As with many things in marketing, differentiation works better when we start from the customer's point of view rather than our own. Here's how we approach differentiation at Ironclad Brand Strategy:
- First, look at the frame of reference for a customer evaluating your offering. What are they comparing you TO? This is what you need to differentiate yourself FROM.
For example, if you are a handyman, you might be competing less with other handymen, and more against homeowners doing handiwork themselves. If this is the case, your frame of reference is the DIY behavior of homeowners.
- Once you know your frame of reference, make a list of all the things that are different (or could be different) about your offering, with respect to this frame of reference.
You'll see how important it is to have a frame of reference in mind first. As a handyman competing against DIY behavior, the differentiator is the benefit that any handyman would bring: having the work done for you by a professional. But as a handyman competing against other handyman professionals, you might list your specialty areas, your geography, your quick service, or the fact that "no job is too small."
- Adjust your messaging with respect to frame of reference.
Businesses often find themselves addressing different audiences in different scenarios. If you are messaging to an audience of potential DIYers, lean into fundamental differentiators like saving time and knowing the job is done right. If you are messaging to folks actively seeking a handyman, lean into differentiators that set you apart, like geography or speed of service.
- Adjust your messaging with respect to what makes business sense.
Not all sources of differentiation are equally attractive from a financial perspective. Perhaps one differentiator is that you have a large truck for carting loads, and another is that "no job is too small." It may not benefit your business to only take on small jobs, in which case you'd want to lean into your large truck differentiator. Conversely, if you don't have a large truck, taking on that expense may not be worthwhile, so you may lean into small jobs.
When I work through this exercise with my clients, I like to list a ton of differentiators to be sure I'm using the most effective one(s). Picking the quickest or most obvious – instead of doing the work to find the best – is short-sighted and won't maximize your chance of sustainable success.