Would you like extra protection for your profit margins?
How about a shield that’ll keep your sales channel safe from competitors?
The best defense for competitive threats like these is brand differentiation.
Differentiation creates a moat around your brand. It keeps you safe from price discounts, competitors and draining your marketing budget on prospects that aren’t a good fit for your offer.
If our baker is any good at all as a businessperson, he already knows that baked bread, alongside any other good you care to mention, has been commoditized. No matter how good you are at what you do there is always someone else who is either better, or nearer, or cheaper, or smaller, or bigger, or gives out lollypops with each baked bread loaf purchase.
This is the same virtually across the entire marketplace, and the point is that no matter what kind of business you are in these days, you will have competition and a lot of it. If you are unable to differentiate yourself sufficiently from your competition, your business will go under. If you are unable to create an emotional connection with your customers, your business will fail.
Brand differentiation narrows your focus on what you do best. It gives you a unique position in the marketplace, so the right clients know why they should choose you over your competitors.
The following process will assist you in discovering qualities that can set your business apart.
- Define your business mission.
- Analyze your competitors.
- Review brand differentiation strategies.
- Ensure your differentiation matters to your target market.
Let’s go through each of these steps.
Define Your Mission
You have to begin here because your mission is the heartbeat of your business. It’s why you exist. Often, it IS what makes your business unique.
Gina Fiedel of Fat Eyes Web Development has helped companies discover their mission. She finds that many people don’t fully explore their reason for being in business.
We tend to be crystal clear about what we do and how we do it. But why do we do it? Why do we bother and what keeps us going? What’s our purpose? What’s our company purpose?
Gina’s questions will help you find your WHY and set you on your way to creating a mission that differentiates your brand.
Chipotle accomplished this with their mission of serving “Food with Integrity.” They distinguish themselves from fast food alternatives that don’t use quality ingredients.
Don’t forget to check out your competition to make sure your purpose sets you apart.
Analyze Your Competitors
Look at how your competitors are differentiating themselves. Review their website, search engine listings and sales brochures. Visit them at networking events. Look at customer reviews. Ask people in your market about them.
If your analysis uncovers a purpose which isn’t setting your brand apart, then your mission could be too broad. The following strategies will help you focus your mission without changing the core reason you’re in business.
Brand Differentiation Strategies
1. Market, Audience or Niche
By becoming a valuable service provider within a niche, you can create a devoted audience.
Whole Foods in my town of Boulder does an excellent job filling a gap for people on special diets. They were the first store in the area to offer food options for folks who can’t tolerate gluten. The gluten-free market has grown, and many other grocery stores now cater to this special need. But Whole Foods remains a leader by offering the largest selection of this food group.
Delivering an exceptional customer experience can raise your brand above the competition. Successful customer-obsessed companies don’t just talk about placing customers front and center. They act on it.
Nordstrom has achieved a customer-focused reputation that far exceeds most retailers.
Our Customer Service Commitment
We have a long-standing commitment to provide our customers with the best possible service every time they shop and to continually maintain a strong and lasting relationship with them.
After watching a woman searching for a lost diamond from her wedding ring, a Nordstrom’s store security worker joined the search. They came up empty handed but didn’t give up.
The security person rallied other employees to join the treasure hunt. The new team ventured outside the woman’s room and wound up inside vacuum cleaners where they found the stone. The Seattle Times covers the story in depth.
3. Change the Customer Experience
Southwest Airlines solved a source of pain many travelers feel—paying for luggage. The low-cost maverick refuses to backpedal on this offer despite pressure from Wall Street.
4. Production or Creation
If the method you use to create products and services inspired the birth of your business, it might be the story that sets you apart. Production stories that make people feel good about supporting a business can humanize your brand and make an emotional connection with your audience.
Case in point – Google. The search giant gives mother nature a break by using renewable energy to power their servers.
Inventors make a memorable mark on our lives and pave the way for new markets. The combustion engine, printing press, transistor and electricity are just a few innovations that changed our lives and sparked new business into the economy.
The spring-loaded camming device (cam), invented by Ray Jardine, revolutionized the sport of rock climbing. This protection device opened up more terrain for climbers because of its versatility and ease of use. Unlike earlier devices, cams leave the rock unscarred because they are removed after use. Climbers tend to buy a lot of cams and replace them often!
6. Small Business Edge
You don’t have to be an industry giant to separate your brand from the rest of the pack. There’s plenty of room for small businesses to carve out a unique position in their market.
The resources in larger organizations can create inertia which slows responsiveness. Resources also increase overhead. This presents an opportunity for leaner companies to use nimbleness, awesome service and value to stand out. That’s exactly what David Kutcher at Confluent Forms does to set his brand apart.
We focus on personalized attention, realistic expectations and quality delivery.
Differentiation Must Matter to Your Target Market
In his book, Amerland offers valuable advice many companies overlook when determining how to stand apart in the market.
The thing that’s different about you needs to be something your prospects want or care about if it’s going to resonate and positively impact conversion.
Don’t assume that your differentiation matters to your market. Test out your idea by looking for proof in customer testimonials, surveys and client conversations.
Better still, let your customers help define your positioning by asking them these questions:
- What was going in your world that made you decide to purchase our product (or service)?
- What problem did our product solve or how did it make your life (business) better?
- Who else did you consider buying from and why did you choose us?
Take time to hone in on a focused mission that separates your business from the pack. Companies that rush through this process fail to discover what makes them unique AND ensure it matters to the market they serve.
By doing the legwork to get this right, you’ll build an uncrossable moat that keeps your brand safe from competitive threats.