If You Think You’re Differentiating Your Business, Think Again

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar to you:

  • You continually lose business to your competitors, even though you know you could do a better job.
  • You often win or lose business based on price.
  • Your online marketing seems weak, and you know you’re probably losing valuable leads and sales, but you have no idea what to do about it.
  • You’re not sure how to make your business stand out in the market or you’re having trouble communicating it.

Here’s your problem: your differentiation sucks.

The #1 reason clients come to us is to help them differentiate. They know that in order to compete in the saturated modern market, they have to not only be different, but to be able to express that difference online.

Without effective differentiation, you’re just bobbing around in the sea of sameness with everybody else. And since your customers can’t tell the difference between you and the next guy, they just shrug and say, “Well, who’s cheaper?”

You know how that story goes…

Down go your prices. Down go your competitors’ prices. And before you know it, you’re all groveling over peanuts in revenue. Your clients don’t respect you, and worse: you don’t respect yourself.

People: that’s no way to do business. Be better than that.

What Differentiation is NOT

Let me guess: you think a new website will solve all your problems.

If you just got a fresh look and some hot new marketing language, people would see how much better you are than the other guys. Maybe if you had one of those fancy sliders on your homepage, and some messaging that really spoke to your target audience, the business would come rolling in. Plus, it would reinvigorate office morale, and your team would be that much happier and more effective.

Listen. If your website sucks, by all means, get a new one. But that is not differentiation.

People think differentiation is just a messaging function, where they just have to sound different, when under the hood, they’re the exact same company as their competitors.

One of my favorite non-strategies for differentiation is “we’re all about results!”

First of all, you’re kidding yourself if you think your competition doesn’t care about results. Second, that horse has been dead for years—anyone still beating it just looks foolish.

Here are some other phrases my team and I like to laugh about:

  •     We’re full service
  •     We’re your partner
  •     We have a wide range of experience
  •     We provide the best service
  •     We provide value
  •     We’re a small team
  •     We’re experts
  •     We’re strategic
  •     We’re fun, cool, cutting edge, etc.

Most agencies actively push phrases like these because it’s easy to get buy-in on them. They’re soft and safe, and they allow CXO’s to comfortably avoid making difficult decisions about where they actually want to play in the market. (God forbid your marketing should exclude anyone!)

But it’s not differentiation. It’s regurgitation.

You sound like everyone else because you are everyone else.

And let’s face it: those phrases are all meaningless. You might have convinced yourself that, in your case, they truly do set you apart. But to everyone else, they sound like hollow buzz words, and you have to admit that they aren’t doing a damn thing for your bottom line.

Where the Real Money Is

Our most successful clients are the ones taking risks by investing in business strategies that allow them to compete in a market of few.

That’s true differentiation.

They aren’t trying to keep up with their competition—they’re trying to distance themselves from their competition. They aren’t diving into the same tired old marketing segments and struggling to stay afloat—they’re creating new marketing segments, where they’re the Top Dogs. (Which comes with the territory when you’re the Only Dog. And that’s not a cop out—it’s just smart business.)

These clients know what they stand for, who they want to help, and why they’re best equipped for the job. Their websites are meticulously catered to this messaging, which actively excludes anyone not in their target audience and hones in on the smaller subset of people who are.

They aren’t just saying what they think customers want to hear—in fact, they’re saying things that many customers won’t want to hear, because they’re looking for something different. Perfect! Shuffle them over to the competition and hold out for a better fit.

The best part about true differentiation is that, besides being the only effective way to compete in today’s marketplace, it’s where the real money is.

If you’re able to solve a specific problem extremely well (rather than addressing a bunch of generic problems about as well as the next guy) people will ante up big time for that. We see it all the time.

Finding Your Edge

If you’re ready to start creating your own differentiation strategy, here are some key questions to consider:

  •     What type of pricing model can we develop that is not being used in the industry?
  •     What market segment is currently not getting enough attention?
  •     If we had to take our entire service offering down to one thing, what would it be?
  •     What expertise do we have that the competition does not?
  •     What expertise can we gain that the competition can or will not?
  •     What practice or practices in our industry are bad for our customers, that we can actively stand against?
  •     How can we approach new business better than the competition?

And that’s just a whiff of the full differentiation process. We have dozens of thought tools we use to help our clients figure out where they want to play and how to get there.

Our #1 piece of advice is this: be meaningful. If you’re using words that could appear on any website, in any market, find new words.

Here’s the ultimate differentiation test:

Do your current marketing efforts and business strategy scare you?

If not, chances are you’re playing it too safe and you’re not properly positioned.

Being different is always scary at first. But it’s also powerful and memorable, and sometimes…it can make you freaking rich.

We're Not for Everyone

But when it's right, it's really right. Let's have a conversation and find out if we're a good match.