Yeah we’re different, but are we relevant? by Dean Del Sesto
In a world where the competitive business landscape is vast, multiple businesses exist in every category and all products seem “good enough,” know this: if you don’t commit to a never-ending discipline to differentiate yourself from your competitors, your corporate momentum will have more starts and stops than honesty in politics. And if your differentiation doesn’t improve a prospects current position, the only thing you’ll be able to close, is a door… on the way out of another sales call. And good luck getting back in. Unless of course, one glorious day some caring soul is honest enough to say, “There’s nothing different about you, so why should I change?” “If you can do X, I’ll think about changing?” Actually, what they’re really saying is, “Go away and quit wasting my time until you care enough to know my real needs.”
The key to creating relevant differentiation that moves minds in your direction is to get inside the minds you desire to change… deep inside! Discover the real demands of your target customers and find out what you can offer them that your competition can’t or won’t. It’s called needs; research, analysis, or intelligence, and it’s overlooked even at the Fortune 500 level. The temptation lies in trusting our instincts and collective opinions, but the fact remains, due diligence is the only legitimate way to discover how and when to differentiate you from others.
Businesses today are unaware of the serious effect that being perceived as “the same” has on their bottom line.
Sometimes it requires you re-engineer how you do business
Although a shameless plug, let’s look my business development agency as a case study. Several years ago, we were a growing ad agency competing in a saturated space. The economy was tough, so even the big agencies were fishing in our mid-sized pond. So we decided to speak to our market and research these pond-poachers so we could win business through differentiation, not just go in and pitch the “same old.” In short, we found that clients were tired of agencies charging big bucks for great creativity and questionable results. They wanted Return On Investment (ROI) – based marketing solutions. They wanted agencies that could prove beyond the smoke and mirrors that they were going to spend some money, but make more than they spent in return. It seemed a simple message, but to deliver required changing our entire business model, our talent pool, and our brand. We had to change everything, and the net results were BIG!
It took 2 years to build the new model. During the transition, we built planning processes, tracking and measurement technologies, strategic processes and new business programs. We changed our position in the marketplace from “ad agency” to a trademarked category called “Business Development Marketing.” We re-branded ourselves as “The Return On Investment Agency,” and we trademarked the phrase – “ThinkROI”, a discipline where every dollar spent must have a categorized return.
Our website, our collateral, promotionals, multi-media, presentations and proposals all “screamed” of ROI. Prospects, clients and the industry in general were taking notice of something quite foreign and quite welcome in a world of “same.”
Differentiation that provides relevant value must meet specific needs, not just the basics
Today, as a brand marketing agency our job is to create brand differentiation for our clients. New clients often have a challenging time telling us what is different about their products and services. “Our quality is good” is one answer. “Our prices are lower,” and “We’re faster” are some others. This information, although positive means nothing to prospects unless it is extremely specific, compelling and relevant. For example, one of our clients in the mortgage business claims to be faster than the competition. Isn’t “12 second loan approval” better? Another client has a prostate cancer treatment with “quicker recovery and equal competitive results.” What is quick? How about “one week recovery instead of two months,” or in the hospital “two days, instead of one week.” One data entry client claimed to be “more accurate” than the competition. We branded them with a “99.7% accuracy,” which was two percent higher than the norm based on industry research.
Differentiation is all about specificity because specificity guarantees a focused message. Once your USP is identified and your marketing message is clear, put it everywhere, on everything, and stick with it. Think tattoo! The moment you start to think your message is tired is the time when your market is just starting to get it. Also, don’t forget that one essential ingredient that makes differentiation come to life: train your people first before taking your message to the market. Your people are your brand so make sure they know how to deliver it and protect it. Explain what the message means and convey that they are the ones make it come to life. They do!
As one author puts it. “Be Different or Die.” I add “Be Relevant or Die.” The future of branding is meeting specific demands as they are today, and forecasting and meeting them next year. It’s a reality businesses must accept and adapt to survive.