News Post

Branding secret: why differentiating yourself is not working


The term “differentiate” has been a pretty popular term in business lately.  It’s a concept that companies, both big and small, are struggling to master.  Just about every business seems to be employing experts and firms to help them stand out against an oversaturated global market.  

The trouble is, almost every business is already different.  You’d be hard pressed to find two companies who are identical in products, services, platforms, marketing, pricing, etc.  Being different alone, doesn’t necessarily mean attention; and attention, doesn’t always mean conversion.

The day before I teach a class on branding, I always post a Q&A on social media asking for bonus material they’d like covered.  I received so many questions and comments on the topic of differentiation, I decided to add an entire section to the class.  

For those of you not able to attend, here are the highlights and key take-aways:

1.   What is differentiation?

In order to understand why differentiation alone does not work, first you must understand what it is.  Differentiation is a marketing or branding term used to describe a unique selling proposition.  That thing or set of things that makes their company or products different than others.

2.   Why isn’t it working?

By all accounts, being “different” is a great way to get noticed.  The catch is, as a business owner, you don’t JUST want to get noticed. Small businesses spend a small fortune in time and money to gain CUSTOMERS, not just attention!

In order to turn a stranger into a loyal customer, you need to do more than just be different.

Let’s use an utterly ridiculous example to illustrate. Picture it. You are at the grocery store.  You arrive at the egg display and there you see a huge promotion for colored eggs. The sign reads, “New Product: Rainbow Eggs”.  I don’t know about you, but aside from Easter, I’ve never seen rainbow shelled eggs, so it definitely meets the “differentiating” criteria.  

But how many of us would break faith with our trusted egg brand to try this new product? Unless it was on an unreal discount, how many of us would throw away all the time we spent finding an egg brand that is cage free, free range, no hormone, steroid, GMO, LMNOP? Most of us would stop, read the very expensive advertisement display and then reach for our usual brand. On a whim, you may buy one carton and by the next week, you’re back to your usual brand.

In a nutshell, that is what differentiating does for you.  It makes people pause, muse, and move on.  In a worst case scenario, simply being off the wall is just seen as weird.

3.   What does work?

Earlier I said that being different alone wasn’t enough. In order to capture loyal customers, you need to Supereminate. Yes, I did just make up that word. Supereminate comes from the term “supereminent”, meaning rising above.  Creating loyal customers is all about adding value to your distinguishing traits.  It’s not just how you separate yourself from your competition, it’s how you elevate yourself from the competition. Supereminating is about answering the questions “who cares? and “why do they care?”.

Let’s revisit our “egg-sample”.  

Let’s change the messaging that comes with this same differentiating quality of rainbow colored eggs.  What if the advertising said “Never lose an eggshell again!”?  What if the shell color changed back to white when boiled, so you could tell the difference between boiled and raw eggs in the fridge? What if the color was a by-product of extra vitamins added to the eggs?

When you add value to a differentiating property, you are now on the hunt for a target market of loyal customers. It doesn’t mean everyone will now convert to rainbow colored eggs, but it does mean that the people who struggle with crunchy pancakes or can never tell boiled from raw eggs now have a solution they can buy…  and not just once, but repeatedly.  

When you find a stranger that understands what you do, values how you do it, and trusts that you are the authority on how it’s done, you’ve got a loyal customer on your hands.