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How to Escape the Commodity Trap

(February/March 2017) posted on Tue Mar 21, 2017

Why do things become commodities? More importantly, how can you prevent your business from becoming a commodity? It all starts with understanding your customer.


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By Mark A. Coudray

Let’s say I have a car I want to sell, and you are interested in buying it. We haggle back and forth until you say you can’t spend more than $20,000. Just then, you find a listing for another car – a 1-year-old S Class Mercedes with 8000 miles on it that belonged to a woman whose husband just took off with his secretary. She’s only asking $25,000 for the car, partly to punish her husband. I can guarantee you will find the extra $5000, because the deal has $50,000 of value above the other car you were considering.

So how do you create such a perceived difference in value with your customers? First, recognize that they are not buying printing; they are buying the result of what the printing delivers. If you can extend the functionality of your offer to give them more of what they’re really buying, then you’re adding real value. You will arrive at the correct answer when you ask the client: “Why is this important to you?”

Think about the local event promoter who orders T-shirts from you. Most printers won’t think much more about the transaction, but it goes much deeper. The real reason they want those shirts is to commemorate the event, and their real objective is to create a connection between the attendee and the event. They want their guests to relive the experience every time they put the shirt on. What would the value of an original Woodstock concert T-shirt be, if you could find one?



When the emotional connection is elevated, it becomes a whole new game. Now you have opportunities to look at the graphic design and aesthetics, or upgrade them to a garment that will last for years. When you achieve this kind of emotional connection with your customer, price plays a greatly diminished role.

The Path to Uniqueness
So how do you put these ideas to work? Begin by looking at your business from the eyes of the client. Try and get inside their head. What do they want? What do they really, really want?


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