Show you are different – marketing differentiation

If you are trying to attract more customers then there are 6 tried and tested ways of using marketing differentiation to show why people should buy from you.

In an ideal world, your business, product or service would have all of these but actually many companies do very well by using just one and in this post I’m going to explain what marketing differentiation is and how you can use it.

In this post;

What is differentiation?

Differentiation in marketing terms is simply the process of showing how you are different from the competition.

There are a whole load of ways that these differences can manifest themselves but they will be positive attributes of the company that are important to their target group of customers.

Sometimes the difference is real but in the worst cases it is merely fluff, and I’d argue that businesses that are sustainable have real factors that make them stand out from their peers and don’t engage in dishonest marketing.

I genuinely think that consumers can see through fluff and with the advent of social media the news spreads very rapidly indeed.

Most companies that are finding that their marketing isn’t working actually have the differentiation factors already, it’s just that their marketing doesn’t reflect it. In other words they are hiding their light under a bushel.

So what are these differentiators and how can you spot and use them in your marketing?

Product

This is possibly the most obvious and easiest to spot.

Product differentiation is when a company has a product and service that is so different from the competition that it makes them stand out on their own.

Possibly the best example of this would be the iPhone.

marketing differentiation  - the original iPhone

Back in 2007 there really wasn’t anything like it on the market.

Sure there were phones, but the iPhone was so radically different that it changed the device market entirely and indirectly led to the destruction of the biggest phone manufacturer of the time, Nokia.

Now if you are lucky enough to have a product or service that is so radically different that it is going to totally change the sector you work in then that’s great news but beware…

Look at the phone market now and you’ll see that it is totally flooded with ‘me too’ products that do exactly what the iPhone does, but cheaper or better.

So if your marketing is built on the shifting sands of a product then be aware that you have a limited amount of time before your competitors catch up.

But the good news is that if you have a product that stands out in one or two ways then you can use that as a basis for a marketing campaign.

A good example of this is the way that BT sells it’s internet services. BT majors on the fact that it can give you the fastest domestic broadband and ties all of its marketing to this, showing the way that your life would be better if you have faster internet access.

Naturally it glosses over the fact that it is more expensive then the competition!

So picking out one or two stand out features of your product or service and then going big on them in your marketing is a real winner.

marketing differentiation  - using product features

Service

Think about all the companies you use as a consumer or as a business owner.

Is there one that charges a little more but you keep using because the service they offer is stunning?

When I take my car or more importantly my motorbike for an MOT I always go to Joe’s MOT near me in Bournemouth.

I know for a fact that there are MOT stations closer than them, and some that offer cut-price MOT’s to get the business in. I can even get free MOT’s as part of the package that comes with other products I buy like car insurance or my accountancy institute fees.

marketing differentiation  - great service always sells

But despite the disparity in cost, I take my vehicle to these guys because they are great to work with and that’s important to me.

Service is a great way to counter competitors who are selling at cut-price, because there has to be a very significant reduction in value for a consumer to walk away from great service.

Channels of distribution

If you have seen the 7 P’s of marketing then you’ll know this as ‘Place’ and the channel of distribution really describes the way that you get your product or service to the customer.

There’s a prosperous town near me that doesn’t have a fishmonger (not many do nowadays) and once a week a chap turns up with a little van and sets up a wet fish stall in the centre.

He’s spotted that there’s a gap in the market and has delivered his product in a place that is convenient for his customers.

Now he has a bunch of regular customers that know that he will turn up on a specific day of the week and who visit the town centre just to see him.

Delivering your service using the channel that your customers like and feel comfortable with is a great way to show how you are different from the competition.

It works particularly well when a channel is new. For example in the early days of Facebook there weren’t many people selling on the platform and yet it had a very defined audience.

If you look at any new distribution channel like Instagram or TikTok then you’ll see that companies can develop a new customer base very quickly if they are first adopters but just like ‘Product’, it can start to get crowded very quickly so don’t base your entire marketing strategy on this!

Relationships

There’s an old saying: ‘people buy from people’ and when you want to differentiate your marketing this is an excellent thing to remember.

This really is all about building relationships with people rather than seeing them as a number and whilst it is a natural state for a smaller business, larger companies can use it as well.

When they set up their business in 2017, Blue Motor Finance decided to go traditional and use business relationship style salespeople who personally visited car dealers to introduce the service with no hard sell.

They took time to get to know their customers, their business and who they were selling to and designed a product to fit. Blue incentivised its people based on relationship building and how many times they visited their potential customers rather than just sales figures.

The result was that by 2019 Blue was the fastest growing business in Europe and the company continues to go from strength to strength.

You usually find that a relationship approach goes hand in hand with service marketing and if your business has great relationships with its customer then look at using service as an additional feature in your marketing.

Reputation/image

Reputation is something that has really come to the fore, especially since around 2010.

It used to be that reputation was everything and back in the day companies worked very hard to build up their name in their industry and equally hard to retain it.

Somewhere along the way, we lost that and companies were happy to treat customers, suppliers and staff badly, just as long as their products were cheaper than everyone else’s!

The problem with this approach is that there’s always someone who can do it cheaper or quicker and so competing on price can be a slippery slope.

There are also sectors where having a bad reputation is a complete disaster. Imagine a bank that had an awful reputation for security or a cosmetic surgeon who was known to only have a 50% hit rate!

That’s why for many companies image and reputation are vital parts of their marketing mix.

Think about the marketing differentiation of the Body Shop, Virgin or British Airways.

Trust is important in marketing differentiation  -

All of these have a very specific image and a good reputation in their niche.

Today you can find any number of sites like Trustpilot that will even collate reputation scores and so if your customers love you then you are on to a winner.

Reputation works well when trust is important and although I wouldn’t suggest necessarily building an entire marketing campaign around the fact that you don’t rip people off (because it introduces into customers minds that they could be ripped off!) it is a great differentiator when you have two offerings that are very similar.

Price

I never compete on price, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid marketing tool.

So for example I would never try and win business by undercutting a competitor because I know how long it will take to do a good job and when you start cutting your prices then customers expect that you will always give them a discount.

But you can use price as a marketing differentiator to point to other features of your product.

I had a conversation with a client who decided to go to a cheaper copywriter.

OK so that was annoying but around three months later he came back and commissioned work at the original price because he found that paying less for something meant that he got worse quality and that in the end he spent longer correcting the mistakes that a cheap copywriter makes.

I even wrote a blog post about what happened when I tested out some cheap copywriters.

So using the example above you can show why your price is higher and weave in some of the other aspects such as reputation and service to make your case.

Of course, many companies have been using their high price as a badge of exclusivity for years like Stella Artois, whose ‘reassuringly expensive’ tagline has served well since 1992.

The use of price doesn't always mean trying to sell at the lowest price

Your next steps

If I were running your marketing I’d start by looking at your customers. What things are important to them?

Exclusivity?

Convenience?

Trust?

Then I’d look at your product or service. What things would be important if I were buying it?

Then I’d look to see what positive attributes your business, your staff and your product have and then begin to weave them into a narrative.

When you have done all that, you need to make sure that all of your marketing output majors on the one or two aspects you have chosen.

Need some help with marketing differentiation?

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