Captivate and Dominate With the Power of Brand Differentiation

How to set yourself apart from competitors, sell your value, and get more prospects to sit up and take notice.

Captivate your audience and dominate competitors with brand differentiation

When asked, most small business owners can easily explain what makes them unique. It’s almost always that they “do good work and take care of their customers”.

But it doesn’t matter how we personally see our business. It’s how our customers see it.

If you’ve ever been frustrated because people don’t appreciate the quality and value you offer—and frankly, most of them don’t—you aren’t alone.

Most business owners started their venture hoping to build something bigger, something better, only to discover later just how difficult it is to stand out from the crowd.

So, let’s explore how we can establish a unique position in the marketplace that sets us apart and sets us up for long-term success.

It may be easier than you think.

What Is Brand Differentiation?

Brand differentiation is the process of creating and promoting unique characteristics and traits for a company, product, or service in the minds of a specific customer segment.

In today’s busy world, people are inundated with marketing messages — and they hate them. As of year-end 2019, 25.8% of Internet users were using an ad blocker. This number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

People have grown weary of marketing and sales tactics. Trust is in decline. This study reveals that 3 out of 4 consumers care more about a company’s ethics than its expertise — in fact, three times as much.

Here are just a couple of reasons consumers are more skeptical of businesses in 2020:

  • Poor customer service
  • Product or service fails to deliver as promised
  • Fake news and information runs rampant
  • Unreliable sources of data

Brand differentiation is the process of creating and promoting unique characteristics and traits for a company, product, or service in the minds of a specific customer segment.

If our small business is going to persevere and prosper, we must establish our uniqueness, quality, and value from out customers’ point-of-view. The businesses that do this will outshine those that don’t.

Before we go any further, there are a couple of other reasons why brand differentiation is so important.

Businesses Come and Go

According to the Small Business Administration, over 400,000 new businesses start up each year.

Why should you care?

Using the statistic above to put things in perspective, over 1,000 new businesses enter the marketplace every single day.

Though half of them will fold within five years, their mere existence will make it more difficult for you and your prospective customers to find each other. And it will be even harder for them to determine how yours is different than all the others.

This is much like being in a stadium full of screaming fans, trying to be heard over the roar of the crowd. Unless you do something to stand out and be heard, you will be overcome by the noise.

Use brand differentiation to stand out, get noticed, and create a competitive advantage.

Businesses that do not implement a differentiation strategy will be commoditized, eventually forced to sell at below-market prices, and take their place among the masses to fight for every penny they make.


The Product-Promise Deficit

It has been said that businesses, big or small, should prioritize building relationships and adding value over making the next sale. However, many small business owners are skeptical that sustained growth can be built on a foundation of passion and purpose.

This sets them up for another potential trap.

Selling is essential, just as air is to life. Unfortunately, an obsession with sales and competitive pressure can lead to the habit of employing aggressive marketing and sales tactics, adversely affecting the long-term viability of the business that uses them.

As pressure intensifies, many companies rely on bigger and bolder promises to create unique positioning and grab the attention of their target audience. This often results in a significant gap to develop between what the customer is promised and what the product can deliver.

I call this the Product-Promise Deficit.

Promise-product deficit
The Product-Promise Deficit (Image by Author)

Inevitably, these aggressive tactics set the customer up to have unrealistic expectations. In the end, the become frustrated and disappointed with the entire buying experience. The business may have gotten a sale but it comes at the expense of a relationship.

Now that you understand brand differentiation and why it’s critical to your success, let’s explore how small businesses can establish their uniqueness, grab attention, and separate themselves from competitors.

READ MORE: How to Create a Premium Brand Positioning Strategy

Brand Differentiation: Building Your Case

In a civil or criminal trial, each side presents evidence, hoping to sway the jury in its favor. Creating differentiation is much like building a case in a court of law. We must provide our target audience with overwhelming evidence that our company, product, or service is the ideal solution for them — beyond a reasonable doubt.

Start With Your Best Customers

We begin by asking our best customers what they love about our product or service. These are the people we have the best relationships with and will probably be the most enthusiastic about us. This qualifies them to provide the most useful information.

Some data to uncover:

  • What is the one (or few) characteristic(s) or trait(s) about your business they found most appealing or memorable, prior to purchasing?
  • What do they enjoy most about being a customer?
  • What is their opinion of the prices you charge — above average, cheap, or middle of the road?
  • What trade-offs or added benefits do they believe they get with your pricing structure. Discussing prices with current customers can be awkward at times, but the fact that you’re asking your best customers should make this discussion easier. If you’re still not comfortable, feel free to leave this step out.
  • What two or three words come to mind when they think of your business?
  • What benefit do they value most from using or engaging with your product or service?

While talking with them, observe what these customers have in common. Discovering trends or patterns in your customers and their buying decisions will provide clarity around the types of prospects you should target in the future. This will also help you develop new products or services, as well as new value themes to include in brand messaging.

Customer Experience Is Priority One

One in three consumers stated that a single bad experience with a business would send them looking elsewhere. The Information Age makes it easy for people to research the products and services they purchase and locate more sources from which to buy. If something goes wrong in one place, they can find a replacement within a few clicks.

Creating an exceptional customer experience is a major brand differentiator, especially for a small business. While almost every business owner claims to take care of their customers, only half of those customers agree. In general, most people think service is getting worse each year. This is likely due to increased use of automation in business processes.

What defines a superior customer experience?

Surveys tell us that people care most about convenience, speed of delivery, expertise, and availability. While these apply to businesses of all types, never make assumptions. Instead, you should find out what your customers’ expectations are and focus on delivering them.

Maintaining consistency is crucial to creating a customer experience that fosters relationships and repeat purchases. Many times, customers are promised benefits or services by the sales team only to discover later that certain restrictions or conditions apply. Likewise, poor follow-up and inconsistency from the customer service department can destroy a relationship in minutes that took months to build.

Redefine What You Do

Redefining your business you sound a bit intimidating, not to mention disruptive, but it’s not nearly so dramatic. A slight change in perspective can work wonders. This is especially true when we are in a business people are already familiar with. In most cases, it helps to overcome preconceived ideas about what we do in order to set ourselves apart.

Simply changing your title can make a big difference. For example, many people have their own idea of what a graphic designer does. To counter this preconceived definition, “visual communication specialist” may spark curiosity and entice people to take an interest they would not have had otherwise.

Don’t force this step. Redefining a title or niche can be tricky. It must make sense and be a simple concept for people to grasp.

Perfect the Product (or Service)

As we create brand differentiation, we must be willing to put our product or service under a microscope. Only by looking at it objectively will we succeed in making improvements.

Providing evidence that you provide the best solution available is a powerful way to separate your business from the crowd. But how can we possibly define “best”?

The answer to this question will vary from one person to another and is subjective. Therefore, attempting to convince everyone that you are “the best” is a waste of energy, resources, and time you don’t have. Instead, focus on the perception customers have of your business and what you offer.

In their book, How to Sell at Margins Higher Than Your Competitors, sales gurus Dr. Lawrence Steinmetz and William Brooks found that consumers use quality, value (price), delivery, service, and connection (via marketing) as factors when making a purchasing decision.

By examining these components of our product or service compared to those of our competitors, we can develop overwhelming evidence to support our case for being one-in-a-million instead of one-of-a-million.

To do this for physical products, evaluate the following:

  • Performance. How well does a product do what it is designed to do?
  • Features. What specific features does the product have that meet the customer’s needs?
  • Reliability and Durability. How well is it made and how long will it last? Is the production process superior to that of competitors? How so?
  • Efficiency. How well does it function? Are issues easily resolved?

For services, evaluate:

  • Expertise. Is the salesperson, consultant, etc., an expert? Is the company an authority in its niche?
  • Customer service. Is the staff friendly, responsive, and easily accessible?
  • Reliability. Is information accurate? Can customers depend on the business to deliver on promises?
  • Empathy. Does the company understand the customer’s problem? Can they relate?
  • Professionalism. Does the company and its representatives look the part? Do they model success?

Why Brand Differentiation Is Easier Than You Think

Implementing a brand differentiation strategy is complex but the rewards are great for the businesses that have one. At first glance, it may appear this process will be difficult and time-consuming, which can leave some wondering if it’s worth it.

However, based on more than twenty-five years of business experience, I have found that most small businesses don’t try to create differentiation. Many of them believe that if they keep doing the right things, their business will be successful. As a result, many of them end up drifting in a sea of obscurity.

They also assume that telling people they “do good work” and “take care of customers” will set them apart. Unfortunately, these are not differentiators because everyone else is making those same statements.

What This Means for You

Because your competitors are not likely engaging in a brand differentiation strategy, nor do many of them know how, you can make significant progress in a relatively short period of time — if you start today.

If you would like more information on how to create a brand strategy for your business or want insight on creating differentiation, email me personally at

Until next time,


P.S. Would you like to find out how to build brand differentiation for your small business? Click this link to learn more.

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Chris Fulmer

Director, The Golden Vineyard Branding Company

Learn more about brand strategy.

Are you struggling to connect with your audience? Do you want to show them how you're different from competitors?