Book Review: Creating Competitive Advantage

Creating Competitive AdvantageIf there were only one marketing principle that every business should get it would be “differentiation“.

Knowing what sets you apart from every other alternative can be more powerful than being everywhere, having the lowest price, building a better mousetrap or even being well known.

This is where “Creating Competitive Advantage” by Jaynie L. Smith with William Flannagan comes in. I plucked this book from Amazon about a month ago and it’s been on my desk ever since. I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve dog-eared and how many times I’ve gone back to the book to help me get clear on how to nail down a sales-generating competitive advantage.

Here are some key ideas from the book:

Doing business without a competitive advantage is like showing up to the big dance in shorts and flip-flops.

The author didn’t say this exactly – but the tone of the book is such that you feel like you’re totally missing out on the party if you don’t have a competitive advantage. But don’t worry, you wouldn’t be alone. Jaynie has interviewed 1,000 CEOs and found that only two of them could clearly name their competitive advantage!

Competitive Advantage is OBJECTIVE not SUBJECTIVE.

This is another concept from the book that we often forget. How many times have we “differentiated” our business by saying something like “We have the best customer service.” Instead of “Our electronics sales and service business promises to return all phone calls within one hour of being received and, if necessary, will have a technician at your location within 6 hours.”

Being specific and quantifiable is THE KEY element of any good competitive advantage. It needs to be true and proven and have evidence to support it. Being as specific as possible is what gives your ideal customer the reason to choose you instead of the other guy. Not only that, but you will more easily attract your ideal customers because they are the ones who value and care about your specific promise.

“Dangerous Disparity” is the gap between what you assume about your customers and what they really think.

This section of the book is one that you will want to read and re-read because Janie doesn’t mince words or waste space. Every sentence is packed full of examples, ideas and case studies that you will want to learn something from. In other words, you create a disconnect with your customers in any of the following ways:

  • Imprecise and vague language they don’t believe or understand
  • You claim a competitive advantage that you don’t deliver
  • You stress advantages your customers don’t care about
  • You don’t focus on specific advantages for each segment of your business

I don’t know about you, but I stand guilty on just about every one of these.

The way to free yourself is by doing some “blind” survey research. Commission a third-party to do contact your customers and don’t let them know that it’s YOU. Simply position this as industry research. This way they will be free to share exactly what’s important and how well everyone delivers on their promises. This is great advice!

Create a competitive advantage when you don’t think you have one.

You can simply say something that no one else is saying (but is true for you) such as “98% of our business comes from referrals and happy customers.”

In summary

I want to say a little bit about the author, Jaynie L. Smith. One of the things that strikes me about her is how much of this detailed and dirty work of analyzing customer data and intricate bits of information she’s done herself. You get the feeling that she’s spent many hours banging her head against a wall looking for that one sliver of truth that can make all the difference in her marketing strategy.

She specifically talks about her experience as a product manager for Eastern Airlines and identifying the fact that while other airlines had more flights in a region, Eastern had more wide body jets in that same region. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you’d ever done anything like that, you have a real appreciation of her talent. She writes from experience and now you can have some of that experience for the price of a book.

From these examples and concepts that I’ve shared from the book, you can see why it’s all dog-eared on my desk and hasn’t been far from my reach.

Pick up Creating Competitive Advantage and see what it can do for you.


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

10 Reactions
  1. The hard part is avoiding competing with the government, because they are constantly expanding and regulating and creating competitive advantages and disadvantages. Pick an industry that the government is not involved in and your chances of success are 50% higher.

  2. Hi, I am an new author and my new fantasy novel, “Gateway to DreamWorld,” was released on August 12th.

    I would like to invite readers who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi to purchase a copy from or Barnes&

    Any and all reviews are greatly appreciated.

    Brenda Estacio

  3. Martin Lindeskog


    The headline, “Competitive Advantage is OBJECTIVE not SUBJECTIVE.” made me tick in the right way so I had to add this book to my reading list. You are writing great book reviews! 🙂

  4. Thanks Ivana. I will have to pick this up. This tackles some of the exact point in John Assaraf and Murray Smith’s book the answer. Differentiation is the key to standing out from the competition and dominating a niche market. Let’s take it a step further… how do you begin to differentiate your business from the competition. There is a specific process you can follow that begins with identifying the “hot buttons” of your IDEAL clients/customers. Once you determine their “hot buttons”… their drivers, their needs and wants, you can innovate your business based off that “want.”

    You can further read about how to do this at my blog below.


  5. RedHotFranchises

    Keep your Enemies Close and your Enemies Closer

    The key is to keep an eye on the competition – be like a spy and home in on the secret information which they know that they don’t want the rest of the world to know. Your mission is to keep close to your “enemies” for your own benefit. The more you know the better, The Use of Knowledge is Power.

  6. @Curt – Thanks for that comment Curt, do you have ANY advice for people who are competing with the government? I think that whenever you put yourself in one of those “RFP” bidding situations it practically eliminates “the reason” to be chosen.

    @ryan metee, I completely agree with you Ryan. In my opinion the best place to start your search for competitive advantage is with your ideal customer and what’s important to them when they are thinking about your product or service. That would really cut out some time.

  7. Ivana,
    Again, you’ve pulled me into and kept me in a book review. I’m guilty of all those bullet points, too. I love the part about shorts and flip flops — so true and sad that I’ve done it that way.

    But this sentence is what really got to me. “Knowing what sets you apart from every other alternative can be more powerful than being everywhere, having the lowest price, building a better mousetrap or even being well known.”

    Wow. Thanks for a stellar review, Ivana.

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