New beginnings bring about changes, and you have a responsibility to your business/brand to find a sustainable and consistent approach to keep it growing profitably. Using differentiation to deliver value can form part of this approach.

The beginning of the year brings along with it much potential for change. For a business or brand owner (including those that plan, manage and consult for the business or brand), beginnings are a reminder to think about change. Whether changes in mindset, framework, thoughts or approach can yield more effective or efficient results for the business/brand.

Perhaps your business/brand is coming into the new year refreshed and energised as markets have re-opened, customer demand is strong, and the pandemic is just a memory. For others, you are observing high inflation, weaker (or smaller) spending by customers and your sector is still recovering.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum you are closer to, there is no reason why your business/brand has to continue to use the small-margin, over-commoditised, me-too playbook of an earlier era.

Why is this playbook bad, you ask?

In an environment of increased/saturated competition, lower/lesser customer demand, and a lack of clear differentiation from competitors, your business/brand just looks like a copy of everyone else.

This means you are selling your services/products at an auction, to the lowest bidder.

The takeaway is, it won’t help your business/brand grow profitably. Which means, at some point, you might be running a failing business.

And all the things as a business/brand owner that you deem important – autonomy, building a dream, growing a world class/international/reputation brand – will disappear.

So the key question is: How do you look at your positioning and approach, in order to provide differentiation and build a reputation for delivering high-value, in-demand solutions to your customers?

The simple answer is to become a go-to specialist in a selected area that your business/brand can deliver superior value in.

Delivery of superior value means you become the preferred solutions provider for a specialty area.

To do so, you have to figure out how to deliver such overwhelming and superior value that your customers will buy-into the value you deliver, and choose not to bargain on price.

Here’s a series of key questions that you need to answer to work on an approach: 

  1. What problem is your organisation trying to solve, and what is the end-goal of that solution i.e. the vision?
  2. How would you define this critical and urgent problem your organisation will solve? If you can solve it, you will own it.
  3. Does your organisation have a perspective, and a unique approach in defining and solving the problem?
  4. By owning the problem, what does that mean for your organisation?
  5. How will owning the problem help define your story and narrative?
  6. What value will you bring to the customer?
  7. How will you measure success for your company, as a result of owning the problem?
  8. How will you execute this problem-solving and launch it to your customer base?
  9. What is the minimal process, infrastructure or logistics required to roll your solution out?
  10. What does the solution look like when it has been executed over 3, 6 and 12 months?
strtgcommsgrp - differentiation questions
strtgcommsgrp - differentiation questions

To answer these questions, I recommend using the following tools and tactics to gather data, information and insights.

  1. Analyse your space and market. Don’t skip this step. It’s important to understand the space, the audience, and your customers.
  2. Market segmentation. Assess the space and the areas within the space that your organisation wants to play in.
  3. Target a space. Get focused and look for an unoccupied space to own. Profile the target audience and customers against the space you want.
  4. Build a vision. Answer the question about where the space or market needs to be, and how you will help solve the problem to help players reach that position.
  5. Build a business strategy and plan. Put together the first version of a plan, define the unique/proprietary solution for this space and the customer. Make sure you share how you will deliver on your promise of value to the customer.
  6. Remember to use strategic communications in your initial outreach. Start defining positioning, vision, core messages and channels. Develop foundational content such as diagrams, illustrations, fact sheets and presentations.
  7. Validation. Connect with potential prospects and industry stakeholders and test your perspective, especially on market need, market fit and segments.

How about doing differentiation by becoming a ‘one-stop/integrated everything’ for my customers?

This question and line of thinking always comes up. Many people assume building and owning an eco-system of related services/products is the same as becoming a one-stop hub for customers. That this method is differentiation.

And to be fair, it can be highly tempting to want to be a one-stop hub for clients and customers.

It’s important to be clear about this approach. If your business is about providing all areas for your customers, and this is the unique solution in your space, go right ahead.

Unfortunately for many other businesses or brands, being everything to every customer will result in dilution of core specialty and make your solutions to be a me-too copy of your competitors.

Your goal is about committing to a space or a market, build a vision and approach before developing THE ability to meet the needs of that space such that customers will actively seek you out and pay a premium for your problem solving capabilities.

Here are the key steps in changing your mindset to become a differentiator:

Focus, focus and more focus. Work backwards. Identify the unique market position that your business/brand will occupy. This is not about declaring market leadership. Being position one in your field is an aspiration. Being the only solution provider for a critical problem in your field is a position.

Find out where the unoccupied space in your field is. There will always be common, critical and urgent problems that are not being addressed, or not being solved well. Pick those problems and figure out if your business/brand can solve them well. Own the process to solve the problems and work towards becoming business/brand as the preferred solutions provider for this specific problem.

Don’t chase fads. Make the time to do research and identify whether your identified space and problem is just a short-term thing. This is the difference between working and solving for fads or trends. There are many immediate problems brought about by the pandemic. Will the problem continue to be one, in 12 months? How about in 5 years?

Some questions include: Where is the space evolving towards? What are the unmet needs by players in the space currently? Are there any competitive threats? What urgent, critical problems will players face in the next 6 months, and 5 years?

Talk to your clients and prospects. It’s a good habit anyway to stay close to your customers during this time. Use the chats to obtain perspective and information about the space. Ask about the biggest problems they are working to solve, the value of a solution to these problems and whether the same problems will continue over the next 3 – 5 years. Engage intellectually and find out if there are problems that are deemed impossible but if taken care of, will change your customer’s business fundamentally. Make sure you find out what the value of such a solution will be to them.

Connect the dots and identify a problem that only your business/brand can uniquely solve, and that is worth solving for. Pay attention to the problems, patterns and whether your customers are open to new or out-of-the-norm tools (including technologies) and if their industry or space will be impacted by emerging trends. If you come across the same problem repeatedly happening for many customers, and no one seems to be handling it adequately, you just might have your high-value problem and solution to work on. This is where you can showcase differentiation.

Here are some techniques from our playbook on differentiation for you to consider as you put together your differentiation framework and plan.

strtgcommsgrp - differentiation techniques

Focus. Concentrate your resources, messaging, priorities from the start. Focus on your messaging and reflect the customer’s challenges and needs in their own words. This helps some prospects disqualify themselves, saves you precious time, and helps you pay more attention to the leads that matter.

Positioning is key. Instead of being a one-stop shop for your customer’s every need, and therefore a confusing jumble of products, services and activities, consider building your brand around a core theme or market.

Ensure that all your activities revolve around that core with a goal to become the dominant player in your specialist field. 

Do not spread your resources too thinly. Concentrate on a specific target audience that is large enough to provide revenue and realistic profits. This will help you build a base of customers and success stories that will drive momentum.

Be a long-term partner. Stop focusing on a transactional model of securing sales. Look at each customer as an account and think about LTV and how a positive relationship will advance a business outcome for your customer.

Offer specific outcomes. Be the partner that understands the problem and provides a specific prescription for your customer. Make sure you can go beyond talking about the problem or selling features and service capabilities.

Instead, provide a map to the outcome, and how you will measure success in terms of the results.

Talk about business outcomes. Expand on how you will help your customer do things faster, or with less cost, or earn more revenue/profit because they are working with you. 

As a partner providing solutions, the goal is to solve problems for your customers.

Hopefully, at a cost that provides you with some profit.

However, to become the preferred choice in your space and show differentiation, you have to identify a critical and urgent problem that your competitors are not addressing; develop a specific and measurable solution to this problem; declare ownership of the space that the problem resides in before solving the problem for your customers.

This will provide you with a steady stream of customers that want to work with you.

I am a trainer, coach and solutions provider for communications and PR organisations and practitioners. With over 20+ years in the industry, I have created approaches, methods and content that can help you and your team launch, grow, level up and monetise effectively and efficiently.

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