In this series of posts about market differentiation, I’ve suggested that, while there are many routes to successful differentiation, generally you only will know you are on the right track when the choice is so easy and clear you don’t need to think about it.
The trouble with that answer, of course, is it solves a problem when there isn’t a real problem to solve. As an example, if the market knows (and you specialize in) a highly specialized field, to the point that other consultants and unknown clients regularly come to you for advice, you don’t really have to do much at all to make your differentiation decision.
The converse situation occurs when you say: “We need to figure out our differentiator” and start struggling with the topic. Your first reaction will likely be to come up with some clichés, such as “We offer great customer service.” So? What makes your service so great that it stands out way above everyone else, to the extent that people are talking (uninvited by you) on social media to explain your customer service stories?
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You might hold a brainstorming session, and thrash out ideas. After a day’s struggle, you may narrow down a few possibilities, but even then things aren’t clear how well the differentiator will matter to your potential clients, so you are still up a creek.
Here’s how I would go about it.
- Let your best current clients be your first guide. Why do they do business with you? How did they discover you? What do they really like about you (or dislike about your competition?
- Consider the opinions of an outside consultant, who looks at your business (and the market) from a fresh perspective. Give the consultant free rein to explore your operations, talk with your clients, survey the market, and discover possible suggestions.
- Capture trends in non-competitive but related markets, and see if any apply to your own business. This is where a vacation can turn into a profitable business trip, or relevant national or international association membership and conventions can be really helpful (especially if you can visit local operations on the ground and see how they match up with your organization.)
- Consider combining knowledge points and expertise. Examples occur when the same practice or a joint venture combines architecture and engineering (within a specialized area), or civil engineering and construction. Alliances with related professional or service firms may provide solid power packaging abilities.
- Finally, listen to your own gut feel about what truly makes, or could make your business different.
In m opinion, the ideal differentiator will occur when you need to invest almost no money to make it happen — you simply adapt your existing resources/services and capacity to create or enhance the variation that stands out and has meaning and value to your potential clients.
If you have the good fortune to know your differentiator, you will be on your way to success. If you don’t, and you are struggling, I would take the time and effort to think things through and test out the options, and struggle with the matter until you achieve the insight flash that you know you are on the right track. Your decision here will likely determine your success in any of your other marketing initiatives.