Learning about Differentiation from Barbeque

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In this day of national chains, with the same restaurants at every exit on the Interstate and in every mall, being distinctively local can set a business apart. There is no more delicious example of this than barbeque in South Carolina.

There are four basic styles of barbeque sauce in the U.S. The best known are the tomato sauces, light and heavy; but, there also are vinegar-based sauces and mustard-based sauces. South Carolina is the only state with regions where you might be offered any one of them as the “local specialty.”

In Columbia, South Carolina, Maurice Bessinger’s restaurants will serve you barbeque with a mustard-based sauce along with Southern side dishes like hushpuppies and Carolina hash and desserts like pecan pie.

About 100 miles east of Columbia in Hemingway, “barbeque” is something with a vinegar-based sauce. You can find some of the best at Scott BBQ on Route 261.

Both restaurants differentiate themselves in two ways. They are different from each other because their barbeque represents “the way we like it” to locals. And, they each differentiate locally by setting themselves up as “the best of the local options.”

Barbeque lovers seek out Maurice’s when they’re in Columbia. Barbeque lovers from outside the region even plan trips around a visit to Scott’s in Hemingway. People just don’t do that for a McDonald’s or an Applebee’s. Those may be good restaurants, but they’re not distinctive.

Way back in the 1980s, a comprehensive study of thousands of businesses determined that “perceived value in the target market” was the main driver of profitability. That finding suggests three strategies.

You can increase the value of what you offer.  Tailor your product or service to the market you serve. Meet their needs. Satisfy their wants.

You can work to increase the market awareness of that value. That’s what advertising and publicity and social media are for. Tell your story in a distinctive way.

You also can get to the same position by narrowing the market you serve so you are the distinctive choice. Think about how you can narrow the definition of your market so that it’s clear that you are the one to choose.

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