In the early 60s, AVIS coined the famous tagline: "We're only #2 in rental cars, so why go with us? We try harder."
Lately AVIS has re-adopted part of that tagline, but only part of it. They've dropped the important pre-cursor and kept the memorable ending, "We Try Harder".
The trouble is, "We try harder" is only believable if your market perceives that you really do try harder. In order to believe that, they have to see you as an underdog. It is very difficult to convince the customer that AVIS, now about the same size as Hertz, will really try harder.
In the enterprise market, a similar dynamic plays itself out. I interview buyers every day as part of my win/loss analysis practice, and I commonly hear them talking about a smaller challenger as "trying harder". In fact, I can point to several interviews in the past few months where the interviewee has referred to the AVIS tagline directly.
It appears, however, that they apply this descriptor only to true challengers in the market. If you are a challenger and your staff is really gunning to take over the market, "We Try Harder" is a legitimate positioning angle. But this approach to positioning really only works if you really are #2 and gunning for #1. Furthermore, the buyer experience needs to resonate with that positioning.
AVIS isn't believable because they're no longer perceived as the underdog gunning for #1. You don't really get differentiated service from AVIS any more. If you want differentiated service in car rentals, you need to try Enterprise. So AVIS' tagline is neutralized.
I do believe it is possible to differentiate companies, large or small, based on the quality of service, however. Once you get beyond a certain size it can be hard to claim that you "try harder", just because of the law of large numbers. You will likely have very average people touching the customer, not superior people who really do "try harder".
But even with average people in the field, marketing and product management can create differentiation based on quality of service. This requires you to look at the buyers' problems holistically, and look for solutions that go well beyond the physical product to solve those problems. Look to help them with manuals, automation, training, collaboration consulting, to name just a few ideas.
As you interview your buyers, look for the whole problem they are trying to solve. Ask what portion of the problem your product helps with. Look for gaps and explore ways that you can fill them. Position your company as looking at the whole problem, and using the physical product as a tool, along with other productized services, to help the buyer achieve their goal.
Bottom line: "We try harder" is good for a really energetic challenger, but it's rarely enough for most companies. Look beyond the product and consider the buyer's problems and goals holistically. Look for gaps and fill them with value-added services. Consider offering the productized value-added services through channel partners.
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