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.
Why should anyone choose you over a competitor?
If you think “doing good work and taking care of customers” will be enough to compel people to buy from you, think again.
Most businesses make these same claims, including your competitors.
So, if you are frustrated because people balk at your prices or don’t respond to your marketing messages, it could be because you have not created brand differentiation.
Most business owners are passionate about what they do. Many started their companies because they believed they could make a difference in their community or industry. But no amount of passion or desire will be enough to separate you from the crowd.
Without brand differentiation, your customers will not see or appreciate the unique value you offer. It is as simple as that. So, in this post, you will discover how to rise above the noise and create a competitive advantage.
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 other words, it is how you set yourself apart from everyone else.
There is a logical reason why getting your audience’s attention is so difficult. In today’s noisy world, consumers are inundated with marketing messages day and night. They hate them. As of this writing, over 27% 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 three out of four 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 now:
- Poor customer service
- Product or service fails to deliver as promised
- Fake news and information runs rampant
- Unreliable sources of data
You must establish your product or service as a unique solution from your customers’ point of view—this is the key to brand differentiation and maintaining a competitive advantage.
But, before we go any further, there are a couple of other reasons brand differentiation is so important.
Businesses Come and Go
According to the Small Business Administration, over 400,000 new companies start up each year. So, to put this statistic in perspective, over 1,000 new businesses enter the marketplace every day.
Though half of them will be gone 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 your product or service is different than all the others.
The saturated market environment is like being in a stadium full of screaming fans, trying to be heard over the crowd’s roar. Unless you do something to stand out and be heard, you will be overwhelmed. Businesses without differentiation usually end up being commoditized. As a result, many will be forced to sell at below-average prices and fight for every sale.
The Product-Promise Deficit
Selling is critical to a business’s success, just as air is to life. But, unfortunately, the pressure to make sales causes many companies to focus on making transactions instead of building customer relationships. These same organizations often compromise integrity by employing aggressive marketing tactics to increase sales activity. But these tactics undermine the company’s long-term profit potential.
A transaction generated by aggressive advertising tactics creates what I refer to as the Product-Promise Deficit. This term describes the gap between the product or service benefits a customer believed they were receiving and what they actually get.
Unfortunately, the customer almost always ends up with buyer’s remorse after the sale. In the end, they become frustrated and disappointed with the entire brand experience. The business may have closed a deal, but it comes at the expense of a long-term relationship—and a potentially profitable one at that.
Many companies that over-promise make big, bold promises to grab the target audience’s attention instead of creating real brand differentiation.
Inevitably, these aggressive tactics set the customer up to have unrealistic expectations. In the end, they 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.
Building Your Case for Brand Differentiation
Each side presents evidence in a civil or criminal trial, hoping to sway the jury in its favor. Creating brand differentiation is much like building a case in a court of law. You play the role of the attorney, and the target audience is the jury. You must convince the target audience that your company, product, or service is the best solution by providing them with overwhelming evidence.
Start With Your Best Customers
To begin building your case for brand differentiation, ask your best customers what they love about your product or service. Since you already have a good relationship with them, they will probably be your biggest brand advocates. Their feedback will provide valuable insight that will help you develop evidence for your case.
Some information to uncover:
- What is the one (or few) characteristic(s) or trait(s) about your business they found most appealing or memorable before 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. Still, the fact that you are asking them should make this discussion easier. If you are still uncomfortable initiating the conversation, feel free to skip this step.
- What two or three words come to mind when they think of your business?
- What product or service benefit do they value most?
While talking with them, observe what these customers have in common. Discovering trends or patterns in your customer base will clue you in on the types of prospects you should target in the future. This process will also help you develop value themes in brand messaging.
Customer Experience Is Priority One
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 another option within a few mouse clicks.
Creating an exceptional customer experience is a significant brand differentiator, especially for a small business. Unfortunately, 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 attitude is likely due to the increased use of business automation.
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 providing them.
Maintaining consistency across all brand channels is crucial to strengthening customer relationships, which leads to additional purchases. Often, customers are promised benefits or services by the sales team only to discover later that certain restrictions or conditions apply. This disconnect between the sales and services teams does not deliver a consistent brand experience. Likewise, poor follow-up from the customer service department can destroy a relationship in minutes that takes months to build.
Redefine What You Do
Redefining your business sounds a bit intimidating, not to mention disruptive, but it is not nearly so dramatic. A slight change in perspective can work wonders, especially when people are already familiar with your industry. In most cases, creating brand differentiation is simply a matter of overcoming preconceived ideas about what we do.
For example, changing your title can make a significant impact. Suppose you are a graphic designer. Many people are familiar with what a graphic designer does. So, referring to your business as “visual communication” may spark curiosity and entice people to take an interest in graphic design they would not have had otherwise.
Don’t force this step. Redefining a title or niche can be tricky and must be a simple concept for people to grasp.
Perfect the Product (or Service)
To create brand differentiation, you must be willing to put your product or service under a microscope. Only by looking at it objectively will you be able to make improvements that build more value.
Many organizations try to differentiate by claiming to provide “the best” solution available. But there is no such thing as the “best”.
The definition of “best” will vary from one person to another and is subjective. Therefore, trying to convince everyone that you are “the best” is a waste of time and resources you don’t have. Instead, focus on customer perception.
In their book, How to Sell at Margins Higher Than Your Competitors, Dr. Lawrence Steinmetz and William Brooks found that consumers use quality, value (price), delivery, service, and connection (via marketing) as factors when making a buying decision.
By analyzing your product or service compared to competitors, you can make a 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. How do specific product features 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 quickly resolved?
For services, evaluate:
- Expertise. Is the salesperson, consultant, or specialist an expert? Is the company an authority in its niche?
- Customer service. Is the staff friendly, responsive, and easily accessible?
- Reliability. Is the information provided by the brand accurate? Can customers depend on the company to follow through on promises?
- Empathy. Does the company understand the customer’s problem? Can they relate?
- Professionalism. Do the company and its representatives look and sound the part? Do they reflect success?
Why Brand Differentiation Is Easier Than You Think
It may appear that a brand differentiation strategy will be difficult and time-consuming, leaving some wondering if it is 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 unique positioning. Instead, many of them keep working, doing the same things over and over, expecting success. As a result, many of them end up adrift in a sea of obscurity.
If you would like to learn more about creating brand differentiation, email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
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?