Differentiation Strategy: Standing Out Among The Competition

Whether you are just starting your company, or reviving the brand, you should be considering how your brand can stand out from the crowd. In other words, how you are different (and better!) from the competition.

A well thought out differentiation strategy will help your firm and brand identify, express, and reinforce your unique characteristics that set you apart in the market.

What is differentiator?

Differentiators are things about your firm that makes you meaningfully different from other firms in the same industry. It doesn’t have to be something that is unique to your firm (meaning no other firm does it). It just needs to be something that is unlike most firms.

An example would be that your firm specializes in cloud computing solutions for government agencies. Other firms may do similar work, but as long as the majority of competitors for IT services do not, this is a differentiator.

How does this work with your overall brand? Think of your brand as being the combination of your reputation and visibility. Differentiation helps make your brand stand out in the reputation aspect. Hinge’s research has found that professional service firms that are classified as high-growth companies are 3 times more likely to have a strong differentiator.

What makes a differentiator?

There are three rules to creating a differentiator.

  1. It must be true.
  2. It must be provable.
  3. It must be relevant.

Lets break these down a little.

It must be true: Find something your brand lives by. Don’t just make something up! Clients will know quickly if you fail to deliver on your claims.

For example, take “Our difference is superior client service.” How does a prospective client know if this is actually true? Do you offer special policies, have special training? Unless you can definitively say something like, “We offer XYZ training to ensure superior client service,” it’s hard to believe your claim to be true. Also, when everyone else says they offer superior service, how is this any different? The XYZ training is what actually makes you different.

It must be provable. Firms commonly boast, “Our people make the difference.” How can you prove this? Usually, you can’t. These soft differentiators don’t mean anything if there isn’t a proof point behind them, because anyone can make the same claim if they don’t have to prove it. Now, if you receive industry awards for excellent service, you can point to that as your proof point!

It must be relevant. You can set yourself off from your competitors, but if your clients don’t care about those differences, it doesn’t matter. How do you find out what your clients care about? Ask them!

SEE ALSO: Elements of a Successful Brand 1: Brand Positioning

Now what?

You have crafted well-worded differentiators, and made sure they were true, provable, and relevant. What is next?

The next step in creating your brand differentiation strategy is to figure out how to weave your brand into the issues that keep your clients up at night. Get in front of them by talking about what they care about. Figure out the issues and challenges they battle with daily. Once you’ve figure these out, find three your firm can really own, and offer solutions through your services.

You can get in front of your prospective client audience by providing content through your website. Our research on brand building tells us that 83% of Visible Experts (those who are known as the authority on a particular subject matter) use their company website as a marketing tool. Create executive guides, white papers, webinars, or blog posts that cover these issues and provide unique insights or specific answers.

Your differentiators are the lens through which you provide your answers. When you write about an issue, think about what your firm does differently that helps set it apart from the competition and include that information in your content.

For example, if your firm provides cloud computing solutions for the government, your client likely cares about data security. Think about how your differentiations can help solve the issue. Suppose one of your firm’s differentiators is that you have a strict system of checks and balances to ensure the integrity and security in the cloud. You could write about the data security, including reasons why the system you use works and how it ensures the data isolation the government requires.

Differentiation strategy follow up

Keep your eye on news and issues within your target audience. What is of interest and concern to your clients will change. Stay on top of those interests and concerns. Read trade publications and press releases from your competitors to help you stay in the know. Attend industry events—be a speaker if you can! Just make sure you are talking about the right issues and your differentiators remain relevant.

Along the way, talk to your clients. Ask them why they chose you. This will help you see if your differentiators are not only relevant, but visible, too. If you can, talk to those who chose to go with a competitor. Ask them why they didn’t chose you. This can provide insight into how clients view your differentiators, or if they aren’t clear enough to them.

A proper differentiation strategy can make the difference between growing your business and staying stagnant. Put the effort into a strategy and think about how you will implement it so that it provides you the most return on your investment. We know you will start seeing the benefit the strategy can provide you.

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help

Identify competitive differentiators that will help your firm stand out from the competition and build a brand that drives sustained growth with Hinge’s Branding Program.

Author: Missi Freimark Missi Freimark brings branding, strategy, and digital marketing together to help clients at Hinge reach sustainable high growth. In addition to being a young entrepreneur, Missi’s experience ranges from the corporate setting, such as Western Union and MillerCoors, to the agency setting. She has skills in brand messaging, brand strategy, digital strategy, and user experience. Her energy, flexibility, and hard-working attitude make collaboration easy.

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