I am bored. Bored of uninspired food in average restaurants. Bored of 110 toothpaste brands that look the same. The sameness in our economy makes me want to heave.
Every entrepreneur intuitively understands the need for uniqueness, but finding true differentiation proves elusive for most. Companies engage in forms of imitation, which is not differentiation at all.
Many marketers think their job is to identify strategic advantage, which is why they fall short.
Differentiation is gained through a formula of attributes that form "accumulated advantage", in which customers perceive a brand difference and are less likely to switch based on a low-cost offer on a given day.
Here are 12 ways to differentiate any brand:
1. Monetization Method
If you are looking for lightning in a bottle, a quick way to disrupt may be moving to a unique pricing strategy. Our client, an advertising agency, priced its product based on success fees, a novel idea in an industry where providers typically follow a standard script.
Emerging within the technology sector are "usage fees" where customers only pay for what they use (such as Airbnb). You can also look for underutilized methods of payment within your sector such as barters or auctions.
Companies are stripping elements to provide simple interfaces or feature sets. As competition for web search emerged, Google prevailed over Yahoo with a simple search bar. Simple often conveys convenient. Consider the seamlessness by which you can order and pay with services like Square.
Hot clothing startups such as Trunk Club are providing curated apparel collections. Customers want choices, and providers are moving toward mass-customized models that provide the illusion of choice in a model they can scale. For instance, you can order salmon or tuna at your local poke restaurant, but not eel. One of our clients digitally prints custom T-shirts on demand, in any style and size, delivered to your door in 48 hours.
The "No one ever got fired for hiring IBM" ideology resonated for years. Be viewed as the safe choice because of your reliability and record of on-time performance. Find ways to actively report performance so you are seen as the safest choice.
Some brands bring customers back to another time and provide nostalgia or authenticity. Brands like Harley-Davidson use messaging that reinforces them as original.
Companies that have been in business for generations can position as the original but could also be perceived as dated. When positioning as original, focus on phrases such as, "We have been innovating for 50 years."
6. Bundle of services and platforms
As B2B industries mature, buyers attempt to "unbundle" suppliers because they know bundling makes it more difficult to compare prices. Customers want to work with fewer suppliers who are more capable. Companies will offer more "end-to-end" solutions. Seek out services adjacent to the ones you already provide in a way that eliminates redundant suppliers.
Cloud technology, the Internet of Things and AI are changing the game of data creation and accumulation. While the premise of big data has been debated for years, providing relevant reporting and access to information is more important than ever. Small and mid-market companies are migrating to lower-cost, cloud-based technologies. Look for ways to provide reporting to improve customer experience and engagement.
8. Defensive branding
Some brands position as "just good enough" and strip out features customers do not value. Every element of a product has an opportunity cost- one that could be invested in other features. To ascertain the optimum feature set, evaluate the "relative cost" of each feature using a value chain analysis.
When you check in to a DoubleTree hotel, you are greeted with a freshly-baked cookie. Signatures are unique and are things customers expect every time.
In the '60s, Grateful Dead created raving fans unlike any other rock band. Part of their mystique was the use of a kind of loyalty program. They barely used playlists. As every show was a "jam", no one knew what they were going to play. As a result, Deadheads were petrified that they might miss something. Try to do things for customers that are unexpected.
Today Amazon is setting the bar with next-day service (soon to be same-day). Customers are becoming more demanding in terms of speed, and companies can differentiate by delivering speedy service, responsiveness and information flow.
There are technology companies and technology-enabled companies. If technology is not a company's core offer, it can still utilize client-facing technologies to improve experience. But for technology to be relevant as a differentiator, it must materially deliver convenience, speed or better information than the others.