Do you know how to differentiate your business? Here are three popular ways.
There are infinite ways to differentiate your business from the competition. That’s both a blessing and a curse—a blessing because you’ll never run out of choices, and a curse because it can be so hard to decide.
What’s the best one? Whichever one works.
All kidding aside, there are three main ways to use differentiation—the process of distinguishing your business from others in the market—to help you stand out in a crowded industry.
Which one you choose depends, frankly, on which feels best to you.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and countless businesses have both succeeded and failed using each strategy.
Method #1: Focus on what’s most credible about your business
By asking yourself “What am I best at?” you’ll zero in on the aspect of your business that buyers will have the easiest time believing is true.
For example, let’s say you’re particularly good at getting hamburgers off the grill and into customers’ mouths. You could focus on, say, the number of burgers you’d created in the life of your business. McDonald’s used to do exactly this with a line on their signs that said, “Billions and billions served.”
Similarly, shipping service FedEx once emphasized their record for on-time delivery: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Of course, with this method, you run the risk of customers simply not caring about what you’re good at. But if you know your product-market fit is right, this could be a good choice.
Method #2: Differentiate your business by focusing on what’s unique
Drawing attention to what’s different is quite literally differentiation in action. After all, if you do something uniquely, it makes sense to crow about it.
Think of HBO in the 90s and early 2000s, when the cable channel dragged itself from the swamp of network programming with some of the best shows of all time—the Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire and so on.
Their slogan? “It’s not TV… It’s HBO.”
Domino’s provides another good example, with their “30 minutes or it’s free” guarantee that set them apart from everyone else in the pizza delivery game.
United Airlines took a similar approach, differentiating themselves in a crowded passenger travel market by implying they were simply nicer. Remember “Fly the Friendly Skies”?
But wait… If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice something interesting about all three of these examples.
United, of course, recently ended up in “Public Relations Hell” for a PR scandal that proved they were anything BUT friendly. HBO suddenly stopped being unique when upstarts like Netflix—and even the networks—upped their television game. And Domino’s went back to being one pizza chain among many when fast delivery became an industry standard.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with using your uniqueness to differentiate your business. Just be prepared to go back to the drawing board should that uniqueness disappear overnight.
Method #3: Find what appeals most to your customer—and differentiate based on that
Differentiating based on relevance involves finding what your customers appreciate most—and then hammering that point home.
Take Apple. Although this may come as a shock to those who’ve never had anything but an iPhone, Cupertino once made nothing but computers… Until the iPod, a portable MP3 player that revolutionized the music industry at a time when no-one even knew it was the device they’d been craving.
Fabled CEO Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod in October 2001 as a Mac-compatible machine that “put 1,000 songs in your pocket”—and suddenly music-lovers everywhere knew they couldn’t have anything else.
Here’s another example from an entirely different industry. Dating site eHarmony has been in the news lately because of a logo redesign, but their value proposition has been essentially the same from day one. Other dating sites exist, yes—many others—but eHarmony is where you go to find love. For a wide swath of the single public, tired of the dating scene and fed up with casual encounters and broken hearts, what other choice could there be?
This is a research-intensive approach—one for which you may simply not have the time or money. But there’s no denying the effect of a brand differentiated on relevance: customers come like moths to a flame.
It can be difficult to make a name for yourself in a crowded market, but it’s harder still if you’re not saying anything different from your competitors. If you’re stuck, choose one of these three methods—either the one you’re most comfortable with or the one that comes easiest—and run with it.