Your competitors can copy everything except this.


If I had to pick one marketing theme repeated most often in the guru circles, it is this: “You need to be different than your competitors.”

I agree with this by the way. Finding your point of differentiation is essential. If you’re not different from competitors in a remarkable and meaningful way, how in the world can you compete (except on price — and then, you’re a commodity!). What is your marketing message if you don’t know what story to tell?

So differentiation matters and you probably already know that.

But today I want to push your thinking further. Because when it comes to differentiation, you probably only have two sustainable options. And for most of us, there really is only one …

How different are we … really?

One of the most frustrating roadblocks in the consulting business is getting customers to come to grips with their own delusions of grandeur. I often hear points of differentiation expressed like this:

  • “Our people are our difference.”
  • “The best service in the business.”
  • “We will beat any price.”

But anybody can say those things, right? My garbage collector can say it. The local florist or insurance agent can make those claims. So today, I want you re-visit your marketing position and ask yourself with sincere, clear-eyed intellectual honesty:

How different are we … REALLY?

Having a hard time with this? I thought so.

I’m here to help.

Your two options

The problem in our marketing world is that almost every good idea and innovation can be discovered and copied by competitors with blinding speed. So when you get down to it, there are two essential options when it comes to differentiation.

The first option is that you own some unassailable product, place, or process in a niche big enough to matter. Examples would be an exclusive location, a patented technology, or a transcendent brand image (like Lady Gaga or Apple) that simply cannot be replicated. In the big business world, this distinctiveness is relatively rare. Generally speaking, almost anything else can be copied.

The second option is accessible to anyone — The unique way you communicate with customers (and potential customers) and care for them.

This is an obvious and elegant differentiation option. There is only one company in this moment that can communicate to your customers — you. Your opportunity is unique. But are you taking advantage of it?

With every customer touchpoint, there’s an opportunity to create meaningful personal contact, surprise and delight, and emotion that leads to loyalty. Supreme customer care isn’t easy or cheap … but it’s probably more realistic than getting a patent on the pizza you’re making or your system for providing social media services, which is the same as everybody else, right???

When you dig deeply past the differentiation delusions, customer experience is almost always the only option most companies have. In 2010, I wrote the first edition of a little book called the Tao of Twitter and proclaimed that in the emerging social media world, “There really is no B2B or B2C. It’s P2P — Person to Person. How do we connect our amazing people to the people online who need us?”

Real customer connection beats competitors

I laughed out loud at a commercial for Carvana, a company that is disrupting used car sales. One “traditional” sales type in the ad says, “I’ll have to talk to my manager!” This is a universal indicator that you’re in the middle of a sales game and you are about to be hustled.

By making fun of these ridiculous and demeaning sales techniques, Carvana is signaling — “we treat you differently, we treat you with respect.”

How else are you going to differentiate from used car sales competitors? Price? Quality? Service? All of those are easily claimed by competitors. What if you received treatment at a car dealership similar to what you would expect at your favorite restaurant or pub? That would be revolutionary. Carvana, in fact, delivers a car to your door like a pizza.

Carvana isn’t putting the bulk of its marketing dollars into blog posts or influencers. Their aim is aimed a differentiated customer experience. They can’t outspend their competitors but they can leave them in the dust by disrupting customer care.

In this consumer review video, a fellow ordered a car from Carvana, had it delivered, and decided a few days later that he wanted to return it. To his delight, the company picks it up, no questions asked. The video has 30,000 views.

That’s powerful marketing.

Peak moments

I’d like to connect the dots here with a major theme of my Marketing Rebellion book: The customer is the marketer. 

In this book, I reference the fine research from Chip and Dan Heath and their publication The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

The Heath brothers demonstrate that connecting to customers in a memorable way is not only a path to differentiation, customer conversations, and loyalty, it can actually overcome the disappointment of any bad experiences customers have along the way.

I think this is a remarkable finding. It implies that people are so accustomed to being treated like an inanimate object that the kindness and respect of a true human connection can be your most powerful marketing strategy.

In other words, The Most Human Company Wins.


I think Carvana gets that.

This is the battleground

In the past two years, the level of customer care has become vastly worse. A dramatic increase in online customer engagement (It has doubled since 2017!) and difficulty scaling customer care during the pandemic has created a potential marketing crisis … and an opportunity for companies paying attention.

If you agree that your customer connection could be your only true source of differentiation and you know that your customer service is “average” or worse, then what in the world are you waiting for? Focus now on becoming the most human …




work out facility


insurance company

… or whatever you do.

Customer care — and specifically online customer care which is 80 percent of the action right now — is probably the most realistic opportunity for true differentiation for your business. Because of rising customer expectations, I predict this will be the most significant marketing battleground for years to come.

Content isn’t “king.” Customer care is king because the customers will tell your story far and wide based on how you connect to them. Will people talk about you with their friends because of a blog post you’ve written or because you’ve unexpectedly helped them like a true friend?

Exceptional customer care creates powerful word-of-mouth marketing.

As you shift into the next budget season, my advice is to re-think everything you’re doing and focus like a laser on the customer experience battleground. That is your point of marketing differentiation.

If you need support driving this priority for your business, drop me a line and let me know how I can help.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and 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.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.

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