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Dare to be different

With a bevy of competitors, how does a business stand out?
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Differentiation plays a key role in branding and is the foundation of a competitive advantage. And it profoundly affects your position in the minds of your prospects and customers. Effective differentiation can position you as No. 1 among your competitors – the company or brand customers turn to first – while a poor differentiation strategy can leave you buried in the middle of the pack.

[related|post]Are you ready to develop your own differentiation strategy? Here are four steps to get you started:

•    Evaluate competitive messages: your first step is to gather and evaluate the marketing materials of your chief competitors, including their ads, brochures and website content. Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of “me too” marketing. There’s simply a lot of bad marketing out there, and the fact many of your competitors have no differentiation strategy will still work to your advantage.
At least some of your competitors – usually the category leaders – will make promises that resonate with their target audience. Carefully review the benefits statements your competitors make, and determine what claims set them apart.

•    Find what makes you unique. For a company-wide differentiation strategy, consider what separates you from the competitors you’ve evaluated. Whether you market a product or operate a service business, such as an accounting firm or a power-washing company, it’s essential to clearly differentiate through your marketing how what you offer is of unique value. Your point of differentiation may relate to the way your product or service is provided, priced or even delivered. The most important thing to discover is the principal benefit you offer that is uniquely valuable to customers and give you a competitive advantage.

•    Tell the world. Your next step is to create a new marketing message that communicates your product or service’s unique. This message should become the core of your entire marketing campaign. To gain a competitive advantage successfully, consistently drive to this point of differentiation home until it becomes integral to your brand image.

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•    Keep your promise. Effective differentiation has everything to do with customer satisfaction, which builds loyalty and often trumps price as a main consideration of consumers. As long as your company can sustain its ability to differentiate in a way that consistently meets consumer expectations, customers may reject lower-cost, they’ll stay loyal because of the “intangibles.” Nothing will make you lose customers faster than a disconnection between your promises and the reality of customer experience with your product or brand. So for long-term success, your company or product must live up to its marketing promise.

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