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Better is Only Better if it’s Different

I believe that the most important marketing consideration is an effective marketing strategy.

asgw via Flickr

Now, I’m not talking about the empty academic exercise kind of strategy. I’m talking about the discovery and communication of a core point of differentiation that informs and drives every tactical aspect of marketing and, in many cases, the overall business strategy of the organization.

And guess what, being better than your competition isn’t a strategy, it’s an expectation. There’s nothing wrong with striving to be the best at what you do, it certainly will make for happy customers, but it won’t attract that kind of easy buzz that being different generates.

I’ve not done this scientifically, but over the years I’ve rarely encountered a firm that didn’t think their products or services were superior to those of the companies they directly competed with. In most cases, those same firms also believed that something along the lines of “we provide better service” was their core point of differentiation.

While it may indeed be true that your service is better, striving to communicate this belief as a central marketing message is what keeps firms stuck in the rut of commodity with every other firm that is saying the same thing.

Firms that build substantial marketing momentum through strategy don’t strive to do things better, they strive to do things that no one else in their market is doing or to do the same things that everyone else is doing in different ways.

  • A remodeling contractor creates and promotes something they call the “One Week Bath” – an unheard of proposition
  • A law firm provides the same legal services as their competitors, but packages them in fixed price bundles. – heresy with the bill by the minute set
  • A screen printer crowdsources t-shirt designs and shares sales profits with the successful designers. – wow, incredible designs and rabid loyal community

Now, being different for different sake isn’t enough. You’ve also got to uncover a way of being different that solves a current frustration, eliminates a problem, enhances an experience or dramatically alters a well worn industry given.

The most powerful marketing strategies are therefore:

  • Something that is both unique and beneficial
  • Something you can actually pull off elegantly
  • Something that your competition doesn’t or can’t do

Where to look for differentiation

Ways to differentiate lurk in every corner of a business and industry and your hunt for differentiating strategy start by answering the following questions:

  • What could we do that no one in our industry is doing?
  • What is the greatest frustration of our ideal customers?
  • Are there innovations in other industries we could adopt?
  • Are there unique ways to package, price or deliver our products and services?
  • How could we create a totally unique customer experience?

Here’s the funny thing though. There’s a good chance you’re already doing something that is unique, but you just don’t know it. In working with small businesses over the years, I’ve uncovered stunning marketing strategies by simply going out and interviewing a handful of an organization’s loyal customers.

Customers often appreciate the little things you do differently: clean up the job site each day, explain accounting in plain English, return phone calls promptly or provide recommendations of other service providers.

The key is to find these differences and make them your core marketing strategy. Sometimes this takes guts – maybe nobody else in your industry is promoting those little things, maybe they don’t sound that sexy, but your best customers told you that they make a big difference to them and that should give you the confidence that it will make a big difference to others.

You don’t have to revolutionize a product or service category to be different in ways that matter to your customers. You just have to innovate in ways that make sense to them and make your brand easy to talk about. Sometimes simplifying what you do can be the greatest innovation of all.

Human strategy

Once you find your strategy of difference you must go to work on building it into everything you do.

Use your strategy of difference as a filter for every marketing decision.

Evolve your language internally and externally to communicate your core difference.

Bring every member of your staff into the discussion and help them link their function to the delivery of your strategy of difference.

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