Differentiation or Bust

April 4, 2016

Identifying differentiators is one of the favorite parts of my job. I love coming up with unique ways to differentiate my clients from the competition and position my clients in a favorable light. The objective with differentiation is uncovering what is special about a product or service in such a way it’s memorable and preferable.

Positioning is a key ingredient to the branding process and is the single most overlooked component from a management point of view. Believe it or not, we are positioning all the time.

Positioning creates perception, and perception, in many cases, creates people’s reality. It’s very difficult to change a first impression. Remember: people need to put things in boxes. This includes you, your business, your product, and your service. These “boxes” help others decide how they feel about any and all of the items I’ve just mentioned (including you). They form an opinion—positive or negative—so wouldn’t it be beneficial to help steer that opinion?

MMsM&Ms were created based upon their main differentiator. The candy-coated shell was intended to prevent the chocolate from melting during the summer months when there was no air conditioning, because “regular” chocolate sales went down during the summer. Their main differentiator is reflected in their slogan: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand”. The product had a differentiator (the ability to not melt until being eaten) that met a consumer need they were positioned to fill.

Ask yourself how you stand out from the crowd. How do you plan to stay relevant? As you work with your team to discover your differentiators in-depth, there are three areas where you can concentrate your brainstorming:

Process Capabilities: What processes do you have that allow you to meet the needs of your customers in a way only your business can? Best Buy has its Geek Squad who can come to you (or you to them) for repairs on the products you purchase.

Business Attributes: What products, services, features, and benefits does your business provide that appeal specifically to your ideal customer? How do you deliver these attributes better than your competition? Ever been in an Apple store or own any of their products? There have been a double-digit number of employees working in the store each and every time I’ve gone, so there’s rarely ever a waiting period. They have been very prompt in service and have issued resolution that makes sense for me. Anytime I’ve ever purchased equipment, set up time and effort has been at a minimum. It feels very turn-key in comparison to other similar products I’ve purchased in the past. Apple products feel more fluid. Their products are designed for workflow, so as a creative, Apple is perfect for my team and me.

General Criteria: How are you able to meet and exceed your buyers’ needs for price, value, quality, and speed? Have you ever made a purchase from Zappos? They are known for price, value, quality, and especially speed. Speaking to customer service, I recently had a conversation with someone referring to Zappos’ customer service. He told a story about how a woman lost her husband, so she was returning his unworn shoes. She received flowers in the mail with Zappos’ condolences. Keep in mind these general criteria are the easiest differentiators for your competition to copy, so lean on the other categories before this one—unless you can nail them all in one fell swoop like Zappos.

No one can do business the way you can: your story, your values, the way you approach work and your experience all combine to make your business noteworthy and valuable.  It is your job to share those things with the world.