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Music Business 101: Competitive Advantage

Whether you’re a performer, teacher, or retail music store owner, if you don’t know what your competitive advantage is, you probably don’t have one. If that’s the case, you likely are missing out on huge opportunities to attract prospective clients and keep existing customers.

If you do have a good fix on what sets you apart from your competitors, it’s always a good idea to run through the checklist again. Success is never final, as Winston Churchill warned.

So, whether you want to find out how you can get ahead of your competitors or want to put a little more distance between your business and theirs, here are some ideas.

What’s the Market Saying?

Market and competitive research have never been easier. It’s amazing how much useful intelligence you can find buried under all the claptrap on the internet.

You can find the answers to just about anything, including:

  • Has the competition added any new offerings since the last time you looked?

  • Do they have an e-commerce site?

  • What are they doing to market their business?

  • Are they using new technology to enhance their business practices?

Poke around on social media, online forums, websites, and aggregator (think Yelp) review platforms to see what the market likes and doesn’t like about your rivals. Opportunities lurk in those reviews. Consider: A customer writes, Love the customer service. Too bad Vicky’s Vintage Violins doesn’t offer lessons. A business in direct competition with Vicky might add violin lessons to their offerings. Find something the market wants but can’t find and provide it. Advantage, you.

You should be keeping up with your customers’ online reviews regularly, but make sure you take a look at them while scoping the others’. You might see trends that you can leverage to separate yourself from them.

What Are You Saying to the Market?

Companies spend millions of dollars on infomercials for one reason: No, not just to annoy you. They run their “operators are standing by” over-the-top come-alongs on a loop because they work. While we’re not suggesting you position your music business the same way Ron Popeil hawked his Pocket Fisherman, the reality is he knew how to get the market’s attention and push the benefits of his products out, loud and clear.

Are you doing that with your brand?

A solid marketing plan is a sine qua non proposition. Your basic marketing plan should include marketing through social media channels. Have a new product to offer at your retail store? Put out a tweet about it, post a short TikTok video, or show the new item on Instagram with a special promo code.

During your comp-research, pay attention to what the Vickies are doing to promote their products and services. Based on Vicky’s customers’ reviews, you’ve decided to offer violin lessons, that’s a key marketing message. Advantage, you.

Who’s Talking with Whom?

Networking is a subset of marketing, and you’re likely already doing it. But think about it from the perspective of competitive advantage.

Whether you’re volunteering to help with a charitable cause, taking up sailing, or signing up for an introductory self-defense course, chat about your business. Don’t be overbearing and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to be closing. But who doesn’t love to talk about music? When they talk, listen, and learn. If you hear enough people say, I wish I could find a violin instructor … Advantage, you.

If you already network with people and groups consistently, stretch a bit and up your involvement. Try a new networking opportunity or take on a more significant role with your current one, such as organizing a fundraiser. Your networking buddies may see a new industrial side of you and that could attract more business.

Another important way to network is industry specific—trade shows, conferences, workshops, and seminars. Go online and do a quick search—you’re certain to find upcoming opportunities. Even if you don’t acquire new customers, you’ll likely learn about the latest news, trends, and tools impacting your business.

What Do Your Customers Say to Others?

Your customers do business with you because they like doing business with you. There’s nothing wrong with asking them to tell their friends why they like you. As romance novelist Nora Roberts said, “If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place.”

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for referrals. Most people will gladly provide them because they want their friends and family members to have the same great experience they’ve shared with you. If they do appear uncomfortable, try this ice-breaker: “Don’t worry, if you refer business to me, you’ll still be my favorite customer.” The truth is they may feel uncomfortable because they want to keep you all to themselves and haven’t told anyone else about you. Assure them you have plenty of love (a.k.a. customer service) to give.

You could also offer a referral program. For every new customer, the referring customer gets a discount on their next purchase. Don’t give away the store; set terms and limits. But if a referral brings in a paying customer whom you can convert to a loyal customer … Advantage, you.

What Do You Say to Your Best Customers?

Thank you. That’s what. And the best way to say thank you is a loyalty program. People who enjoy doing business with you will justify an impulse buy if they get a little something to go along with it. Received a free latte recently at Starbucks? Presented a handful of 20% off coupons for every item in your cart at Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Got 10% off your purchase of a magazine, hardback best-seller, and chocolate-chip cookie at Barnes & Noble (when you really just went in for the magazine)? Yes, Virginia, loyalty programs work!

Do your Vickies offer loyalty programs? No? Advantage, you. If they do, can you sweeten the pot? Advantage, you.

What Do You Say to Your New Customers?

Thank you. That’s what. And the best way to say thank you to them is by rolling out the red carpet with an enticing offer or discount. Make them an offer Vicky can’t match. If she’s offering 20% of first new-instrument purchases, don’t get in a price war with her. Offer a package of free lessons. She doesn’t provide them. You do. Advantage, you.

You’re in business, and business is a competition for customers. Every little thing you can do to establish a competitive advantage will raise your brand in the market, which is critical to expanding your customer base. You don’t have to be ruthless about it. Simply keep your competitor and market research up to date, adapt, improvise, and overcome as needed.

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