It's easy to think that winning in marketing is about being better at marketing. But great marketing starts way before the copywriter warms up his laptop or media negotiations begin. Great marketing starts with the product or service itself.

Here's the problem: Most home improvement companies are selling the same products. Yes, I know that your window has better glass or that your siding won't fade, chalk, or dent, and that the glass on your sunroom does a better job keeping out summer heat than your competitors' products. All are miracles worth purchasing.

WHAT'S TO SAY The point? While you can talk about the solid benefits of your product(s), that's not where you'll make your biggest marketing splash.

What will differentiate you, and your marketing, is your company. If you're truly dedicated to excellence — and you are, right? — it will be easy to outperform every other home improvement contractor within a 100-mile radius. Even a one-truck guy can buy good windows (or siding, doors, etc.) from a good supplier. But can he demonstrate the financial stability, reputation, professionalism, customer service, and high-caliber workmanship that you can?

A SUGGESTION Step 1: Make a detailed inventory of everything you do well in the five categories just listed. Spare no details. For example: Your company carries $1 million in liability insurance; has installed more than 17,400 windows in the last 21 years; and has a glass replacement warranty that even covers accidents and vandalism. Write it all down.

Step 2: Take 10 minutes a day to write a one-or two-paragraph description of each of these items. Use a case study to tell prospects what happens if a contractor doesn't have insurance and there is an accident. Describe the time that a bird hit the window, broke the glass, and you replaced it for free. Give people some perspective on how many windows 17,400 actually is.

Now you're equipped with the ingredients for marketing. All you have to do is to get a good recipe and start cooking.

—Rich Harshaw, author of Monopolize Your Marketplace, is a marketing expert;