inbound marketing competitive advantageDo you know what the paper towel brand Bounty’s competitive advantage is? It’s right in their tagline and demonstrated in all of their marketing: Bounty is “The Quicker Picker Upper.”

Competitive advantages aren’t always so clear, but every product has one, and it’s perhaps the most critical part of your Inbound Marketing efforts – it’s what sets you apart and gives direction and substance to your content.

Sometimes we call the process of finding your competitive advantage the “capo d’ astro” exercise. Back in the ‘60s, a copywriter named Bud Robbins was asked to write an ad for his agency’s client, Aeolian Pianos – expensive pianos and the choice of several great musicians. But nobody could tell Robbins what was so great about the pianos – or, more importantly, why they were any better than a Steinway or a Baldwin. Robbins asked to visit the factory to find out.

Despite spending two days touring the plant, no one seemed to be able to tell Robbins the difference between Aeolian pianos and competitors’. Without something unique to promote, Aeolian would be just another expensive “me too.”

Finally, Robbins pleaded with the Aeolian sales manager to wrack his brain one last time; was there anything at all that’s unique about these pianos?

The sales manager scratched his head and said, “Well, our pianos are a little heavier; that’s why they cost more to ship.”

“Why are they heavier?”

“Well, because of the capo d’astro bar.”

The man invited Robbins to crawl under one of the pianos to look at a heavy cast-iron bar strapped across the higher octave strings. He pointed out that all wood frames begin to warp – after about 50 years. Aeolian added the capo d’astro bar so that 50 years into the future, should the wood start to warp, the capo d’astro bar would kick in and stop it. Here was a feature that wouldn’t even start working for half-a-century, but the reason Aeolian pianos outlast all others.

Robbins had found Aeolian’s competitive advantage!

So Robbins created a legendary ad campaign around the capo d’asto bar, this secret ingredient that made the Aeolian Grand the greatest piano in the world.

Use this checklist – an abbreviated version of Weidert Group’s competitive advantage process – to help you uncover your own capo d’astro bar.

Step 1. Identify your target’s pain points. Knowing what challenges your target is facing will help you understand what features of your product are beneficial to them. Let’s say you manufacture office chairs. You’ll need to know which features are most important to your target: ergonomic styling that translates into greater comfort and reduced back pain? A fabric that’s easy to clean and withstands rigorous use? Unique and contemporary styling that adds a certain personality to the office atmosphere?

Step 2. Determine, from your own insights and what you can gather from peers, reviews and online comments, what people think about your competitors’ products. Consider both the positive and negative about their product – these represent hurdles to overcome and opportunities to be a solution. Consider price, quality, performance, ROI, responsiveness of the customer service team…anything that factors into the target’s purchase decision.

Step 3. What do they think about your product? Now take an unbiased view of what people think and say about your product using the same criteria you used to evaluate competitors. Remember that perception is reality, even if that perception is not fair or accurate, and if the general consensus about your product is that it doesn’t hold up to extended use, is designed for amateurs rather than professionals, or is difficult to use in cold weather, that’s something you need to consider when pinpointing a leveragable (new word!) competitive advantage.

Step 4. What do your competitors promise customers? Bounty promises better absorption; WalMart promises the lowest prices; Hershey’s promises to make you feel good inside. What do your competitors promise to do for your target? In other words, what do people expect from their products? McDonald’s customers aren’t expecting great ambiance – or even clean ambiance, for that matter. But they’re consistently told that they’ll get food that tastes good cheap and fast.

Step 5. What can you promise? Say you make steel blades for farm machinery and you know that the target is always searching for simple ways to reduce the downtime needed to change worn blades. Your competitors talk a lot about seamless ordering and 99% on-time delivery rate. What advantage does your product have over those? Look closely at your materials, processes, standards, testing procedures, product handling system, value-added services – every phase and facet of how you make and get your product to market. What do you do differently that solves your target’s need? If your blade manufacturing process includes a polishing and hardening step that results in a more durable blade tip that results in fewer blade changes, then that’s your capo d’astro bar.

Competitive advantage is all about knowing your best target, understanding what they need to solve their challenges, and filling that need with something others cannot. Find yours and you’ve got a meaningful messaging platform from which to build a library of valuable content.

Here’s another resource to help in your content creation efforts – 5 Free Content Creation Worksheets!