True differentiation is becoming increasingly more challenging to achieve. But with the sheer number of new ideas, innovations and businesses launching every day, and the resources that abound for quickly bringing products and services to market, it's even more imperative to make your brand authentic.
So how do you set your brand apart from the rest? Simply creating a new product or service isn't enough.
You have to be able to endure market changes, economic fluctuations, and industry trends, and an exciting product alone won't do it. Simply put, what your business is selling is not what will make it unique--it's the how and why your business does what it does that will set it apart from the others.
The goal is to break your brand out of the competitive clutter and establish it as a one-of-a-kind entity that naturally attracts customers. You're not simply trying to develop innovative new products or comprehensive services; instead, you're showcasing your brand's commitment to innovation or displaying thoughtfulness and care to your customers. What differentiates your business from the rest should apply not only to your product or service, but also to your brand personality, your interactions with consumers, and the way your business markets itself to the world.
A modern case of differentiation
Consider the concept of social media "stories." In Fall 2013, Snapchat released a new feature they dubbed the "Snapchat story," a photo or video post that would be visible to the user's Snapchat followers for 24 hours. Over the next couple years, Instagram and Facebook made the mad dash to follow suit, launching their own "story" features, also allowing users to share snippets of their lives with followers.
Only one platform went on to succeed at making the new feature popular; the others failed miserably. Today, more Instagram users post to their stories than Snapchat users do to theirs. Meanwhile, Facebook stories aren't even on most users' radars.
Why did Instagram make it across the finish line with a massive group of followers in tow? They knew their audience and the why behind their desire to share on the Instagram platform.
Users flock to Instagram because they want visual status updates and visual social interaction. Most users treat it more as a creative ecosystem and a therapeutic outlet. So the introduction of "stories" was a natural extension of the existing routine.
In other words, Instagram discovered what they were best at and doubled down on it, using it to guide feature development decisions. Facebook, on the other hand, didn't have the same fate and we've seen that with several of the brand's feature launches.
Could the brand benefit from zeroing in on the core of why its most active users use the platform? Possibly. It might reduce the number of feature flops they've launched over the years.
Still, we see this time and time again -- one great idea becomes the catalyst for a series of spinoffs and copycats in a rush to capture part of the success. Taking the time to get to the heart of what you really provide your customers (i.e. Instagram provides a creative outlet; Amazon delivers convenience) will become your differentiator in a highly commoditized world.
Getting to the root
That said, beginning to differentiate your brand can be tricky, especially if you don't know exactly what sets it apart from the rest. In this case, look to your customers. Why are people coming to you instead of going to your competitors?
Is it the level of convenience you allow shoppers via your online store? If so, convenience should be the central (and differentiating) concept for your business. Drill down to the precise pain point you remedy for your customers and build off it.
This approach comes with an added bonus: self-audits. As you work toward differentiating your business, check in to ensure you're solving for the right customer pain points. Developing an intimate knowledge of your customer base allows you to make sure you're on the best path for your audience and your business.
Rather than struggling to create a futuristic product or the fastest service, get to the root of what makes your brand different. Chip away at the superfluous until you find your core differentiator, then use that to set your business apart from the rest. After all, true innovation is building a brand that's wholly unique--not necessarily the shiniest, coolest new thing.