Marketing 101: How Can You Differentiate Yourself from the Competition?

We’ve talked often about the importance of differentiating yourself from the competition in your market. Another way to think about it is “putting yourself in a category of one.” If you’re successful in differentiating yourself to the point that nobody else can come close to offering what you offer, you’re in a fantastic position. That’s easier said than done, obviously, but it’s a great long term marketing goal.

But what if you’re not even sure what differentiates you from your competition?

Today, we’re going to run through several different ways that businesses can differentiate themselves from others in their market. Keep in mind that not all of these will work for your business. But this will give you a starting place if you’re still searching for your points of differentiation.

Price. Perhaps the most common approach many start-up businesses take is to undercut the pricing in their market. But this is almost always a losing strategy, especially for a smaller business. We’ve written about this in depth here—for now we’ll summarize the problem with this strategy simply: acquiring customers by slashing prices doesn’t build loyalty (they’ll leave as soon as they can find a lower price), it doesn’t establish brand value, and it squeezes your profit margin to the point where it can be hard to make a living. (Companies like Wal-Mart do very well with this strategy, but that’s because they have an amazingly efficient supply chain and huge sales volume. Most small businesses don’t have these advantages.)

Customer Service. Customers appreciate quality service. The problem with differentiating yourself through this approach is that everyone claims to offer great customer service. If service is really going to set you apart, you need to get more specific. For instance- you could promise to always return phone calls within 2 hours during the work week. You could make your account managers available to take calls 24/7. You could make, and live up to, a 100% satisfaction guarantee, or their money back. Offering quality customer service is important. It’s a great goal. But in order for your service to truly differentiate you, you need to make it more than just a buzzword.

Longevity – and a track record of success. Have you been in business for longer than many of your competitors? Do you have a track record of proven success that you can leverage through testimonials, case studies, etc? Proven success can be a great way to differentiate yourself, especially in an industry or a market that hasn’t been around for long. However, if much of your competition can point to similar longevity and a similar record of success, you’re going to need to keep looking for ways to differentiate.

Unique Products or Services. This one is simple: if you can offer products or services that are unique from what your competition offers, you’ve differentiated yourself by definition. But being unique just to say you’re unique won’t help you win business. Your innovations need to provide value to your customers—otherwise, they’re not going to care. Innovation that results in unique benefits for your customers is always a winning strategy.

Customer Experience. Finally, the “WOW” factor. Walt Disney summed this strategy up like this: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do it.” Apple is a great example of this in practice—every detail of their customer experience, from the packaging of their products to their function, from the layout of their retail stores to the customer service they provide, is carefully thought through. And the result is tremendous profitability—and customers who turn into brand evangelists. We all have a friend or a co-worker who can’t stop raving about Apple products. If you can create a “WOW” factor for your customers and clients, you’ll rarely have to worry about your competition.

Questions or comments? Let us know what you think—we’d love to hear from you!

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Spotlight Branding

Spotlight Branding is a content marketing and branding firm for lawyers and other professionals. Our goal is to help you create an online presence that positions you as a credible expert in your field, keeps you connected with your network in order to stay top of mind and increase referrals, and to become more visible online so prospects can find you!