How Distributors Can Differentiate Themselves From Competitors

Distributors can’t just offer the traditional anymore. They have to get out of their comfort zone and provide unique new services.

Distributors can’t just offer the traditional anymore. They have to get out of their comfort zone and provide unique new services.

“You can’t just go to market with the same offerings as you did last year.”

Companies today need to take drastic measures to stand out from the pack and separate themselves in the minds of clients. It’s all in an effort to increase customer loyalty at a time when most purchasers are only loyal to the next company offering a lower price.

Yet, you know what beats down the low-price game more than anything else? Creative offerings. It’s something Ford Motor Company knows all too well, and it announced a new service in June to do something about it. The auto giant has noticed a shift in the way consumers purchase cars, as ride-sharing and car-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and ZipCar have become so popular. Not willing to cede this sector of the automotive market to startups, Ford announced its own car-sharing plan that will allow owners of Ford vehicles to rent their cars to pre-screened customers as a way to defray the cost of maintaining a vehicle.

Ford just got into the rental car business, but on a peer-to-peer level so any owner of a Ford car can now turn their down driving time into a money-making proposition. Ford is now allowing its customers to go on vacation and make money off of their sitting-idly-in-the-driveway cars. It’s a genius idea, and it’s one that’s sure to increase customer loyalty. After all, if you’re making money off of your Ford car like it’s a rental house you own, why would you suddenly go buy another car from a different automaker who’s not offering the same service?

The concept is going to be tested in six U.S. cities – Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Washington, D.C. – and in London through November. “Our vision today is to expand that same thinking using advanced technology and new business models, and addressing the mobility challenges people face around the world,” said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford.

Not said in that quote? We know other previously nonexistent competitors are changing the way our market is run, and we need to adapt. That’s what Ford is doing, and it’s what distributors in the promotional products market need to do as well.

You can’t just go to market with the same offerings as you did last year or five years ago. Customers are changing and how they can purchase promotional products has shifted – yes, online sellers are impacting these changes today, but tomorrow it could be overseas factories and ad agencies and suppliers selling direct and, well, the list is endless because you don’t always know where your next competitor will come from.

You have to differentiate your company not just from traditional competitors, but from anybody that your clients can possibly do business with. Think of new marketing services you can offer – things like graphic and website design, social media services, content creation, event planning, fulfillment, and anything else your customers could possibly need from you.

Steve Lapensohn, CEO of Lapgevity (asi/249351), is one distributor who has become a de facto ticket broker for his clients. He has partnered with a ticket broker in order to provide discounted event tickets to his clients and become a more complete solutions provider. “A lot of people don’t think of it, but tickets can be used as a morale gift, as a sales incentive. They can be a gift with purchase. They can be an employee-of-the-month gift,” he says. “Corporate loves it because they can use it as a sales incentive model.”

Lapensohn is using the ticket broker service to become a total solutions provider. For example, he was able to provide one of his clients discounted tickets to a major golf tournament along with the logoed golf balls and visors they initially ordered. “It makes me look good,” he says, “and the client gets to write one check, gets to have one experience with a vendor.”

Now, that’s a creative approach to servicing clients and expanding revenue. If you’re only offering one product or service to your customers today, then you’re missing an opportunity to increase those clients’ loyalty. It’s something Ford has recognized, and it came up with a smart and savvy offering as a way to impede new competitors from playing on its lawn. What will your new service be?