Differentiation Online: Just Do It

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Differentiation is a big word with a simple meaning; stand out! Businesses recognize the need to stand out as they go head to head with their competition every day, but often they lose sight of this concept when it comes to online marketing. Cultivating a sustainable competitive advantage means nothing if potential customers know nothing about it. Simply put, Competing online today is tough!

Companies no longer compete on a local level, they compete with every other company around the globe who provides the same goods and services. In this ever more saturated environment, the business who stands out is usually the one who wins.

What is it?

According to  expert marketer Philip Kotler, differentiation is the process of adding meaningful and valued differences that distinguish you[r brand] from the competition. Not to be confused with positioning, which is a related but an entirely different topic, differentiation refers to the clever way marketers are able to fight through the clutter and achieve increased brand visibility. This concept can and should be used when determining which online marketing channels to take, which strategies to employ within those channels, what the messages to use, and other factors that could give the company an advantage over their competition.

Who Needs it?

With the exception of companies in emerging fields with no direct competition, this marketing strategy works for everyone. Typically the more research that is conducted prior to engaging with a company, the more chances there will be to stand out and be seen. However, a company that is selected quickly still has to make sure they stand out at the moment of relevance when a potential customer is in need of their services. A good comparison would be the case of a plumber versus a software development company. While a potential customer may spend more time researching software development companies, it is even more important for the plumber to stand out and be the first person a new customer may call, largely due to the fact that there may not be a second call. So while it may come in different forms, all businesses need to engage in differentiation strategies.

How Does it Work?

The concept of differentiation has two fronts. One is the more analytical approach, figuring out competitive advantages, identifying a target audience, and then finding the most effective ways to reach that audience through the most appropriate online marketing channels. Marketers will then tailor a message which presents a value proposition which highlights differentiating factors (“free estimates” or “highest customer satisfaction rating”) to the target audience. But what if there are 10 other companies who provide very similar services as your company who have figured out the same thing?  This is where companies either run with the pack, or jump ahead when it comes to online marketing.

The second, more difficult approach to an online differentiation strategy requires creativity. SO.., for all of the left brainers out there it is time to trust in a marketing company or your marketing manager because this can get tricky. This can make or break an online campaign – and it isn’t always so obvious. Simply put, if your advertising uses the same boring, trite, overused, bromidic messages like “best in town” or “exceptional service” you are wasting time and marketing dollars. See the infographic to the left for a few basic examples of ways to differentiate online, we apologize if it is a little basic but hopefully it gets the point across.

Advice for Business Owners

Finding creative ways to market yourself can prove more effective and are easy ways to gain more from your advertising without increasing the budget. Be honest, the tools that you will use to differentiate your brand will largely depend on the industry you are in and your company’s competitive advantages. Don’t forget your intrinsic value propositions, you are not just selling a product but a lifestyle, a set of values, and relationships with customers. Look again at factors like time of day, geographic area, weekly trends, target audience, and “outside the box” thinking. Also if you are trying to reach millennials try talking to one every so often, you may be surprised what you find out!