The Target retail store near our house opens at 9am, while most every other store in the area opens at 10. Is that one hour really a big deal? Perhaps not for most people – but for my wife who drops off my son at school every morning at 9 and needs to pick him up at noon, that extra hour is a very big deal. It means she has time to get what the needs, and she doesn’t waste time. Target has done a great job of branding and defining it’s own niche as a stylish discount store (as well as their innovative Clear Rx prescription bottle design), yet the differentiator for my wife in this case is not the products or branding or even the customer experience. That extra hour is what puts Target above their competitors. The extra hour is their differentiator.
As marketers, we tend to focus a lot of energy on creating and promoting "differentiators" on a grand scale. A common question, for example, is what feature makes your product different from the competition? What niche can your service target which no one else does? In product development and marketing message development, the focus is on finding the unique space that no one else occupies. There is great wisdom in the blue ocean strategy of creating a new space and "making your competitors irrelevant," yet sometimes this requires a level of commitment and change that is not easily possible. Instead of finding or creating the big unique product or service trait, what if you focused more on finding lots of little things? Things like opening an hour earlier than the other guys, or offering bread to hungry business people as they wait in line to get their lunch (like Cosi does). No one would decide where to go to lunch based on who gives out bite sized slices of bread in the line, right? Wrong. The little things do matter, and even though they may not be tracked or measured by businesses in a useful way – deep down we all know they matter. Finding a way to be unique doesn’t need to require an overhaul of big change. Sometimes it’s just finding that one little thing that people need, and quietly giving it to them.