Four Important Points on Differentiation
When your value proposition is clear, and it connects with client need, then the odds of that client selecting you, your firm, or your product increases. When the value proposition is both clear, and experienced (i.e., you deliver what the value proposition promised) then your clients are more likely to share and champion your business.
I spend a lot of time focusing on differentiation. Differentiation is certainly not the only factor for success. Timing, team, business model, and funding are all important to a greater and/or lesser extent. Differentiation is incredibly important for all businesses, but especially so for service businesses that rely heavily on referral and word-of-mouth.
Here are some main principles and beliefs I hold about differentiation:
- Differentiation must be authentic and aligned with your core values.
- Differentiation must be both articulated in a way that aligns with client need.
- Differentiation must be aligned with the client experience.
- Both the articulated and experienced differentiation needs to be easy to share.
Aligned with Values
To be briefly philosophical, I personally believe that this starts at the very personal level of an individual owner or entrepreneur. In other words the exploration of one’s purpose on this planet. It may sound a bit cliche, but reflecting on those ‘meaning of life’ questions often influence the decisions about the type of business we run, and the corporate culture we establish.
Having authentic and sustainable points of differentiation requires serious and honest reflection of one’s self and the corporate culture. Unfortunately, these are tasks often left undone because they fall into the “Important but Not-Urgent” quadrant of time.
As an aside, this is one advantages that startups have over larger mature organizations. For existing organizations, changing corporate culture is one of the hardest feats to undertake. It is far easier for new organizations to do the work upfront to define the desired and authentic culture. Once defined, it is easier to hire the right cultural fit, instead of trying to get existing personnel to bend to a new culture.
Aligned With Client Motivation
When it comes to articulating value-proposition, understanding client motivation is critical. I am still occasionally surprised when we have clients that want help with their marketing and strategy, but they don’t want to spend time in discussion or discovery about what really motives their clients.
Often these clients are looking for silver-bullet solutions, or jumping straight into the technical aspects of marketing tactics or creative design elements. For example, looking for the “magic” frequency of social media posting, or the right Search Engine Optimization (SEO) approach, etc. However, as important as mapping out client values and motivators is — it is still only one part of a much larger equation.
Aligned with Client Experience
The first part of having corporate-client aligned value propositions is then to take both the branding and messaging, and incorporate that into every aspect of the client experience. Any physical item that the customer sees, hears, touches, smells, or tastes should all be thought of as “marketing.” Every customer ‘touch-point’ or interaction should be evaluated and aligned to maximize customer value.
If your points of differentiation do not genuinely flow out of your personal and corporate values, then at best those “unique” attributes will not be sustainable. At worst they will be uncovered as inauthentic. When you have a deeper understanding of “why” you do what you do, then your clients will experience your points of differentiation because they will flow naturally from your core values.
The last part to touch on, but no less important, is the ‘communicability’ or clarity of your value proposition statement. There are a number of scientific reasons why this is so important, but that is likely the topic of a different post. However, the point here is that if you cannot articulate your value proposition clearly, neither can your clients.
Of course the definition of ‘articulated easily’ can be expanded to include not just the clarity of wording – but how easy it is for your clients to share. Some of the other factors of custom decision include attributes such as friction, incentive, and anxiety. From a conversion optimization perspective, these attributes are applied to getting the customer to take initial action. However, you can apply the same evaluation to the sharing of your business or product. Find ways to increase incentive, decrease the friction (how easy it is to easily share your business or refer clients), and reduce the anxiety related to doing so.
I believe that some of the philosophical questions we have with our clients are equally important (if not sometimes more so), as the actual marketing materials, logos, and websites we create. Of course it can be easy to get too caught up in the altruistic and romanticized version of who we think we are and what we want to be. At some point these efforts have to surface into tangible branding, messaging, and processes. But when points of differentiation are authentic, and those points connect with authentic client need, then branding, messaging, and strategy comes much easier.