Author’s note: In our last IndustRetail blog post, we talked about creating value by investing in your brand. This post dives into the first step in that process: Differentiation.
Imagine someone hacked your website, along with a handful of your competitors. The hacker only does one thing: he randomly switches your logos and company names across all the sites. Your logo and name appears on a competitor’s site and vice versa.
Now, here’s where it really gets uncomfortable. Would anyone really notice?
Sure, you’d notice. (Hopefully.) Your employees would probably notice, too. (Or would they simply think the IT department changed the website?) And your customers might scratch their heads—unless they deal with your competitor too. Then the hacker’s changes may pass them by without notice.
Worse yet, maybe you see yourself as exactly the same as your competitor…that’s because you haven’t effectively differentiated your business.
DIFFERENTIATION IS THE LIFEBLOOD OF BRANDING
Differentiation gives your customers a mental hook to remember you by. It helps them decide to buy from you instead of your competition. It is critical to proper strategic positioning.
To make things easy for you, I’ve boiled down the process. Here are six-and-a-half steps for you to begin to master the lost art of differentiation. It applies to every business. Yes—even industrial MRO businesses.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR KEY TARGETS
Differentiation requires focus. What are your key audiences? Identify them by industry, location, growth mode, number of employees, revenue, buying habits and more. Segment them in tight clusters and focus there. Knowing whom you communicate with informs how you communicate with them. Be willing to ignore those who fall outside your target audience.
STEP 2: WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT?
What makes your business—your brand—special, different, more valuable to your targets? If you had 60 seconds to tell a large customer why your brand is better than your biggest competitor, what would you say?
STEP 3: WHAT MAKES YOUR COMPETITION DIFFERENT?
Third, you have to look closely at your competition. How would they answer those questions? What are they telling your customers? What are your sales people hearing about them? What are your customers hearing about them/from them? Do the research. Dig. Ask questions!
STEP 4: ANALYZE THE DIFFERENCES
The fourth step is analyzing the differences between the answers to each set of questions. What trends emerge when you line up your answers with those of your competitors. Trends will emerge. Maybe you’re known for great service and speedy turnarounds, while your competition is known for aggressive pricing. Or vice versa. Identify your strengths that your competitors don’t share and prepare to exploit them!
STEP 5: MAKE SURE IT’S VALUABLE
Once you’ve identified your brand differences, make sure they are meaningful to your target audience. Some differences aren’t valuable. Let’s assume you sell blue widgets. Your competitor sells green ones. But the widgets are buried deep inside machinery and your customer doesn’t require color coding. Then widget color is not a meaningful differentiator. Find something else to separate your brand.
In other words, you need to identify the differences your customers are willing to pay for. Remember, not every customer has the same set of priorities and preferences.
Customers who are focused on just-in-time delivery may be willing to pay more for it. If that’s your forte, focus on it—even at the expense of customers who don’t value just-in-time delivery. You can’t be all things to all people. Define your niche, exploit it and ignore everything outside of it.
STEP 6: START TO TELL YOUR STORY
Now tell your story. Reinforce your point(s) of differentiation. Start with your logo and tagline. If you’re story is about speed, perhaps your logo should begin to tell it. SEE HOW ITALIC TYPE CONVEYS SPEED? Have you developed a tagline? (“Since 1964” doesn’t count.) Create a tagline that begins to share a promise: The fastest widgets west of the Mississippi!
STEP 6.5: KEEP TELLING IT
Then keep telling that story in everything you do. Here are just a few ideas:
Consider a video that demonstrates how fast you are.
Offer a fast delivery guarantee.
Do follow-up surveys asking how satisfied your customers are with speed of service—then share the positive feedback in your marketing.
Ask for testimonials about your speedy service.
Do case studies that demonstrate the value of your speed service.
Develop work teams to make your service even speedier.
Send large prospects stop watches with your logo.
Have a contest on your social media asking customers to tell stories about how fast you are.
You get the idea.
Even if you’re not practicing these disciplines, here’s the good news. Chances are, neither is your competition. Now’s the time to get a head start and be different like no one else!