Today the term 'differentiate' has become a buzzword that strikes fear into business owners who simply do not understand what it means. Edward Hastings Chamberlain, in his monopolistic competition theory, proposed the concept of product differentiation in 1933. Colourtone Aries believes service or product differentiation is a key driver of marketability but it can be quite complex in a competitive environment.
Colourtone Aries managing director, John Bywater, says, "The primary corporate objective of differentiation is to create or improve a product so that it becomes unique in the market. As printers, this is complex as many of our products and services can be price-driven, which can hamper the creation of differentiation. This challenge puts the spotlight on quality and service delivery as a key differentiator."
Customers, in essence, create an environment in which printers compete for the same market. This stems from corporate procurement policies to present a number of cost estimates from up to five different printing companies. Not only does this tend to drive market prices down, it also establishes reduced service levels and quality of finished product as suppliers seek to reduce costs.
According to John, this unfortunately is the culture that has been forced into the industry from a free-market system. He says, "Differentiation now becomes a little more complicated. How do we reduce cost to client and improve quality and service levels? We believe the answer is technology based. By investing in state-of-the-art machinery we are able to deliver on quality and price, on top of improved speed of delivery to market."
This is the crux of differentiation in the printing industry, but it comes at a price. Printing companies that invest in achieving a precise combination of quality, price and service delivery while maintaining and increasing profitability will be able to differentiate their services and products.
In Chamberlain's theory, he highlights that by its nature, differentiation can lead to monopolistic competition, which is not consistent with conditions described in a world of perfect competition. In the modern tough and highly competitive market, it can be true to say that differentiation is a key competitive advantage that drives customer satisfaction.
John agrees that competition needs to be fair but that true differentiation is achieved when your product or service delivers more than the industry promises. This is what elevates your business above your competitor. "As printers, we need to create a standard of excellence as a differentiator, " he says, "and adopt a philosophy of investing in delivering superior products, faster and at competitive prices."
As printing moves well into a new millennium, differentiation will play an increasingly important role in separating competitors. The rapid pace that the market operates in now is forcing differentiation naturally as printers strive to stand out from the rest.
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