Sun Tzu famously said, “Know yourself and your enemy, and in a 100 battles you will never be imperiled.” Many times, this is easier said than done. Particularly the “know yourself” part. The mantra in marketing is: Differentiate, Differentiate, Differentiate. But in order to differentiate you have to know what really sets you apart.
Recently, I had a conversation with a leading professional services firm. I asked them, “What makes you different? What sets you apart?” Their responses were fairly typical: It’s our people that make the difference. It’s our experience in the industry. It’s our delivery process. It’s our culture. YAWN! OK, now let’s go out to your competitors’ websites and see how many of them talk about their people, their process and their culture. SURPRISE! ALL OF THEM!
There are a few problems that always arise when I work with organizations to help them improve their differentiation.
- Not clearly defining what they do well – all too often when I speak to clients about what they do and what makes them great, they’ll respond something like this, “Well, we've got deep knowledge in the XYZ industry and have solutions tailored for it, but if someone from the ABC industry comes to our website we don’t want them to think that we can’t help them.” The problem with this is in XYZ they may have a legitimate competitive advantage and important intellectual property. But in the ABC industry they’re a ‘Me too’.
- Not clearly defining what they’re not – When someone comes to your site, they should quickly and clearly understand what you are. Your value proposition, and why they should take the next step to interact with you, should be readily apparent. People should also know what you’re not.
- Being internally focused – you may be proud of your team’s accomplishments and want to brag, but always remember that your prospects are looking for “what’s in it for them”. Inwardly focused content does not perform and it will not drive leads.
- Being too familiar – there are times when it becomes difficult to recognize and articulate the things that make an organization different. An example of this would be people. People are truly unique to an organization. No two companies are the same because every company has its own unique team. But when people say something like ‘Our people make us unique!’ or ‘Our people our special!’ they’re marginalizing their greatest asset. Why are they special? How are they unique? More to the point, why should your prospects care?
- Speaking about extraordinary things in a very ordinary way – this is always a challenge. Things that you see every day become part of your normal routine. You begin to look at them as unremarkable or ordinary. This is, in part, due to the fact that to you, it’s normal. However, things that might be taken for granted day-in and day-out are some of what makes an organization special. Step back and take a fresh perspective of your organization. Try to see things as though you are seeing them for the first time. Look at things with the thought: So what? Why should my prospect care?
Differentiation can be difficult at times, but with diligent effort and a fresh perspective you can go from a ‘me too’ positioning, to extolling the virtues of a unique, one-of-a-kind organization.