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Capturing market share in a competitive industry is a matter of differentiation. When Tesla saw that its rivals favored function over form, it positioned itself as a sleek alternative to more prosaic vehicles like the Toyota Prius or the Chevy Volt. Chipotle marketed itself as a fresh, authentic alternative to Taco Bell. Uber became the business alternative to Lyft.
That’s standard branding practice. But what about using principles to position your business? Can making character be part of your company’s signature to make you distinctive without seeming gimmicky?
While there are potential pitfalls to a character-based approach, two enterprises have found surprising success: Zappos and Tom’s of Maine. Here’s what they can teach entrepreneurs:
1. Go to extremes for customers
A quirky startup with a funny name, Zappos is no longer a joke. From a modest launch in 1999 to its Amazon acquisition only a decade later for just under a billion dollars, the online shoe store has become Exhibit A for how forging a unique brand identity can reap dividends.
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What Zappos did was to make its greatest liability into an asset. The shoe retailer turned its call centers from cost sinks into brand differentiators.