Competitive Advantage and Being “Known”

Competitive Advantage n: a unique characteristic that makes you stand out from the crowd and that no one else can copy; the foundation of your personal brand

Several weeks ago, my social media professor suggested that I read the book Known by Mark Schaefer. It’s all about personal branding, mainly using social media, and I really enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to every career girl.

Then in my marketing class last week, my professor asked us to define, “competitive advantage.” He got a few answers about “unique traits” and the like. He partially agreed with these, but added, “For something to be a true competitive advantage, it has to be something that another company can’t replicate.” From there, we started talking about target markets and positioning, but his words about competitive advantage stuck with me. It wasn’t until later at home that I realized those words had such an impact because they sounded familiar.

It was just like the things that Schaefer talked about, but from a marketing prospective.

To paraphrase Mark Schaefer in his book, Known, your competitive advantage is your, “Only I . . .” In other words, what is it that you can do that no one else can? I’m not talking about being able to scarf down two whole pizzas by yourself (although that is an impressive feat). I’m talking about things that you can use to protect yourself against your firm’s next round of layoffs, sell yourself to your next employer, or even start your own business.

Having trouble determining your competitive advantage? A good starting point is to think about why people ask you for help. For example, maybe your friends always come to you for advice because they know that you can see the “big picture” and help them see it, too. Or, perhaps you are known in your department for coming up with some seriously creative ideas and then seeing them through.

As humans, we instinctively ask for advice from those we perceive as “experts”. It’s why we buy the products that our favorite beauty bloggers love, or follow the tips given by frequent travelers on how to score cheap plane tickets. Even your aunt who bakes the best devil’s food cake for the family reunion every year is an expert. She’s “known” as the best baker in the family; that’s her “Only I . . .”

Personal branding doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, I think that the more complicated that you have to make your personal brand, the less it’s actually a competitive advantage. Your “Only I . . .” should be something simple; not a generic sentence where you have to add a dozen qualifiers to make it “unique”.

For me, my competitive advantage is, “Only I can translate marketing concepts into simple ideas that non-marketers can understand.” It rests on my expertise with marketing and my ability to break complicated ideas down into simple ones, then communicate those to different types of people. It’s a skill that I’ve always had and one that I’ve refined over years of being a tutor. It’s something that I haven’t seen anyone else replicate, aside from my own marketing professors.

What’s your competitive advantage?

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