Dare to be different

In increasingly competitive markets, finding your point of differentiation – and being able to explain and nurture it – is vital to help your product or service survive and thrive, says Ashgrove Marketing’s Terry van Rhyn

It is one of the first questions we ask as marketing people: what makes your product or service different? What is that will make your brand, product or service stand out, be better, smarter, faster, than your competitors?

On the surface it may appear to be a simple question and you can probably rattle off the standard reasons you’ve been giving as part of your well-rehearsed elevator speech.

Sadly though, more often than not, brand or business owners do not spend enough time understanding what differentiation truly means. Mostly it will probably be an exhaustive laundry list of all the products and services they can provide rather than explaining that one thing that will make a difference in their clients’ or customers’ lives.

Finding that nugget is the key to everything. You are simply not able to create a meaningful brand message for marketing purposes without finding that point of differentiation or when defining a brand positioning.

Without it, you risk your product or service looking just like all the others. This, in turn, means it is more down to luck (or perhaps a bigger advertising budget!) that a customer chooses you and not a competitor.

As a brand agency, we are constantly in search for this one magic ingredient that is unique and different enough to cut through the clutter. That ONE thing that separates your brand from the pack.

This part cannot be faked – we need truth and authenticity to drive this positioning in simple, easy to understand, crystal clear messaging. This is why it is so important to spend time getting this part right before you start working on creative concept development. Otherwise, you will simply create superficial and meaningless pretty pictures and boring words without purpose or effect.

Find that one thing that you are good at – and that is relevant to your audience – and start constructing your point of differentiation around that one thing.

This is not an easy task in the world we live it that is crammed full of competing brand messages. But it’s not impossible – you simply need to be brutally honest with yourself and believe that you are able to deliver on your promise.

I always draw an analogy with how we are all different as people: we all look, dress, speak and act in a certain way so we project our desired image of ourselves.

When you walk into a room full of people at a function or event, you can immediately – without even thinking about it too much – slice the audience into groups and identify your desired set to hang out with. That is why knowing your audience is so important because then you can “dress” or act accordingly.

Spend the time doing research on your target audience and, importantly, make sure you are not trying to find the answers you want to hear. This can very often be the toughest part of pinning down your point of differentiation. It is about understanding the choices your audience have and where your competitors are positioned compared to you.

You simply can’t differentiate if you don’t understand what your audience wants, nor if you don’t know what it is about your product or service that will resonate with this audience. Keep asking questions about whether your brand offers any meaningful service or provides a solution.

Maybe you will find your differentiation is based on innovation, pricing, customer service, emotional triggers or problem solving. Whatever it is, the key is to pick one and one proposition only, then to think about what reaction or emotion is evoked so that you can use this to establish an ongoing and meaningful relationship for both parties.

This will help you to find a unique and creative way to express your positioning. From then on it’s about finding the most effective communication channels to deliver your message and listening to your audience.

Starting an authentic and meaningful conversation with your audience allows you to adjust and refine your messaging as you go along.

This all helps you to work on your brand experience and develop your story so that your audience will believe in you. Because once they have experienced and believe your brand then they will eventually become brand ambassadors and help spread the word – and we all know that kind of marketing is worth its weight in gold!