The basis of business differentiation has changed over the decades. Marketing used to focus on the product and its features. It then matured and customers became important. And now, more and more businesses are choosing to stand out by focusing on their purpose and values - what they believe in.
Another development over the years has been how businesses have learned to differentiate themselves on the basis of their business model. I've written a couple of introductory articles on this myself if you want to find out more.
I've done a number of exercises with clients recently to explore how they position themselves in the market to stand out and be different. It's always a really exciting thing to do and when they get it right it's a real light bulb moment! It involves a degree of introspection (who are we, what do we believe in, what are we truly good at) and external research (what do our customers value, what are our competitors doing etc) and quite a lot of hard work. But get it right, the fog is lifted and the business just starts to 'flow' (especially when carrying out sales and marketing).
I read an article recently which really captures some of my thinking in this area quite nicely. It's by Hinge Marketing - a consultancy that focuses on branding and marketing for Professional Services Firms. Find Your Differentiator: 21 Ways to Gain a Competitive Advantage for Your Firm
They start with a really good check list for differentiators...
To be successful, a differentiator must meet three important criteria:The authors then go on to provide a list of 21 potential ways of differentiating your business. I really like this list and intend to use it in the future with clients to supplement my exercises. The 21 ways cover all the areas I mentioned - product, customer, purpose and business model.
- It must be true. You can’t simply make it up.
- It must be important to potential clients. If not, what’s the point?
- It must be provable. If you can’t demonstrate that it is true, it won’t be believed.
Here's the trigger list but please read the article for more detail. (Although the article is focused on professional services I think the principles can be carried over to other sectors).
1. Specialize in an industry.So how do you differentiate yourselves?
2. Specialize in serving a specific role within your client’s organization.
3. Specialize in offering a particular service.
4. Offer a truly unique technology or process.
5. Focus on understanding a particular target audience.
6. Specialize in serving clients of a certain size.
7. All of your staff shares a specific characteristic or credential.
8. Specialize in clients that share a common characteristic.
9. Focus on solving a specific business challenge.
10. Have one or more individuals who are high visibility experts in their fields.
11. Offer a unique business model.
12. Have a specific geographic focus.
13. Offer access to a unique set of information not available elsewhere.
14. Offer a unique set of contacts or relationships not easily accessible.
15. Do business with a distinctive level of service.
16. Distinguish yourself by the clients you have.
17. Focus on the size of your firm.
18. Emphasize your relationship with a parent firm or partner.
19. Focus on a notable signature accomplishment.
20. Specialize in producing a unique or very valuable result.
21. Look or act differently than all of your competitors.
Do you have a clearly articulated view that you and your staff share?
Do you use it in all your sales and marketing efforts - from qualifying clients through to website content?
How does your differentiation stack up against the criteria above?
And perhaps most importantly, do you feel excited and motivated by your differentiated position?
I'd love to hear your views.