How to Differentiate Yourself in a Crowded Marketplace.
It is often said, “When you find your own lane there is no traffic.” These days, that statement has never been more valid, and it doesn’t matter if you are talking about a consumer brand, political candidate, security company, training academy or a personal protection specialist/bodyguard looking to break into protective services. Regardless of the entity, your success or failure is dependent on your positioning. When you think about protective services, for instance, have you decided what lane you want to work within?
● Celebrity Protection
● Corporate/Executive Protection
● Houses of Worship
● Protective Security Detail (PSD)
Before you build your company’s or personal brand lets first take a moment to reconcile what branding is and how it differs from marketing. Branding is the process involved in creating a unique name and/or image for a product or service in the mind of the consumer. The goal of “Branding” is to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers. What differentiated message have you created in the mind of your desired clientele?
Alternatively, marketing is the process of moving goods and services from concept to consumer. It is the ongoing communications exchange with customers designed to educate, inform and stimulate purchase intent. Effectively done, it also helps build relationships over time. Without a well-established Brand Positioning Statement, we have nothing to calibrate our actions against. In your marketing to your desired clientele, how are you educating, informing or stimulating a trial of your services?
Your positioning statement establishes the client you desire to serve, sets a frame of reference which connects you to them, and then speaks to the benefits (value) you deliver to them. Below, you will find an example of a brand positioning statement, which I wrote for my book, “Inside the Bubble.”
To entrepreneurs, existing leaders and inspiring leaders desiring to live a value-driven life while achieving growth and performance through focus and balance [core user].
Inside the Bubble, Lessons Learned from a Life in Business and Protective Services, is the premier Business and Leadership Narrative [frame of reference].
Which provides readers immediate high leverage strategies that help increase clarity of vision, make their actions more scalable [multiplication through inspiration], enhance simplicity in execution and lastly ongoing rejuvenation which provides balance in both home and work, to help you live your own value-driven life. It demonstrates how good performance doesn’t have to be punishing [brand benefits].
Global luxury brands share many similar traits of prestige and exclusivity, yet each brand has its own identity and a clear strategy of brand positioning that sets itself apart. They establish a compelling brand position/distinction over time that is meaningful, connects with consumers, and allows them to leverage their value and innovation to keep them thriving. It doesn’t make a difference if we are talking, Nike, Louis Vuitton, or Harley Davidson.
Think ICON Global as an example. While my good friend, Elijah Shaw, and his company have worked clients ranging from the corporate sector, to celebrities, to politics, he has branded his company as the celebrity experts. Because they have not only an established tenure in that space, they understand the subtle nuances of working with a highly recognizable client who lives their life under the constant view of a camera, be it paparazzi or fan. Elijah also literally wrote the first book, to my knowledge, on Celebrity Protection and Touring; this makes strategic sense as customers/consumers reward first mover or best of breed, as they are often seen as authentic. Additionally, being a published author in that area also gives his agency enhanced credibility in that sector.
Brands focus on their meaning and core values; functionality is a point of entry. Well established brands have almost become product or service independent. They create a halo effect that cascades across the entire product or service line. When you think Apple, you think ease of use, innovation, and intuition. When you consider an Apple device, whether we are talking computer, iPod, iPad, or iWatch the expectation is the same, innovation and functionality. They don’t have to compete for that mind-space with you anymore.
When you think about many of the core competencies required to do our job: Attention to Detail, Client Service, Combatives, Communication, Computers, Creativity, De-escalation, Driving, Firearms, First Aid, Logistics, Medical, Negotiations, Research, Surveillance, etc; what are your specialties? What do you do significantly better than others, and who needs that particular service? Even within the scope of a specific sector or team assignment, where might you be best utilized?
If your best core skill is that of a gunfighter, then you have to ask yourself where are gunfighters most sought after or best utilized? It is probably not protecting corporate executives unless they are in high-threat environments, as most corporations often desire unarmed protection specialists. That skill might be best utilized working overseas in protective security details (PSD) environments. It is not that PSD Operators are looking for fire fights every day, but a wrong turn or unplanned rerouting, in a motorcade escort, could turn into a full-blown firefight in certain theaters. If you don’t have a sound knowledge of firearm tactics, beyond marksmanship principles, you’ll quickly find yourself in very hot water.
If you have strong attention to detail, great networking and collaboration skills, but have little actual client experience, then a good position on the team may be the advance agent. This allows you to ease your way onto a team without having a pre-established client or team familiarity and to play to your strengths.
One of the critical requirements for building a successful brand is sacrifice. What are you prepared to sacrifice? An individual or a brand will never gain traction trying to be a one-size-fits-all solution. When I started my protection agency, after having spent two decades in Corporate America as a former Corporate Executive Vice President, I understood the life and the challenges of corporate executives. This knowledge gave me a good understanding of the client I desired to serve. Since corporations already understand areas like risk management, liability, litigation, and branding, I focused on building my agency on the Secret Service model, incorporating proactive risk mitigation, and not just saying ‘if it goes wrong we can handle it.’ I also knew that with this type of customer you don’t get budget issues as they have to consider safety and brand protection, so paying for our services would never be a problem. We just needed to be able to show them that we were the best service provider to address their needs.
I decided to sacrifice areas like residential security, event security, and retail security, for private security and in particular, I focused on protective services in the corporate sector and then later added the celebrity sector. In fact, my first celebrity client came as a referral from a corporate one, while protecting them at a corporate event.
I know that taking a strategic approach to building and growing your business works because I had to do it for myself. Having spent 20 years in Corporate America, I had to rebrand myself from that of a business professional to a security professional. Thus, I had to focus my training to close development or credibility gaps, and later my marketing to communicate both my individual and agency’s capabilities. While your best advertisement will always be your performance on the job, until people can consistently see that, you still have to find ways to establish credibility in the space? I wrote books, articles, and white papers, and invested my money with relevant training providers to help enhance both the exposure and competencies where required. I also spent time networking with like-minded individuals and placed myself in environments frequented by my desired clientele.
I remember coaching one specialist who desired to start a secure transportation company. While, geographically, he was new to the area, he wasn’t new to transportation, having amassed 30 years in the transportation business, working for one of the largest transportation authorities in the US. He explained he wanted to work with corporate clients and so I directed him to the protective driving school which services ninety percent, of the Fortune 500, security-trained drivers, the Vehicle Dynamics Institute (VDI). His prior experience coupled with that training credential gave him established credibility. So, while his company may have been new, it was far from inexperienced.
I know some may be saying, “but while I am building my brand, I still have a family to take care of, and debts to service.” And if that is you, you are absolutely correct. But, take that same secure transportation specialist, one of the other things he did was attend a bodyguard training academy, so he fully understood the requirements of the protective services team. Gaining this credential allowed him to start establishing a network. For others, that may enable them to enhance their existing network. While it is often hard to break into a protection team, if you lack experience, a vast majority of them typically require drivers.
So, he also became a known as a trusted resource for many of those agents needing a driver in that area, and in the interim, if the days and weeks ahead are slow, there is nothing that stops him from driving Uber or Lyft to help pay the bills until he establishes a steady clientele. Do keep in mind, that this service is not one he would advertise publicly as it would take him off mission from his branding and growth objectives.
Ultimately, branding is not about ad campaigns and hiring a marketing company to tell a story. It is about living the story and allowing your clients to live it with you. We might all be in the security industry, but we don’t all do the same thing, and so we should differentiate ourselves accordingly. Best of luck in your quest and remember, if you want success you have to plan for it.
Find Your Own Lane
By: Mark “Six” James CPO, EPS, CAS
Mark “Six” James is Founder and Executive Director of Panther Protection Services, LLC. He is an internationally published author, keynote speaker, security consultant to educational institutions and frequent contributor to a number of print, broadcast and online media, and the author of a number of security, firearm and protection publications. Panther Protection Services is a full-service protection agency focusing on Risk and Crisis Mitigation, Protective Services, Self-Defense Training, and Firearm Instruction.