Marketing Differentiation: Are You Making This Mistake?

Have you embraced the idea that having an ideal client is vital to your business success? If you answered, “Yes,” you’ve set yourself ahead in the race for more customers. But that’s just the first step. Marketing differentiation is critical to achieving success for your small business.

A solid marketing strategy requires knowing both your ideal client and what you do differently from most of your competitors.

It takes courage to narrowly define one target market and focus on meeting its needs before adding another ideal client profile. Despite this often-ignored advice, most small business owners find this the easiest of the two requirements to address.

Their most daunting challenge is usually in fully understanding the significance of marketing differentiation, which is understanding and nailing down a marketable core difference—a “brand” that sets them apart in the herd of competition.

What is marketing differentiation?

Comprehending what a positive change defining your marketing difference can make in the results you are getting is somewhat complex. It’s often easier to approach gaining this insight in a roundabout way.

Your Marketing Difference…

  • is the sum of your capabilities in and competencies in what you do. (Think “essence.”)
  • is not what you sell.
  • is strategic
  • will change as your business evolves and grows.

Consider Apple and its iPhone. Apple is known for innovation and offering fewer products at a premium price. They capitalize on the success of the iPod in their marketing, and they prioritize profitability over marketing share. That is their marketing difference.

Samsung learns fast from its competition and created the hugely successful Note 5. They throw a lot of cash into research and development. This family-owned Korean company plays to win and manufacture a far wider line of product offerings than Apple. A different marketing approach from their biggest competitor.

When it comes right down to it, your Marketing Difference is that one thing that makes you stand out in the sea of your competitors. If that still seems rather cryptic, the key to unpacking the ‘one thing’ is knowing it is really a compilation of capabilities, qualities, services, and other things that, when added up, put the odds in your favor of your target marketing hiring you.

So how on earth do you figure out what your marketing difference is?

You might think of your Marketing Difference as The Best of [insert the name of your favorite recording artist here]. Just as women didn’t love Elvis only because he could sing, neither will they love your business only because you can clean houses well. What else is there to love about what you do and how you do it?

Help for figuring out your marketing differentiation

The greater the competition in your industry, the more importance you must place on defining your marketing difference. The good news is that many of your competitors will not take the time or make the effort to do this. That’s because to discover what makes you different you must talk to your customers and ‘listen’ to them on social media. You need to hear from them, in their words, why they work with you, what you do differently that matters to them, why it matters to them, what it is about your particular services or products that make it worthwhile to them, and more.

When it comes to defining their core difference, most people address this at a superficial level and believe they have a good one.

The biggest mistake I see people making is overlooking the futility in saying things like, “We provide better quality service,” or “We provide better quality employees.”

We recently surveyed commercial and residential cleaning business owners, asking them how they are different from their competitors, and how they express that difference on their website and marketing materials.

Most of them replied with the same responses we often hear from cleaning business owners. Here is a sampling of responses that we hear all the time:

  • We provide better quality cleaning.
  • We provide more consistent cleaning than our competitors.
  • We care about our clients.
  • We are locally owned and operated.
  • We are very detail oriented.
  • Our staff is very professional.
  • Our staff is very friendly.
  • We go above and beyond for our customers.
  • We offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

The trouble here is that it’s not just us who hears this all the time. Your target market is hearing this all the time, too, and it confuses them to the point where they most often end up making their buying decision based on price alone.

“We provide better…” is not a marketing differentiator. It’s much easier to make ourselves believe that we’re the best at what we do than to do the hard thinking and even soul-searching that  isolates ‘that one thing’ that truly makes us stand head-and-shoulders above the competition and that a competitor cannot easily replicate.

The problem with, “We provide better…” is that your competitors are saying the same thing.  And it’s not just cleaning companies who are giving this type of response. Think about almost any other kind of business, and they’re saying some of the same things—restaurants, retailers, insurance companies, financial planners, plumbers, and more.

To truly differentiate, you must not only do it a way that is different from your competitors. It must be of value to your clients.

So how can you translate this news into a concept that you can grasp and apply to your benefit? Here are several examples that will give you an idea of how to find your core difference and use it in a way that makes a difference to the effectiveness of your marketing.

  • Are you in the Cleaning business? A lot of cleaning companies say they respond quickly to their customers. But 99% of them say it in the same way their competitors do. One company stands out because it has a 10-Minute Response Guarantee. Their promise is that no matter what time of day, if they don’t answer the phone when you call, a manager will respond within 10 minutes. This appeals to the customer who wants to feel their business is important to the company they hire.
  • Are you a Plumber? If so, you know how important punctuality is since people must take time away from their business or job to wait for your arrival. The Benjamin Franklin plumbing company offers not just a promise to be on time, but also pairs that promise with a strong guarantee:  “If there’s any delay, it’s you we pay.TM” If you’ve ever gone out of your way to wait for a service provider who was not timely and perhaps didn’t even bother to call to explain, it’s easy to see how this appeals to customers who feel their time should be viewed as valuable, too.
  • Do you sell products? More companies who sell clothing have limited guarantees coupled with shortened return times. For example, you may remember a time when you could take anything back to Target whenever you got around to it. Not so anymore. L.L. Bean has capitalized on this trend and offers a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Their website says, “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.” While it takes a lot of confidence in the quality of the vendors you represent to offer a guarantee like this, it is no wonder that LL Bean achieved such lasting success.

More often than not, our clients find that their biggest marketing difference is something they do so naturally that they completely overlook it. They don’t realize how significant some of their deeply ingrained habits or other business characteristics are. Yours may be hiding in plain sight, too.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you uncover your ‘secret sauce,’ sign up for Sessions 1 and 2 of the Duct Tape Marketing System. These two sessions will help drill down to who exactly is your Ideal Client, and then how to Differentiate your company from the competition.

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