a custom piece for them. I’ve found if someone has to ask me to [make] something special for them, there are usually other people out there looking for that item, too, and just not finding it. That’s been a huge help in growing my business.”
Look for gaps in the market or areas where other shops aren’t meeting customer needs well — these are ripe opportunities for sellers to compete.
3. Determine Your Unique Value
Now ask yourself, what are you really good at? Are you a perfectionist with incredibly high quality standards? Are you an idea factory? Do you love working with customers on custom projects? Do you know a lot about a very specialized market? Are you blessed to live in a place with great infrastructure or access to supply shops? These are all areas where you can leverage your natural abilities and stake out a unique competitive position. Nicole and Cordula of DyeForYarn took this inventory of their distinctive traits:
“We’re our biggest fans. We knit almost exclusively with our own yarns, which gives us a high credibility. We’re also able to offer low shipping prices for worldwide shipping due to a very good and dependable postal system here in Germany.”
4. Choose a Positioning Strategy
This is the tough part. You know your customers, you know who you’re competing with, you know what you’re good at. Tie it all together by asking yourself, what’s the one thing I want to be known for? There’s almost no limit to the ways you can differentiate your shop, but some of the most common strategies are:
- Product Quality: Sourcing top-of-the-line materials or exclusive, rare items.
- Design: Offering superior aesthetic or functional design.
- Service: Doing absolutely everything in your power to exceed customer expectations.
- Innovation: Introducing new and unexpected variations on existing products.
- Niche Focus: Comprehensively serving a subset of a product category.
- Authenticity: Establishing unique credibility in a particular area.
You can also differentiate your shop on geography, personal story, breadth of product line, specialized technology or process, or the way you make the customer feel (sophisticated, healthy, successful, confident, etc.). The sky’s the limit! But whichever direction you choose, there are a few general rules you should follow:
- It has to matter to the buyer.
- Customers will only associate you with a couple of factors (at most), so choose carefully.
- It should be hard for competitors to copy.
And most importantly, be consistent. Test every new idea against your positioning strategy. Jordan Castro of Culinarium says:
“Before we launch a new product, we ask ourselves if what we’re offering is unique and original. If it isn’t, we move on to something else.”
5. Align the Rest of Your Business With Your Strategy
Having a positioning strategy is great, but it won’t get you anywhere until the rest of your business is aligned with it. Keep reminding yourself that you are known for, say, “authentic American rag dolls” and make sure every decision you make supports that position. Are you purchasing only the most authentic materials? Do you use the traditional process? Are you constantly looking to discover and replicate unusual and original designs from antique dolls? Reinforcing your positioning strategy across your business will tell a consistent story to customers and make you more likely to stand out.
One final note on competition: we sometimes think of “competition” as a dirty word. But being competitive doesn’t have to be ugly. Competition is what makes the Etsy marketplace so vibrant — sellers of all kinds are continually trying to satisfy customer needs in innovative ways. Setting and following a positioning strategy allows you to focus on the things that make your shop unique; you compete in the areas you add the most value and, over time, build a distinctive reputation with customers. When done right, it also creates a competitive edge that’s sustainable and hard to copy.
The question is, what do you want to be known for? Share your thoughts in comments.
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