The old cliche “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” is well known, but often ignored for various reasons. After all, for a long time the definition of success was to get an education, get a good job, and raise a family. Of course very few people finish the end of that story, which is apparently to keep raising your family, showing up at work until you retire and eventually die. No wonder so many people live life wondering, “Is this all there is?”
The millennial age and the ‘gig economy era have started to push-back on those ideas. Beyond pushing back, they break the doors wide open with new opportunities to reinvent the meaning of success and earning a living. Many millennials are forgoing the traditional paths, and focusing on jobs and careers that align with their core values. If you are one of the estimated 80% of people dread going to work each day, now is the perfect time to rethink your career and profession. Why do I know it’s the right time? Because there is no guarantee of how many tomorrows you will have, so the best time to start doing what you love is always now.
So what does this have to do with marketing differentiation strategies?
People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everyone who needs what you have — the goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe… The goal is not to hire people who need a job, the goal is to hire people who believe what you believe.
Marketing differentiation strategies are extremely important for all businesses. The need to clearly define points of differentiation is especially true if you are in a profession where the average consumer (and sometimes the professionals themselves) view the services as a commodity. Where the perception is that one professional is likely as good, or as bad, as another. This often occurs in industries that are heavily regulated and uniform, like financial services, real estate, and insurance industries.
I was once advising a newly launched wealth management and financial advisory firm on some marketing concepts related to differentiation and relevancy. One of the advisors said, “Well… it’s different in our industry because what we offer is really a commodity.” Let me just jump ahead a bit, and tell you that if you view what you do as a commodity — you are in the wrong business.
So how does one develop a marketing differentiation strategy in a market where everyone is seemingly doing the same things, bound by the same regulations, where there is ubiquitous access to the same information, or regulated pricing? The answer will be different for each person or firm.
Another question that Simon Sinek poses in his talk is, “Why do you get up out of bed every morning, and why should anyone care?” The first part of the question, why you get up out of bed every morning, is really asking “What do you believe?” Since people don’t buy what you do, they buy what you believe, knowing what you believe will help you articulate why you do what you do.
So the more regulated or uniform the industry, the more your points of differentiation will need to reflect who you are, and why you do what you do. Those beliefs in turn will shape your company culture, and impact the experience the customer has at every point of contact. From your marketing materials, your website, and most importantly what clients tell others when referring your business.
The second part of the question about why you get out of bed every morning, is “why should anyone care?” This question really speaks to the importance of being relevant to your target audience. Remember, the goal isn’t to offer your services to everyone who needs it, but to offer your services to those who believe what you believe. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was how to walk away from clients who did not believe what we believe. In fact, it has become so part of our values, that our home page leads off with why we do what we do.
Next, your messaging needs to clearly communicate how that differentiation will directly benefit your audience. In today’s digital marketing world, there is an ever increasing scarcity of time, so marketing differentiation strategies needs to be increasingly targeted (to the right audience) and increasingly relevant (explicit in how their lives will be improved.)
Videos To Help Kick-Start your Marketing Differentiation Strategies
There is so much more to this line of marketing philosophy. Below are some great videos I’ve compiled to kick-start your thinking about how you can differentiate by thinking about why you do what you do, and thinking about how you shape your business based on that. I recommend watching the videos with an open mind. After all, the issue might not be differentiation, it might be finding a different path altogether and redefining your definition of success.
Start With Why – Simon Sinek
Do What You Like, Like What You Do – Bert Jacobs
Have the balls to follow your dreams – Diana David
In doing some client research I stumbled onto an article that presented 196 questions that business owners should ask themselves when planning a marketing strategy. Yet, there wasn’t a single question related to the business owner asking their customers anything at all, let alone asking the customer what they wanted from the business owner. In previous posts we’ve discussed the importance of differentiation, and how that process should start with asking why you do what you do, and why should anyone care.
Creating a good marketing strategy includes a value proposition that directly maps your points of differentiation (that is, your why) to the client’s needs and desires (their why.) In fact, every marketing optimization strategy emphasizes understanding customer motivation as the most critical factor to success. And the best way to understand client motivation is to ask them.
Marketing Strategies that Go Beyond the Data
In a world of big data and marketing technology solutions, it is so easy to get caught up in the science of marketing strategies and market research, that it is easy to forget the humanity that lies behind the data. But while data can tell you what someone did, it can rarely (if ever) tell you why they did it. Sometimes it is much more powerful (and even easier) to simply ask what the market wants and why.
One of the best techniques, and admittedly sometimes easiest to skip, is actually picking up the phone to talk to real people. It doesn’t have to be a huge focus group. In fact, there are some downsides to doing more formal focus groups, or even informally as a group. Group dynamics introduce a whole set of other factors that need to be accounted for.
Instead, talking to individuals, even if it is just one person is valuable. By taking a personal interest, using dialogue instead of a survey, develops a much more nuanced understanding of the client’s goals, experienced pains, and desired gains. While it must remain in context of being a sample size of one, at minimum the feedback presents a picture of “people like this” which is what developing a marketing persona is about. The other upside is, it create a more intimate knowledge, understanding, and connection with the person you are brainstorming with.
Talk to a Real Persona
While market research and persona development is something that Idea Spring does when helping construct marketing strategies for our clients, the concept of understanding client motivation and asking questions is something business owners should do throughout on-going client interactions.
Successful marketing strategies depend on knowing more than the logical client jobs, goals and tasks. It is equally important, if not more so, to really understand the emotional drivers that underlie those needs. Truly knowing your target audience is a critical key to both gaining and keeping clients.
So how can business owners know what those emotional drivers are? Ask. Develop open-ended questions that help uncover what really matters to your client. Ask questions that expand beyond a direct connection to your business products or services. Often times new opportunities for adding value and differentiating your business and yourself emerge as you gain a more holistic picture of what matters most to your clients.
Below are some questions that can as starting points. The questions should be modified to better reflect your specific business, and the person you are brainstorming with. Frame the questions in context, and in a way that reflects your authentic interest in learning more about the person and their motivation. If you aren’t authentically interested in your clients, it may be time to consider a different line of work.
Go beyond the business-transaction level, and dig deeper to understand the experienced pains and desired gains. Be sure to dig deeper by asking follow-on questions. For example, if someone answers “I don’t know… I guess because we trust you.” Then ask why they trust you. And if they respond with why they trust you, ask what it is about those actions that they correlate with trust.
Some Starter Questions
There are obviously other choices out there, so why do you do business with me / us?
If you could picture us sharing our office space with another firm or type of service that would meet your needs in one place, what would it be?
If I wanted to put on an educational event for my clients, what topics do you think would be interesting enough for you to attend?
What is one thing you’d change about our industry to make doing business with someone like you even easier?
Everyone gets inundated with email these days – what could I provide that would actually be of use to you – that you would actually look forward to getting?
Inbound marketing (like many other buzzword strategies) often initially appear on the scene as “magic shortcuts” to sales and marketing success. While inbound marketing, and in this context, marketing automation is really only effective when it is part of a larger marketing strategy.
It’s often not a traffic problem. Driving traffic is easy. What’s really needed is understanding your target audience well enough to make a compelling offer, and ensuring that your entire (not just inbound) marketing works together.
Outbound marketing, as the article points out, is often categorized as “old school” cold-calling. But when you have a well thought-out marketing strategy all aspects are important. Even though digital marketing means more efficient (and more track-able) marketing – the basics still apply:
Know your audience and what motivates them
Have a clear value proposition
Have content and messaging for each target audience and stage of interest
Make it easy for potential customers to dig deeper and/or reach out when they are ready to engage
Have systems in place to ensure that you can reach out to establish relationships with real interaction (beyond automated-drip marketing.)