Differentiation is a defense to commoditization.
Evolution has trained the human mind to keep an eye out for and pay special attention to things that are new or different than the rest. Whether it's a cheetah in the bushes, or a product on sale, we can't help but notice the things that are different from the rest.
In today's global online market, chances are that someone somewhere is selling a similar product or service to yours, and at a lower price. Your main weapon against the race to the bottom is differentiation. Use it to to develop a better sales message and build a stronger brand.
10) Your Outcome
While most businesses run around telling everyone who will listen about their product or service's features, bells, whistles, and add-ons, they don't get to the root of what customers care about, which are results, outcomes, and futures. In short, you should sell futures, not features.
There's a reason Coco-Cola's last two slogans have been "open happiness" and "taste the feeling". Notice neither of those mentions their special formula or features, or tin can design. They correctly intended to "sell" the outcome of consuming their product, namely, happiness. Your outcome may be increased productivity, or more sales, or a fit body, or anything else.
A great way to think about this is to ask yourself three (or more) "why"s. Why should your prospects buy your product or service? How will they benefit? What will that get them? Sell that.
The goal is always to help them to see that this new opportunity will give them their greatest desires, increase their status, and help them achieve their goals.
9) Your Process
If you're in a commodity market (or not) and are scrambling for a way to differentiate your business, review your manufacturing & creation process, and zone in on a key step.
A great example of this takes place in Mad Men, when Don Draper was advising a tobacco company. The world was catching on to the negative health effects of tobacco, and they needed help advertising. So he reviewed their creation process, and zoned in on a key step.
The magic of this option is that it doesn't matter if all your competitors share your process, or if your product doesn't contain _____ anyway. This is similarly why you see products tout that they are non-GMO, fat-free, or whatever, even if their product never had any to begin with.
8) Ease & Convenience
One of the biggest barriers to acquiring new customers is their idea that buying or switching to your product/service will be more headache than it's worth, which is fair, but it's your job to dispel that false belief and explain why buying from you is quick and pain-free.
Ways to communicate ease and convenience include offering local storefronts, 1-click buying, 1-day shipping, free returns, set-up assistance, and of course, friendly customer service. You can zone in on any of these steps, or on any others that make buying from you easy.
Anticipate and neutralize any perceived headaches to make buying from you seamless.
Superior sales and distribution can create a monopoly, even with no product differentiation. The opposite is NOT true.
Don't be afraid to seem human.
One way that you are guaranteed to be able to differentiate your business is by plastering your (or someone's) face and story on it. Yes, this works better for some industries than others, but I'd argue that it can work for most of them, including consumer products and consulting.
For one reason or another, (human) faces breed trust much more than faceless corporate logos. While Colonel Sanders is a great representation of KFC, even animated characters such as the GEICO gecko, Mr. Clean, or the always cool Kool-Aid Man can prove beneficial to your brand.
Depending on your industry and product, you can "sell" everything about yourself from your energy, struggles, experience, mistakes, aspirations, dreams, goals, and much more. Each of these factors provides you with an opportunity to relate and connect with those who hear it.
6) Offer Something NEW
Everyone is interested in what's new. Few people are interested in what's better.
To get down to basics, the best and easiest way to differentiate your business is to OFFER SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Some call this looking for a "Blue Ocean" or inventing your own niche, but you can also tweak an existing market or make yourself the first one there.
You can do this looking forward or looking backwards as well. Minor twists to old products can blow up (upside-down ketchup bottle), or you can review emerging trends and industries, and simply make yourself the first to know everything about and sell stuff in emerging sub-topics.
This can even include creating (and uniquely naming) your own process to do something. Make your customer feel that this opportunity has never been available to those before them.
Watch how fast the masses line up to buy the next new gizmo, even if the gizmo already in hand is meeting all their needs with immense capabilities left over.
5) Your Customers
"For the risk-takers..."
Something you should have figured out a long time ago is who your customers are, aka your target market. Your target customers are not always your actual customers, but differentiating your business by who you serve provides you with many opportunities to promote your business.
For one, you can sell to your prospect's ideal image. This means "I only work with motivated kitchen appliance inventors who are determined to create a full line of products." Weird example, but that tagline targets a certain market and sells them the ideal image of themselves.
While most businesses are better off targeting their actual potential customers, there's the old story of how Pepsi won market share by "targeting" the youth. Of course, Pepsi actually wanted everyone to buy their drink, but publicly targeting young people sold the feeling of youth. Similar success followed for the laid-back surfer image that UGG sheepskin boots originally sold.
Price is not the buyer’s biggest concern; it’s about having confidence that the product is right.
Plot twist: make yourself the premium, most expensive option before you even consider marketing yourself as the cheapest. Actually, I advise you never to "sell" your low prices because customers ultimately want results, and the customers you want are willing to pay for them.
For example, let's say your hand gets chopped off somehow. Do you want the doctor that specializes in hand and finger nerve re-attachments? Or the discount general doctor? Exactly. I'd apply similar logic to my mechanic, babysitter, contractor, handyman, and many more.
Invest time in making your product or service great, and then market yourself as a premium option. While there is technically a "bigger" market for low-prices, those are customers who are often want refunds, exchanges, extra discounts, and many more headaches. Your choice.
Don't necessarily sell that you're the most expensive. Sell that you provide the most value.
3) Your Offer
Agreeing where to have lunch today
One of the most parts of your entire business is your offer. In fact, a great offer can make or break an entire business. So make a great one, and use it to differentiate your business.
You can learn how to create irresistible offers here, and you'll see that you have many options to tailor your offers and make them unique. Your offers allow you to combine several strategies listed here such as displaying convenience and targeting your desired customers.
Go nuts and try to combine as many tactics listed here as you can by offering something new, created with a unique process, that provides their dream outcome, is quick and convenient, appeals to your customers, and throws rocks at their enemies.
Companies must start with an offer that buyers can’t refuse and must keep it that way to discourage any free riding imitations.
2) Polarize and Make Enemies
You can also let people know who you are, by making it clear who you're not. Have strong opinions, back them up confidently, and don't be shy to discuss what and who you disagree with.
Find a superlative and make it true, such as being the bold-EST, or the fast-EST, or the MOST ______ in your region or market. Take strong stances and don't be afraid to seem human.
Many businesses even promote that they are "the anti-_____" or "not your grandpa's _____." There will always be a market for the things that are not (or claim not to be) mainstream. Make public the fact that you share the same enemies as your target customers, whoever they may be.
Being the anti-_____ is a great way to differentiate yourself, and attract followers. Having an enemy gives you a great story to tell customers, and taking a stand stands out. People take sides.
1) Other: Service, Variety, Quality
Yes you can offer them. But so can everyone else.
So far, I've listed 9 great ways to differentiate your business. There are many more and they include promoting your business's variety, secret ingredient, service, quality, and more.
The reason I bunched all these reasons together is that everyone says them all the time so they will likely go in one ear and out the other. The name of the game is differentiation, and even if you offer great variety or service, your prospects hear that claim a million times a day.
That's not necessarily your fault, but you'll just have to dig a little deeper to stand out. If you somehow can be different in your service, quality, or variety, be sure to tie in other tactics listed.
Competition means no profit for anyone, no meaningful differentiation, and a struggle for survival...Competition, not business, is like war: allegedly necessary, supposedly valiant, but ultimately destructive.