Developing a great product is one thing. Getting it to stand out from the competition is quite another. Many audiences today feel like they’re being over-marketed to, which can cause them to feel burned out on your products before you even get a chance to reach them.
The challenge is even greater in e-commerce. A Google search for “custom hats” turns up over 946 million results in less than one second. As soon as one e-commerce brand becomes successful, you can expect many others to jump in to imitate its success.
The sheer amount of competition is undoubtedly a key reason why Small Business Trends reports that 90 percent of e-commerce brands fail after four months — as opposed to only 22 percent of all small businesses in the United States failing during their first year.
Finding ways to differentiate your products is key to survival in crowded e-commerce niches. A recent interview I had with Mushie Feigenson, co-founder of Mushie, helps prove that the right differentiation will make a powerful impact, no matter how crowded your niche might be.
Make Your Product Truly Different
Creating a product that is truly unique from the competition is essential if you want to stand out. For Feigenson, this occurred as a result of the extensive product research she did during her second pregnancy.
“I was diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which required me to be on bed rest for my entire pregnancy. Focusing on preparing for the baby gave me a sense of purpose and kept me happy during this time. Naturally, part of this process involved researching baby products. But what I found was frustrating. There wasn’t much out there that didn’t have potentially harmful dyes or plastics, and what was available was expensive or just not aesthetically pleasing.”
In other words, she recognized a significant gap in the market. Despite there being a seemingly limitless number of baby product e-commerce sellers, the specific needs she had weren’t being met.
“Once we saw what was missing, my husband and I realized that this was where we had a real business opportunity. We couldn’t be the only parents out there who were looking for practical, safe, eco-conscious baby products. By focusing on this majorly underserved niche, we knew we could make a difference.”
While focusing on a particular sub-niche has the potential of reducing the potential size of your target audience, you also enjoy reduced competition. Do your research to determine if there is enough of an audience in a particular sub-niche for you to turn a profit. Make sure that product names and descriptions accurately convey the unique features that will appeal to this audience.
Build Your Brand From a Core Identity or Story
While you should always strive to differentiate the products themselves, you can’t necessarily rely on this forever. Copycat brands always pop up where a market leader achieves success — to the point that studies have been conducted evaluating the impact on customer perception when copycats imitate anything ranging from marketing themes to packaging colors.
Even if your products are initially truly unique from others in your e-commerce niche, your success will attract others who seek to achieve similar results.
However, what your competition cannot copy is your core identity or story. “For us, the story of how our brand came to be is what defines us,” Feigenson explains.
“We would never have come up with our baby products if I hadn’t gone through the challenges I experienced during my pregnancy. That story defines who we are and what we do as a brand. Sharing it is what makes us so much more than just some other faceless e-commerce store. It’s how we connect with others in similar situations.”
Sharing your brand’s unique story allows your products to become more real. Even if a competitor is able to successfully imitate your formerly-unique product, they can’t copy the living, breathing person behind the brand. They can’t copy your motivations or your mission. Making this story a core part of your e-commerce brand’s identity will help you always stand out.
In an interview with linkdex, StoryScore CEO Martyn Tipping notes, “[Customers] want to buy a brand that represents their values, or that embodies their aspirations. And the best way to show people what you believe in and what you’re aiming for is to tell stories […] Stories are also a great way of conveying a brand’s heritage, backstory or craftsmanship. Across every category, from beauty to beer, consumers are shifting from big global mega-brands in favor of smaller brands with a unique story to tell.”
Every entrepreneur has a story to tell. Whether you want to use your e-commerce sales to help support a charitable cause or you have a unique connection with your products, don’t be afraid to share your story. The human connection will engender loyalty from like-minded customers looking for products in your niche.
Differentiating your products in a crowded e-commerce niche isn’t always easy. It requires extra work to create products that are more than just a shallow copy of what others have already done. But as you develop unique products and build a powerful brand identity, you will better connect with your target audience and achieve the sales results you’re looking for.
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Nathan Resnick is a serial entrepreneur who currently serves as CEO of Sourcify, a marketplace of the world’s top manufacturers. In the past, Nathan has brought dozens of products to market, been a part of campaigns on Kickstarter raising a total of over $1mil, used to live in China, and knows the ins and outs of how to turn ideas into realities. He currently writes for Entrepreneur and the Huffington Post.