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Differentiate or Lose Out

September 27, 2011

As a small business owner, I’m sure you’ve been told time and time again that you’ve got to differentiate yourself to make it in business.

And you probably took this advice to heart. You came up with something that actually looks pretty good ... or so you thought.

Maybe it was something like one of these purported differentiators?Blue Bottle standing out.jpg

If your “differentiator” looks something like the above list, then you actually don’t have a differentiator.


These are “ho-hum” statements. Everybody claims them. Everybody thinks “customer service” and “quality” are their differentiators. (Who do you know that claims lousy service?)

In reality, these “differentiators” are just the minimum cost of entry into the marketplace.

What’s the most valuable commodity today? Money? Gold? Time? No ... it’s attention.

Companies fight a daily battle to gain the attention of their prospective customers. And there are thousands of things to distract them, bright shiny objects such as web browsing, social media, emails, phone calls, bosses.

So good luck if you want your prospects to actually pay attention to your message.

However, you do have to find a way to get noticed. Your prospects have developed highly evolved psychological defenses that allows them to naturally ignore anything that isn’t relevant and isn’t truly different, and as a result, everything you say that isn’t dead-on is just white noise.

Famous copywriters who've broken through the noise in some of the most successful advertising campaigns, have found a way to do this. They are always searching for what they call “the hook.” The hook is sometimes elusive, but when they find “the hook,” it can make the difference between an ok ad, and an ad that pulls in thousands of customers.

That’s what you want to do, find that hidden “hook” that will cut through the marketing clutter and appeal directly to your target audience.

But how do you find your hook? How do you find your remarkable differentiator?

Here are four ways:

What is your business purpose?

In this world of fabricated differentiators, there’s nothing like an authentic purpose in life to set your business apart from your competitors. This is especially valuable if you’re doing battle against large corporate competitors.

According to John Jantsch, a purpose is something that people can rally around, that they can believe in.

The Natural Running Store in Austin, TX is a company with a purpose. They are passionate about spreading the word that God made our feet the way they are for a reason, and footwear should respect that.

They directly contradict the large shoe manufacturers who have convinced runners that you need a running shoe with stability and control.

And guess what? It’s working! They’re a very successful company, and have a growing and loyal fan base.

What do your customers say about you?

Have you ever interviewed your customers? They actually know more about what’s different about you than you do.

Have somebody interview your 7-10 top customers, the ones who are fun to work with, profitable, and refer other customers to you.

Ask them what they really think of you: why they chose you, why they continue to do business with you, what’s that special element about your business that really appeals to them.

You’ll be surprised at what you learn…and you’ll most likely uncover a differentiator you never thought about, but was hiding in plain sight.

What if you’re a new company?

Can you discover a group of people with an un-served or underserved worldview? This is a really powerful way to differentiate your company.

Find a group of people or companies that share a worldview that is currently ignored.

Nobody would have thought Starbucks could make it selling $3.00 coffee, but they tapped into an unfulfilled need held by an ignored group: people that appreciate good coffee and were willing to pay for it.

A worldview is a collection of beliefs, the way we see the world. For example, do your prospects believe global climate change is a hoax or a clear and present danger?

If you can identify that untapped worldview, and create a frame or a story that fits into their worldview, you’ve found your differentiator.

Do you have some unique processes?

Finally, what do you do, or what CAN you do, that is different?

If your company develops custom software applications for large corporations, maybe you’ve developed a certain methodology that only your company does. Put a name to that methodology and feature it in your marketing materials.

For example, you could call it the “5 Step Software Acceleration Process” or something similar.

What if your company provides pet grooming services? You could provide a full service grooming package that includes shampoo, conditioner, flea inspection and nail clipping called “The Total Dog Makeover.” What other dog grooming company does that?

What’s your differentiator?

Okay, so you have probably realized you don’t really have a “different” differentiator. But there are many ways to find your differentiator. It’s not a simple process, but when you find your purpose, discover what your customers know about you, uncover that ignored customer segment, or create a branded process, you can then begin to communicate a remarkable differentiator that will cut through the noise and get your prospects to pay attention to you.

And attention is the most valuable commodity in this day and age.

At Leading Results, we help clients with their differentiators every day. We can help with yours. Take our marketing and brand audit and we’ll spend 45 minutes with you talking about your business and your marketing – at no charge. Go click that big silver button over on your right at the top of the page.

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Written by leadingresults

Leading Results helps businesses stop wasting money on marketing and improves their business development results by putting POWER in their marketing. The POWER is the Processes, Organizational Support, Why (you do what you do), Expertise and Refer-ability. You get strategy, tactics and execution. We work with both individual businesses and businesses as part of a larger ecosystem. Be more profitable.

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