8 Ways to Differentiate and Move Past Your Competition

I was re-reading some of my older material and found this article I wrote in 2006. If I do say so myself, it isn't bad and it has some insights you may find helpful, even if it is about marketing in general and not necessarily about web marketing. I hope you find it worthwhile:

Jack Trout succinctly says, "Price is often the enemy of differentiation." Unfortunately, price is also the easiest thing for lazy marketers and copywriters to brag about.

The trap, of course, is that unless you have the muscle of a WalMart, you will eventually lose every price war. Competitors don't usually play dead, so they will come back and advertise even lower prices, forcing you both into a death spiral of price cutting.

But differentiation, despite the fact that it requires creativity and work, allows you to side-step the price war. Here is a list of triggers I use to come up with ways to differentiate a product or service:

  1. Start by focusing on your non-price benefits. Does your product or service save money? Does it makes someone's life or work easier? Does it improve how others regard that person?

  2. Single out the most "beneficial benefit." Of all your benefits, which one will make the biggest positive difference in someone's life?

  3. Approach your product or service from the viewpoint of your prospective customer or client. Make a very long list that begins with the words, "This widget is for the person who wants ____."

  4. Now make a companion list that is about, "This widget is for the person who does not want ____." Don't worry if both your "want" and your "don't want" lists overlap. It is OK if some items on your lists are mirror images of each other. You never know whether the positive "want" or the negative "don't want" version will resonate with your buyers. In fact, some customers will connect with one and others will connect with the other, so don't close any doors.

  5. Make another list of every problem your product or service solves. View what you offer as the solution to someone's problem.

  6. Everything that has ever been written on the subject of business success can be summed up with the words of J. Paul Getty, "Find a need and fill it." What is your market crying out for? What needs are not being filled by your competitors already?

  7. Don't claim to be the "best," the most "experienced," or even that you've been in business since 1776. These things don't differentiate since everyone claims to be the best in some way. Your message will just get lost in all the noise. But you can specifically explain WHY you are the best, if you can give examples and evidence without using the word "best" or any similar words. For example, if you are working on a copywriting assignment for a hotel chain, explain in detail the step-by-step process your staff follows to make sure every room is immaculately clean. Contrast this to the steps your competitors take. Now you are saying your rooms are the cleanest without using those words. Follow the copywriters: Golden Rule: Don't tell them, SHOW them.

  8. Ask questions. As anyone who has ever been watching TV and had a small child come up and ask a question can verify, questions have the ability to interrupt our thoughts and pull them in a different direction. Brainstorm as many questions you can pose directly to readers in your ads, website or sales letters that will single out your most exceptional benefits. Here are some examples: "How long are you going to wait until you move into your dream home?" Or, "What can you do right now to help your child get better grades in school?" Haven't you settled for second-class service long enough?"

It takes hard work to differentiate your product or service, but the rewards can be great. When you are unique and different (in a good way) the market pays attention to you.

You can't win the game of competing on price. At least not for long. But you can win if you stand for something no one else stands for. Differentiation is a winning game.

COPYRIGHT(C)2006, Charles Brown. All rights reserved.

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July 20, 2009 at 4:26 PM Steve DeVane said...

Hi Charles,

You were right. The information is still valid three years later, and indeed pertinent to the web world.

I especially resonated with the copywriters' golden rule - "Don't tell them, show them." That's gotten even more important as the amount of information has increased and the pace of the world has sped up.

Thanks for the good post.

Steve DeVane

July 20, 2009 at 4:42 PM Charles Brown said...

Thank you Steve. You are so right, it is just too easy (and lazy) to claim to be better, or the best. And our audiences no longer listen to such claims.

But when you show them and give concrete examples of a committment to quality, then they can draw their own conclusions about you.