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Marshall Atkinson

Differences Matter: Why Distinguishing Your Shop From Competition Will Help With Marketing Efforts

It’s amazingly simple to get into the printing business.




THERE’S AN ELEPHANT in the room we need to address. It’s amazingly simple to get into the printing business. Right now, there’s someone looking at his kid’s shirt from camp and saying to themself, “Geez. I could do this. How hard could this be?” In an incredibly short amount of time, another startup is cranking out orders in their basement, garage, or living room, not to mention, the already established shops in your area are gunning for the same customer base.

This is why, in a lot of industries, the saturation of screen printing companies is fairly dense. There’s a lot of blood in the water, especially when the same companies are all fighting over the same customers. If you sell to schools or maybe craft breweries, you know this already. So, how do you separate yourself from the competition? You need to differentiate your business and then market it. Remember, marketing is an action that creates a customer. If we put some extra zip into the marketing of your shop to differentiate your secret sauce from the rest of the yahoos out there, you can expect a better stream of customers to be headed your way.

Start with This Question

On our road to developing a new marketing strategy, complete this statement: “We are the only ones who…”

Oooh. Tough one. How did you do? What is the one thing that separates you from the herd? Can you define that? To have an effective marketing strategy, nailing down your main point of differentiation is critical. However, that can be difficult to do. I have news for you: it’s going to get harder from here. Take that same phrase, “We are the only ones who…” and poll your staff. Better yet, ask your customers. Will everyone have the same answer? If so, Bingo! You win! It’s obvious as to why you’re successful. If not, you need to circle the troops and head to the drawing board for an intense discussion.

What we are searching for is the REASON PEOPLE BUY FROM YOU. That’s bolded and in all caps for a reason. Your market differentiator is what makes you unique, but it’s also how your customers define you. For example, let’s say you’re a contract apparel decorator for the promotional marketing distributors in your area. In the back of your mind, you think you’re simply selling them the service of producing decorated apparel to fulfill their orders. But when you start asking them why they do business with you, most of their responses come back with versions of “never miss a deadline” or “always accurate.”

You’ve been marketing your production capabilities, but your customers value reliability and trust more than anything. Therefore, what do you think should show up in your marketing strategies from now on? It certainly isn’t how many units per day your crew can crank out.

Selling vs. Buying

When developing new customers, you want to attract those who are a good fit for what you do best. This is why it’s crucial to have feedback from your top customers on why they consistently do business with your shop.

In your current marketing strategy, you could be selling one idea, but your clients are buying something different. What do they value? Can you name the problems they’re trying to solve? What if you don’t know? Saddle up. It’s time to get out of your office and go see some customers. Not just any customers either. Do the math and uncover your top 20 percent. Make the road trip. Thank them for their continued business and ask them why they choose you. Then go to the next one. A business should be 100-percent focused on the emotions of the customer.

In the example above, it’s in the comfort of knowing there’s an overwhelming sense of reliability and trust in the professionalism of a shop. For a promo distributor, they need to know their vendor has their back so they can go onto the next selling opportunity. They aren’t worried the 14 orders they have in-house are going to be late.

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting

When there’s an absolute emotional connection between your business and your customer, it’s extremely easy for them to refer someone else to you. But what prevents most people from referring something to another person? Fear.

The fear is if they speak up and provide a referral, something negative might happen, and they’ll be blamed or look bad. Therefore, they don’t offer a suggestion when an opportunity presents itself. But what if you took a deep dive into why your customers buy from you? Get the facts. The emotions. The underlying reasons why they keep coming back. Then, you invest time and effort to improve that customer experience for them. Because you know exactly what they’re looking for, you simply serve better and more frequent ideas to feed into what they crave. As long as you operationally don’t miss a beat, these customers will become your biggest advocates.

This means more referrals. Better Google reviews. More customer testimonials. When someone starts talking about the need for decorated apparel at a business lunch, everyone at the table hears, “Oh man, you have to call (your company). They will take great care of you. Here’s their info.” This is why companies without anything meaningful to say always drop to a lower price. It’s the only narrative to their story.

Listen to Your Customers

People want to be understood. Do you notice me, or am I simply a transactional sale? So, ask better questions.

• “How are you using these shirts?”
• “What do you want the person wearing (or receiving) these shirts to think about you?”
• “What is the most important thing to you?”
• “What can’t go wrong?”
• “What is your biggest fear about this?”

These questions aren’t about the product. They’re focused on the customer or the end-user. If you want to differentiate your business from the competition, construct a better customer experience. Start by asking better questions to understand the challenges and problems your customer is facing. What will it take to make this next order a success? What story are they going to tell about your company to other people after it’s all said and done?

One Big Idea

Let’s wrap this information into “One Big Idea” for your shop. Start talking to your top customers about why they do business with you. Don’t overthink this. Certainly, don’t assume you know. Get the facts. Then, do something with them. We want to create a simple marketing strategy that uses the dominant response from your customers as the main point of differentiation.

Here’s the outline for the “One Big Idea” strategy:

  1. One Big Idea. What do we need to know? In the example cited earlier, the customer’s response indicated that reliability and trustworthiness are the main reasons why they do business with that shop. For you, it might be different. That’s why you’re asking your customers questions. Get to your own “One Source of Truth.”
  2. One Driving Emotion. How will customers feel if they use you? Name and label that emotion. List it. With our example, maybe a potential customer is feeling overwhelmed or frustrated by their current situation. Our marketing answer to that is “Relief” or “Comfort” when you take over and do a better job.
  3. One Captivating Story. What stories can you tell that illustrate this emotional link with your shop? A customer testimonial works fantastic here.
  4. One Desired Benefit. What are customers hoping to achieve? With our example, that promo salesperson can focus their attention on other matters, which is a better use of their time.
  5. One Immediate Action. What should they do right now? For a potential customer, they should see themselves in the story. Make it obvious as to what you want them to do. Click the button. Call you. Schedule an appointment. Text this number.

Once you understand your customer’s emotional relationship with your company, it’s easier to construct marketing content that drives more leads your way. After all, it’s those differences that matter.


Watch: Marshall shares more insight into how you can improve your screen printing business with a smart marketing plan.



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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