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Put a goat in a tree blog image

In this week's video, the author and curator, Bob Dearsley, explains how businesses can "stand out" from the competition and attract interested parties in an oversaturated marketplace by, in essence, putting a goat in a tree! 

Act like a goat-herd. Put a goat in a tree!

A few years ago I was driving through Morocco with my wife while on holiday. We were on about a 90-minute journey from Marrakech to the coastal city of Essaouira. As we sped through the desert, with just the horizon, Argan trees and a few goat-herders as a backdrop, my wife looked at me and suddenly said: “I’ve just seen a goat in a tree!”

Now admittedly, I did not believe her. But being my wife, she persisted: “I absolutely have just seen a goat in a tree.” So I did what any rational person would do in this situation: we turned the car around and stopped to confirm that we had seen what my wife had seen and, of course, to take a picture of this almost unbelievable sight. We weren’t entirely sure of just why there was a goat in a tree, in fact there were two goats on two different branches, quite happily eating the Argan kernels from the tree (they are rather like olives), until the goat-herder emerged from the background. He smiled, spoke to us in very broken English, and, as is customary in the region, gently asked if we would give him some money, as recompense for the photographs we had just taken of his ‘amazing goat’. No, not extortion! Just local custom. And all with no more than a word or two of recognisable English. We actually happily complied, as we were laughing so much at the spectacle, making a small donation to what I hope was the welfare of him and his family.

So why did I find myself stopped in the middle of nowhere giving money to somebody I had never met, to take a picture of their goat, which they had, of course, deliberately put into the tree. And why is it relevant to you? The answer is: Differentiation!

I cannot be sure, but I would imagine the thought process of the first goat herder (who put one of his flock in an Argan tree) went something like this: “Here I am, sitting with my goats, not much going on, and all these expensive cars carrying people with money are zooming past me. How can I get them to stop and pay me some attention?”

The answer, from that entrepreneurial goat herd, was “Put a goat in a tree”. In 2019, with over 1.7 billion websites online, you should think of yourself as that goat-herd. 

How on earth can you get people to “slow down” and look at your website amidst the swath of information online? In the goat-herder sense, this will only work so long as not too many people do the same thing. If every tree had a goat in it, it wouldn’t be novel and we might not have stopped to take a picture worth paying for. I have little doubt next time I go to Morocco, these herders will have had to move on to another ploy, and I might find goats tap dancing or painting—whatever it takes to get people to slow down and take a look.

Check out my video below for more details on the story!

I realise this example might seem a little far-fetched for a B2B business owner in the online space, but let’s establish perspective here and root it back to reality. Generally, it’s not the product or service you’re offering that is actually different—it’s the way you present, package and deliver it.

If I'm selling a range of products in a marketplace, I’m looking for the product feature that highlights a benefit that others don’t provide. I'm looking to create a detailed and elaborate understanding of my product so that I can identify some difference or element of differential proposition that will put me in a unique position to secure more business.

For example, let’s say an accounting software vendor who provides a pretty commonplace service to their marketplace determines that they can provide mobile versions of their reports or tablet-based reports to their customers. These reports are easily accessible ‘on the go’ by busy senior managers and this company recognises that their competitors are not doing that. So, instead of selling boring accounting software, they start to sell their product based on their unique mobile capability. It’s still just an accounting system that does typical debits and credits, sales invoices, stock levels etc. The difference is that they've gone to the effort of creating a series of standard reports that can be made available on mobile devices, and they’ve communicated that as their selling point. The sharing of management info is simple, easy and people are able to easily create reports that give greater insight from their software platform, as opposed to any other.

To offer a service at the cheapest possible price by taking shortcuts and undercutting your competitors at the expense of quality—is a dangerous tactic – this leads to a race to the bottom. A less common and perhaps more reasonable tactic of product differentiation in marketing though is ‘quality of service’, which means the opposite: selling the same product as others but at a higher price.

This one is quite difficult to pull off; if you compare a hotel room at the Four Seasons to one at a motorway rest-stop, both essentially provide the same thing: a place to sleep. However, the Four Seasons has created an exclusive service wrapper that allows them to charge far more money for what is fundamentally the same thing. Their job is to convince their customer of its clearly differentiated value.

If you can pull this off, great, but it’s not easy. If you’re charging much more than your competitors, there is no doubt you will limit your demographic. It’s much better to find some unique offering that you can provide without attaching a massive price premium—perhaps, wifi on a budget airline, or free drinks on board the plane—that will not alienate people from a financial perspective, but will enable you to explain why they should choose your company.

It’s hard to overstate how important product differentiation in marketing is. In fact, I would say that the key to effectively marketing and selling your products in a crowded market is to master the art of marketing and product differentiation. To make people notice you and what you offer and what you do, instead of just asking them to pay attention to you.

The goat-herder in Morocco had virtually no resources, but he did have an appreciation of differentiation, which is the fundamental basis of good marketing. If you can find a way to do this—to provide a product or service that the market wants, in a unique way—your chances of running a successful business are almost guaranteed.

Closing tip: Get different, be different, stay different - Try to think of where you could find a goat?


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