You be you: the importance of differentiation in your messaging 

When it comes to marketing, it’s an unfortunate truth that competitors in an industry tend to adopt similar collateral. Think of banking ads in the last 10 years and you’re probably imagining a green easy chair or a pair of rain galoshes, both intended to symbolize the comfort and simplicity of their services. More recently, in the same sector, we’ve seen the rise of stylized animals or other creatures that act as friendly mascots. While the impulse might be to look, feel, and communicate the same as your competitors (but better), it’s far more effective to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. 

About differentiation

Differentiation is the marketing strategy of differentiating your product or service from that of other competitors in the marketplace. We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of how this works below, but the idea is to showcase your unique selling proposition (USP) to appeal to your target audience. 

The role of differentiation

Differentiation is crucial if you want to retain your customer base, generate repeat customers, or stay relevant over time—all of which are integral to your continued business success. 

Let’s start with customer retention. Here’s an area that is often and easily forgotten in favour of trying to attract new customers but the fact is, an increase of 5% in this area can translate to a profit increase of 25% to 95%. Additionally, retaining existing customers is cost-effective; it can cost up to five times more to acquire a new customer. Obviously, if you’re going to capture repeat business, those customers will have to remember you, an impossible goal if you look, sound, and appear exactly like your competitors. 

Building brand loyalty and equity (the way customers feel about and respond to your brand) is another key task for differentiation, one that can have positive effects on your market share, prices, and profitability. Think about the choice consumers make when they decide whether to buy an iPhone or Android. With prices and features being similar, this decision often comes down to brand loyalty. And, because these brands are effectively differentiated—Apple leverages design and a luxury feel while Android capitalizes on a DIY and independent ethic—both can charge high prices for their products. Another consumer example is butter.. How do you choose which brand of butter to buy? Many buyers don’t know what the different butter brands stand for, so they choose based on price. This is the same for B2B brands—if buyers cannot easily discern what’s better about you than your competitors, they’ll pick based on price.

The bottom line is that while we often see competitors in the same industry with similar marketing—everything from graphic design and imagery to copy and messaging—this is not an effective long-term strategy. It’s far better to be an innovator, not an imitator. Here’s how you can educate consumers about your offering while setting yourself apart from your competition. 

How to differentiate your brand

By now you’re probably convinced that you have to differentiate your brand, but where do you start? 

  • Define your positioning

    Before you can communicate why a potential consumer should choose your product or service, you’ll need to identify your unique selling proposition. A USP is the factor that makes your offering different and better from the competition, and defining it can often take a bit of creativity. For the best results, you’ll need to understand your customers and what drives their buying behaviours, including their underlying reasons. You should be able to clearly articulate what your offering is, who your target customer is, and what benefit you offer to that customer. (Need help? Email us! We have a workshop just for this.)

  • Design your look

    Everything from your logo to your website to packaging or marketing materials are opportunities to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Resist the urge to copycat and try to stand out.

  • Clarify your messaging

    Key messages are main ideas about your brand aimed at your target customers. At their most effective, they are concise, strategic, relevant, compelling, simple, memorable, relatable, and tailored. 

No matter your industry, it’s better to be a leader than a follower. Differentiating your brand is a necessary part of establishing your position and attracting customers—new and repeat—to your offerings.