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Think Differentiation: Brand Positioning

By Jeff Lanzi

One of the most critical requirements for creating brand preference and loyalty is having a differentiated position in the marketplace. Every brand consultant preaches a focused positioning strategy, but many companies still have difficulty identifying unique attributes and crafting language that really differentiates them from the competition.

It’s easy to get caught up promoting all of the things you do well, but if your competitors can claim to do the same things just as well (whether it’s true or not) you’re just another brand lost in the noise. These might be important, even required, proficiencies that qualify you to a potential customer, but they don’t differentiate you.

At BrandingBusiness, we have a model that identifies these important but non-unique qualities as “Antes”—table stakes, the prerequisites to enter the competitive game, but not advantages that help you win it. It’s important that they are communicated at some point. However, what we really want to put the emphasis on are “Drivers” – assets or attributes that are (1) highly relevant or specifically important to the customer and (2) unique to you, thus highly differentiated from the competition.

While doing an analysis of competitor websites for a specialized technology consultant, we discovered that their competitors all say almost exactly the same things, using generic language to describe themselves. Here is a particularly painful example:
“Deep domain expertise with a variety of technology platforms, strong partnerships with the world’s leading vendors, dedicated industry expertise and a broad solutions portfolio differentiates our firm. We use small, expert project teams that deliver high-value, measurable results by working collaboratively with clients through a user-centered, technology-based and business-driven solutions methodology. We believe this approach enhances return-on-investment for our clients by significantly reducing the time and risk associated with designing and implementing business and technology solutions.”

While this sounds like a strong company, this is an “all-things-to-all-people” credo that doesn’t place a stake in the ground. By claiming all these things, they may think that they open themselves to a very broad market, but they also invite more competition, thus compromising the original intent. This statement claims to describe their “differentiating” attributes, but realistically, it describes almost every consulting firm in every business category ever.

Read the statement and ask yourself: would you hire a consulting firm who:

  • Is NOT an expert in their field using modern best practices?
  • Has NO experience in your industry?
  • Uses SUB-STANDARD vendors and does not collaborate with their clients?
  • Delivers low value, non-measurable, non-business-driven results?
  • Does NOT produce significant ROI?

These are all the Antes required just to play the consulting game. Yes, you must possess these qualities to be considered as a consultant, but they do not differentiate the firm or give any reason to choose one company over another. This kind of information needs to be communicated to potential clients, but too many companies use these Antes as their primary brand messaging, instead of allowing them to play a more appropriate supporting role.

To stand out, companies need to do the hard, disciplined work of understanding their unique value proposition and matching their communications with the needs of the market. Often times this exercise is best conducted with the experience and external perspective of seasoned brand and business consultants, but the results are worth the investment. By articulating and standing for an exclusive approach or capability set and going after clear targets, customers will find it much easier to identify your company as the right solution for their needs, and are more likely to become repeat customers and refer you to new business.