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Originally published on Monday, June 19, 2006 in The Miami Herald

Tell 'em how you're better than the competition.
Hollywood author and consultant Jaynie L. Smith advocates a simple yet powerful principle that will help distinguish your company from the pack.

Creating Competitive Advantage. Jaynie. L. Smith with William G. Flanagan. Currency Doubleday. 228 pages.

If you are not giving your customers clear, unambiguous reasons for buying your product or service based on competitive advantages, you are missing the boat -- and the sale. Your competitive advantages are those qualities that make your firm better than the competition, according to Hollywood consultant Jaynie L. Smith.

For example, it's not enough to say that you are ''family-owned'' or ''the oldest weasel broker in Ojus,'' because, by themselves, they are not competitive advantages. But if you say, ''our family invented the Johnson Rod in 1954 and our constant innovation guarantees that you'll get the No. 1 selling rod in the country for 20 percent less than anywhere else,'' that's a competitive advantage. So is this one: ``We were here when the first weasels arrived in Ojus and can give you same-day delivery on the most colorful and talented weasels in the world.''

The book begins and ends with an outrageous question: ``Countries, like marriages, companies and people, oft reach a break point, and split up and die. We watch as it happens to others, but we rarely ask ourselves, 'Could it ever happen here?'''

In fact, when you analyze most advertisements based on how the company in question conveys its competitive advantages, most fall far short. Except, perhaps, for branding or image advertising, that's pretty pathetic and quite wasteful. Ditto with sales pitches. If you're not telling potential customers why they should trade with you based on what's in it for them, and why you're better than other companies providing something similar, you're in grave danger of being driven out of business or commoditized by having to compete solely on price.

Smith's book is a no-frills, no-nonsense explanation of these principles, with simple and vivid examples that require little imagination or insight to comprehend. But this is not to say that this slim volume is dull, dumbed-down or overly simplistic. On the contrary. Great skill and finesse are required to take an obvious though overlooked area like this one and illuminate its importance with clarity and brevity. Smith suggests ways for readers to analyze their own enterprises with an eye toward divining the qualities that must be emphasized in all of their sales and marketing efforts.

South Floridians will recognize a few past and present local companies, including Holy Cross Hospital, Amira Services, Eastern Airlines, Waste Management, Tyco International and others. Smith also talks about shopping for a new car at several local dealers whose sales people were unable to articulate their vehicles' competitive advantages in the area that she, as a customer, deemed most important: safety. She graciously declined to name the specific South Florida car dealerships, but you might deduce their identities. I'd advise their managers to immediately ensure that their competitive advantages are a part of every sales spiel, unless they've dramatically surpassed their current sales goals.

Smith's book may seem redundant to some readers, and one would hope that it would be because a manager is already doing everything she advocates. But for the rest of us, her gentle missives serve as a much-needed and persuasive reality check

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