The following is a list of ten common points of differentiation. These aren’t the only possible or desirable areas of differen- tiation. They are basics though, meant to get you started and to prompt you to find additional ways to set yourself apart from your competition.
Differentiation can be unlimited, but it isn’t an end in itself. It should only be done with the purpose of making your company and offerings more recognizable and more desirable to customers.
1. The people behind the product
Set up a team that’s unlike your competitors’. That might mean including people with skills not commonly hired by companies in your field. For example, rather than adding an extra developer, bring on a full-time designer to improve your user interface and upgrade the user experience. That might just be the edge you need to attract and keep new customers.
Feature your team on your website, so it’s clear to every visitor that he or she will be dealing with real, live people – and that people are important to you. Post their pictures on your “about us” page, and include a profile of every one. It can make all the difference to a visitor, knowing who’s behind the scenes at your great company. This human aspect and personal connection can be a huge factor in building customer loyalty.
2. Concept expression
Make sure your concept is clearly expressed, in a vividly clear, pleasantly visual, easily understandable way. Often companies forget there are many people who are visually orientated, and who shy away from reading more than a small amount of text. Most people will understand better if you provide great illustrations, photographs, animations and other visual aids. Be creative, and work out how to illustrate your company’s strengths in a way that can be instantly grasped.
Price is obviously a differentiating factor. Just make sure it’s not the only one you give attention to. DO compare your price model with your competitors’, and optimize your pricing to make it as attractive – and as viable – as possible. Your customers will surely make the price comparison, whether you do or not.
One way for your brand to be unique is through the use of color. For example, compare the logos of fast-food giants McDonald’s and Burger King. Their color schemes are opposites of each other. If you have one primary competitor, take a lesson from the big burger-boys, and make your color scheme distinctly different. At the time we started Billy’s Billing, accounting companies where using all kinds of colors – but most were boring, not inviting. We wanted to create a more friendly and open company culture, and symbolized that to our customers with our fresh blue logo, focusing on our mascot, Billy.
Look at what your competitors are doing, but think for yourself when choosing a name for your new company. Be creative. Don’t be “same old same old.” Choose a name that communicates well, but with a difference that will grab attention all by itself. Most of Billy’s Billing’s competitors have “accounting” or “financial” or “book-keeping” in their names. We decided to go with something different – something relevant, without those same worn-out terms.
Next we added a visually appealing logo that included our mascot. We made sure Billy appeared regularly on the website, always looking friendly and helpful.
People have asked why we chose the word “billing” instead of “bookkeeping.” Simple enough: start-ups and smaller businesses are interested in earning money. The many rules, conventions and details of bookkeeping are of limited interest, at best. Billing is very interesting indeed, though – and everyone is quite enthusiastic about the funds it brings in. We thought the name was catchy, too. So have a lot of customers!
Get away from the “normal” (common, boring) way of doing things, where it’s workable to do so. Even when you must follow standardized procedures or conventions, try to do it with a fresh twist and a new approach. This is part of the concept of disrupting common mindsets, mentioned earlier.
7. Convenience and ease of use
If your idea can solve the same problem that your com- petitors solve, but you do it in a better, more clever, more convenient, easier way, you’ve got an excellent differentiation parameter right there.
8. Specific target group
What is your competitors’ general target group? Try targeting a more specific sub-group. Rather than try to service a huge, general market, it’s often more effective to zero in on a narrower group, and give it specialized and excellent service.
9. New features
Introducing new features into an existing market can instantly differentiate your company and idea. It can even change a whole market, or the way that market is served. Even small functional features can make a huge difference to users in terms of saved time or money. The more obvious and transparent the savings, the better. It’s great to be able to tell potential customers, for example, “You’ll save 25% over your existing solution!”
Differentiate yourself in the way you communicate with your customers. If your communication is more personal, more friendly, simpler, faster and more interest*ed* (rather than trying hard to be interest*ing*) than your competitors’, you have a huge advantage. Communication is very important to your customers. They need to feel that they are important to you, and that they’re dealing with real people.