A differentiation strategy is a way to stand out from the noise and give people a reason to choose your business over others. You’d think companies would be all about that. Peep Laja
Imagine, if you will, you enter a great big expo hall. The expo is for businesses and website designers.
Those with the booths are website designers, and they are hoping business owners will stop by and consider them for their next website project.
There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of website designers in little booths all over an expo hall easily the size of a football field (American or other, you pick).
Thousands of business owners are going to find a website designer amongst hundreds of website designers.
Now, imagine every booth is white with neutral gray colors. No one stands out. Except, right in the middle, somewhere closer to the north end of the hall, one booth has vibrant, bright colors.
Suddenly, someone stands out in a sea of normalcy.
This is differentiation.
When everyone goes one way, you go the other. When everyone uses mundane colors, you use bright colors.
Now, standing out is one thing, but you still have to deliver.
So, what is your business’s competitive advantage? What is your business’s differentiation?
In a sea of lemons, strive to be a cherry.
Let’s chat about differentiation.
Differentiation is tied to your niche.
In his book, Five Figure Funnels: How To Sell Marketing Funnel Services To Your Customers For Five Figures In Any Market, No Matter Your Experience, Michael Killen gives us some great tips on creating a niche.
“A niche is a problem you solve or a result you get for a group of people with certain characteristics that no one else wants to serve. It could be both a problem you solve and a result you get, but there needs to be a critical component of a characteristic within a group of people that no one else wants to serve.” (Location 357, Kindle version)
Here, the niche is at the corner of your target market and your differentiation. If you solve a problem for someone no one else serves, you have carved out your own niche, and your differentiation is on solid ground.
Your differentiation here is the group you serve. If no one else serves them, this group, then you are more different than anyone else.
Tell your unique, founding story to find brand differentiation.
No one has your founder’s story. No one.
People are hesitant to dig into their stories, but it will change how your customers see you. I know, we don’t like talking about ourselves.
You may need the help of a professional digging into your story.
Within your story, you will find the answer to some crucial questions such as:
- What drives you nuts about your industry?
- What part of your industry do you want to see changed?
- Why did you start your own business instead of getting a job with someone else?
When you dig into your founder story, you will begin to answer your business why. It will help you unearth the very values that drove you to take this leap.
Consider this story.
Several years ago, I went to San Francisco with my then-wife to have surgery. The surgery took place at the University of California at San Francisco.
We were not rich. We had been married for four years, and I had been in graduate school, so very little money to go around.
So, how were we going to afford the trip to San Francisco? Where would we stay? How would we get by?
A friend of mine arranged for the trip. He had air miles he let us use. He called for help at a church in the Bay area. A lovely couple volunteered to let us stay in their home.
We had transportation while we in the area, and on the flip side of things, we got to visit some of the amazing sites in the city.
Seven years later, a couple of guys showed up in San Francisco following college. They were just getting by, renting an apartment in the city.
They needed to do something to come up with rent. After all, you understand, San Francisco is not a cheap place to live.
At the same time, a large design conference was in town. There was no lodging available for many of the attendees. These guys got the idea to rent three mattresses in their apartment to willing guests.
It worked. The roommates were able to rent the mattresses and pay their rent.
The story has been relayed repeatedly, but Kindra Hall talks about it in her book Stories that Stick. In the book, she tells how Brian Chesky was able to procure an investment from venture capitalist Jeff Jordan. Jordan turned them down the first time they pitched but changed his mind after hearing the story.
He won the relationship with the founder story of how Airbnb started. The rest, as we might say, is history.
(You can hear Kindra tell the story in this video)
Storytelling is compelling, builds rapport, and bridges what Hall calls the Value Gap.
A story can help you set your differentiation. It shows the struggle you went through to create and grow your business.
Hall says so poignantly,
“Sadly, differentiation is more difficult to achieve than we’d like it to be. How do you show you’re different without looking like everyone else who is claiming to be different in the exact same way?” (p. 89)
Basically, all web design businesses look the same to our potential customers.
We have to find a way to differentiate our business from others. Telling a story about how you started your business can give you an advantage.
Brand your process and make it zing.
One way to differentiate your company is to brand your process. Heck, having a process that you share on your website can make a difference.
The process doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but merely showing you have one can differentiate you from the freelancer down the street who makes it up every single time.
I did this with the Website Copy Framework. In the process, I ended up with a brand.
If you put a cool name to your process, it can further differentiate you. That is what Hubspot did with Inbound Marketing. Not only did they come up with the process, but they also coined the phrase that is used almost universally in our industry.
But we all know that Inbound Marketing is one process for doing digital marketing. I have seen more than one methodology for doing digital marketing, including one by Smart Insights.
Do you have a process for your web projects? How about your website maintenance? Brand it with a name and make a logo. It will stand out among all of the other web designers who have nothing to differentiate themselves from.
Perhaps you major on regular communication with clients. Maybe you send reports monthly, emails weekly, and meet with them to talk about goals.
Use that as a differentiator. Give it a name. Make sure it has a prominent place on your website.
Wrapping it up
Differentiation is not easy. In fact, in his article, Peep Laja says, “Real differentiation is hard.”
That sentence is a subheading, so you know he means it.
He explains, “It’s not enough to be just a little bit different. The differentiation needs to be big enough to tilt the decision in your favor.”
Simply saying robust is not enough, according to Laja.
“You need to be really different. And that involves risk, change, and venturing into the unknown.”
That’s why it isn’t easy. It involves risk and change, courage if you will.
Do you have the courage to differentiate your business?