How Important Is Your Differentiation?

by Paul Simister on February 23, 2011

I believe every business needs to have some way to differentiate itself from competitors who are equally eager to snare business from customers.

Your task is to communicate your differentiation quickly and effectively so your customers understand and appreciate why they should buy from you.

First list down all your features about your product or service.

Second, link them to benefits for your customers. You need to translate your features into things that your customers want. It can be useful to use the FAB model – Features, Advantages & Benefits.

For example.

This PC has the super XYZ chip (feature) and is the fastest PC on the market (advantage) and tests show it will save the average Windows user 20 minutes per day (benefit).

Super techie people will know all about the XYZ chip and buy looking for the feature, others will want the advantage (the fastest) whilst others will be eager to save so much time – 20 minutes per day is nearly a day each month.

Third, I want you to plot your features/benefit combinations on a 2 x 2 matrix. One side is about the uniqueness of the feature/benefit and the other side is the importance to the customer. [The brave can go one step further and ask their current and prospective customers to assess the features/benefits.]

You’re got four boxes to consider:

Unique & Important

Unique & Not Important

Standard & Important

Standard & Not Important

This can be a humbling experience as you realise that many of the reasons for buying that you promote in your marketing are generic benefits of your product or service which virtually every provider promises.

Even more alarming, you may realise that your claims for uniqueness are not important to the customer.

We can be so eager to find something unique that we don’t think whether it matters to the customer. We know that we need to be perceived as different.

It’s a silly example because my height has no bearing on my ability as a strategic business coach. However because I’m 6 foot 4 inches tall, I genuinely stand out in a crowd. As a supermarket shelf stacker, it’s got value but a coaching client is more interested in my brain and my ability to communicate ideas.

Even worse, we can be wasting our time talking about things that a customer takes for granted. I am staggered at the number of accountants who promote a “professional service”. It’s a disgrace if they don’t offer a professional service.

The gold is in that first category – genuinely unique (or at least rare) and of significant value to customers.

For me, this is my positioning as a coach who specialises in helping service and commodity product businesses to differentiate themselves.

It may be the accountant who specialises in green technology businesses and who has plenty of contacts with investors who want to provide funds for environmentally friendly start-ups.

It is these special and unique factors which really resonate with potential customers and need to be the focus for your marketing message.

You then supplement and extend your marketing messages with the standard items that are important to customers. Your customer may be specifically looking for solutions or assurance on these factors. Not mentioning them could mean you miss out, even though you know they are standard.

You should only drop down to the unique but unimportant level if you don’t have any unique and important factors. They may lack impact but they can help make you stand out.

And any positive reason to be memorable is better than nothing.

It’s a very thought-provoking exercise to do for yourself and for your competitors.

Paul Simister is a differentiation coach who helps small business owners to profit from differentiating their businesses, being distinctive in the eyes of their customers and standing out in a crowded marketplace.

You too can move past your profit tipping point by answering the seven big questions of business success.

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