Discovering your true point of differentiation

point of differentiation

By Mark Schaefer

It’s obvious that marketing starts with strategy, and strategy starts with defining your value proposition — what is unique and compelling about you and what you do?

It’s always surprising to me how often this fundamental idea is either mis-understood or ignored. Over the last month I’ve met with business owners who have named these points of differentiation:

  • “Great people, great service.”
  • “We care for your business success.”
  • “Expect the best.”

These are not points of differentiation. They are meaningless slogans that could describe almost any business.

Why are you different? What is your story?

Can you finish this sentence?

Finding your true point of differentiation can be agonizing but today I’m going to provide a little exercise that is a good place to start.

In my book Social Media Explained, I describe the six questions I use with clients to determine a social media strategy. The first one is this: Can you finish this sentence … “Only we …?”

It is a deceptively simple exercise … and maddeningly difficult. You can’t have a social media or content strategy without an over-arching marketing strategy and if you can’t finish that sentence, that indicates you don’t have a marketing strategy (even if you insist that you do!).

About 95 percent of the time I pose this question, business owners are stopped in their tracks. Or perhaps they answer with something like “we have great service.” Well heck, everybody has great service. My trash removal company has great service. Everybody should have great service just to be in business. That probably does not make you different.

Why should I buy from YOU? Name that.

The point of differentiation test

Another way to approach this is to gather top company leaders around a table, have them get out a piece of paper and ask them the same question. Can they finish the sentence? If you get different answers, you are not ready for social media. You are not ready to be producing content. You don’t have a marketing strategy because you don’t know what to say.

This may be the hardest question to answer in business, but also the most important. Before you can have a digital strategy, a social media strategy, or even a Facebook page, you should be able to finish that sentence or you are wasting your time and money.

Trust me, even if it takes weeks to accurately name your “only we” it is worth the effort in the long run. The worst mistake you can make in business is to execute beautifully on an incorrect strategy. If you’re being asked to run a social media program without a marketing strategy, you’re being set up for failure.

The truth is out there

Finding your “only we” is probably not going to come from gathering your employees around a table and asking for ideas. Go ask your customers. Not in a survey. Go out and actually talk to them. Why do they love you? Why do they keep coming back to you? Why do they believe in you and refer you to others?

Is it because of …

  • Selection
  • Experience
  • History
  • Price
  • Location
  • Value
  • Quality
  • Personality
  • Reputation

I could name hundreds of potential factors. Is it because you are lemon-scented or have a big purple sign or the best return policy? What is it? There MUST be a reason.

It’s important to get feedback from outside your company because very often what you think you’re selling is not what the customer is buying. Example: I had a client that thought it was selling the latest high-tech business communication systems. But when we asked customers why they loved them, they told me it is because they knew this company would never let their system go down.

My customer thought they were selling tech. The customers were buying comfort. That changes the marketing message, doesn’t it?

Determine your “only we” (or, if you’re on your own, your “only I”) and your marketing strategy will light up like an airport runway before you.

Only then will you know what to say, where to say it, and who cares about it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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