For your business to be enduring and profitable, it must bring something that not only fills a customer need, but is also clearly different.
You must be different to create value for both your customer and your business.
There is a word for not being different: commodity. A pure commodity confers zero margin, because when an offering is the same as its alternatives, it can only compete on price.
How can you be different?
Growth comes from white space. Most think of white space as something wildly new – an invention, a disrupter, like the invention of the automobile. But there are less obvious fields of white space that many overlook. It could be that the content of what you bring itself claims white space. Or it could be that the way that you bring it claims white space.
A Journalistic Angle on Marketing
In high school journalism class, I learned of three ways to stand out as a journalist: get a scoop (new news); take a different angle (another way of looking at not-new news); or use a robustly different tone (talk about the not-new news in an unusual way).
This construct applies beautifully to commerce. You can differentiate in three ways: offer something no one else offers, bring a different angle to something already known, or use a fresh voice to engage on something otherwise familiar.
Let’s explore each.
1. New offer: This source of differentiation is self-evident. When you’re creating something categorically new to the world, you are inherently different. Brands that have claimed white space through new offers:
- Peloton – on-demand cycling classes from the comfort of your home
- Netflix – subscription mail-in movie rentals
- AirBnB – online marketplace for finding places to stay
- Blackberry – cell phones from which you can also email
- Warby Parker – mail-in prescription glasses
- Ikea – budget-priced, assemble-it-yourself Scandinavian design furniture
2. Different angle: This source of differentiation brings a new angle to a familiar category. Brands that have claimed white space through a new angle:
- Chipotle brought the high-quality angle to the familiar category of fast food
- Tesla brought the electric angle to the familiar category of luxury cars
- Everlane brought the transparent sourcing angle to the familiar category of mass-premium apparel
- Allbirds brought extreme comfort and ethical sourcing to the familiar category of sneakers
- Steelcase Furniture brought the inspirational work environment angle to the familiar category of office furniture
3. Fresh voice: This source of differentiation brings a new voice to a familiar category. Brands that have claimed white space through a new voice:
- Mini Cooper brought a lighthearted voice to the familiar category of cars
- Dollar Shave Club brought an outlaw character to the familiar category of razors
- Rebel Soap brought an edgy voice to the familiar category of household cleaning products
- Hello Toothpaste brought a child-like voice to the familiar category of toothpaste
- Geico brought a jester voice to the familiar category of insurance
Don’t be a same ol’ brand.
“Same” is commodity. “Different” is where your business thrives. When you position your business as not only better, but as truly different, you set the conditions for creating economic value.
As you consider true sources of differentiation, consider these questions:
- Is the content of what you bring radically different?
- Is your angle into the category distinctive and enlightening?
- Is the way you show up through personality and tonality fresh and provocative?
Identify that thing that makes you stand out, claim it as yours, and then make everything that you do a way to bring that thing to life.