The Quality that Makes You Stand Out From the Crowd

You probably already know that in order to grow your business and compete effectively in your market, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. This is easier said than done, which is why we have come up with a method you can follow to find your unique offering.

In his 2012 book “The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field,” author and entrepreneur Mike Michalowicz identifies a differentiation strategy called “Area of Innovation” or AOI.

The concept behind AOI is that you make sure you compete reasonably well in most areas of your business, but choose one area where you super-excel. If you can find a way to be ten times better than anyone else in one area, and continue to develop your dominance in that area, you not only have an AOI, you have a way to stand out in your market to the extent that you eliminate the competition.

AOI can be broken down into three categories:

1. Price

2. Convenience

3. Quality

It is nearly impossible to dominate in more than one category, so choose one and go for it! In this post, I am going to expand upon the area of “Quality.” Stay tuned for future posts on Price and Convenience.

The term “Quality” for the purpose of determining your AOI does not mean overall “high quality.” It means one specific quality about your company. For example, maybe you offer over-the-top customer service, or you are the most accurate, or the most reliable, or the longest lasting, etc. An example of a company that competes on quality is Maytag. They are the most dependable – their appliances rarely break, hence the “lonely Maytag repairman.”

Another company that competes on a quality is Quirky. Quirky is a company that produces new inventions in a unique way. Anyone can contribute a new idea for a product, and then their team and other Quirky members evaluate the product, vote on it, and contribute to its development. Everyone who contributes receives a royalty if the product goes to market.

Quirky’s AOI is speed. It has an incredibly quick turnaround time. In its partnership with GE, Quirky was able to develop a new light bulb in a quarter of the time that it would have taken GE, the light bulb specialists, to do it.

Quirky’s underlying structure, culture and policies enable them to move quickly in a technology marketplace that is constantly changing, giving them an advantage. Moving quickly often means long work hours for their employees. They keep their people motivated and avoid burnout by instituting blackout periods. For three weeks each year, the company completely shuts down. This means everyone is forced to take that week off, and no one will be tempted to call in or work from home. Shutting down the whole company gives every employee time to recharge their batteries and keep their creative juices flowing.

They also have 6 core values that everyone who works at the company is aware of and asked to buy into:

1. Getting Things Done

2. Impatience

3. Embrace Conflict

4. Agile

5. Selfless

6. Futurist

These core values guide the company to move quickly and produce cutting edge products.

Another way that they stay ahead of the competition is by challenging the status quo and breaking commonly adhered to marketing rules. Most companies try to “wow” their customers by under-promising and over-delivering.  Quirky’s motto is “Over Promise, Over Deliver.” In this way, they hold themselves accountable to fast turnaround by announcing to the world what they will deliver and when, and then they push themselves to get it done.

Quirky is a great example of how you find and develop a quality in which to excel. If you want to do the same thing, ask yourself

  • What underlying values and company culture contribute to making you unique?
  • What do you already naturally excel at?
  • How can you create supports and policies within your business that enable you to get better and better in this area, and to dominate the field?

If you can identify and build on your AOI, you will get noticed and attract those customers who want what you have to offer.

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Donna Leyens Pumpkin Plan your BizWritten by:

Donna Leyens

13 replies
  1. Donna
    Donna says:

    Do you have one quality that your business really excels in? If so, you can use it to your advantage! What do you do better than everyone else? Tell us here!

  2. Jon
    Jon says:


    Tulsa Poop 911 has always focused solely on quality of experience for our customers. In other words, we do a dirty job that frankly anybody (including children and fly-by-night competitors) can do, so we have to make sure our customers get more than they expect.

    It starts with our simple and convenient online signup process, or a fence-sitting prospect can call me with an 877 number that goes straight to my cell phone. Either way, the customer gets quoted over the phone and we can usually be out in the next few days for an initial visit.

    Before the initial visit, the new customer will receive an elaborate email with a video introduction from yours truly, and links to dozens of testimonials to help confirm their decision. Likewise, within the first week they’ll receive a hand-written welcome letter delivered by mail.

    During our visits we pull trash cans back up the driveway, pick up trash, and leave a post-it for each customer – all things that contribute to what I call our “Goodwill Bank Account”. Over time, our account gets so full with all the little “extras” (more hand-written letters, customer service check-in calls, etc) that our customers refer friends and write online reviews and testimonials by the droves :-)

    We’re not cheap (we won’t even match competitor pricing), and we don’t offer “same day service” (unless it fits into an already existing route and we just happen to have time that day), but we do offer exceptional experiences and a safe and clean yard for our customers and their pups to enjoy!

  3. Donna
    Donna says:

    Hi Jon, you are clearly someone who gets the value of customer service and customer experience! I would call your AOI over the top customer service/experience. Over time, if this is a true Area of Innovation for you, you will continue to find ways to make the customer experience better and better. Congrats on having such a clear idea of what makes you unique!

  4. Jim Dallke
    Jim Dallke says:

    Donna~ My company’s product conceivably covers TWO of the AOI categories. What has always been the biggest challenge is educating the consumer on how the proven Quality affects the bottom-line retail Price. If you could take a few moments to view the website and focus in on both the NSF and CPC references– I’d appreciate any feedback on what I’m striving to convey. It is: Thank you for your time and attention.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Jim, thank you so much for your comments. I did go to your website, and you clearly have a product that the world needs. The story about your daughter’s school is remarkable.

      Here’s my opinion:

      I know that you have a lot of science to back up your claims of being “the best” but for a website to sell effectively, you need to be clear and concise. The research should be available for those who want to read it, but not up front. You do need to be more specific than “better” or “best”, but see if you can drill it down to a one sentence quality. I would try to put it in terms of comparison (for example, filters out X% more harmful contaminants than the leading competitor) or just pick a few that people will be familiar with, such as lead, and say in concrete terms how you are better a filtering it out. It is not really clear to me whether you filter out more contaminants, or higher amounts of the same contaminants as others do. Most people will not take the time to read about the process, but for those who want to, you can have a separate heading.

      Hope that’s helpful to you!

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      I am so glad that our site has been helpful to you! Please let us know if there are any other specific topics you would like us to write about.

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Thank you, I’m so glad you got value out of this post! I have responded to your request via email.

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