Principles of Marketing - Differentiate
The D-word = Differentiate
This is one of the first Principles of Marketing – Differentiate a person should learn.
When I was in college working on my Marketing and Advertising degree, one of my professors held a quiz on core marketing principles every single day at the start of class.
One of those quiz questions was:
What is the D-word, and what does it mean?
Answer – Differentiate.
What does it mean?
Answer – To set yourself apart from your competitors in a clear and meaningful way.
There is an old business book that is actually named Differentiate of Die!
The rest of this article is about the importance of setting yourself apart from the pack, and how to differentiate yourself clearly and in a meaningful way.
Why is Differentiation Important In Marketing
Back when I began my education in marketing and advertising, the internet was very new.
Differentiation mostly referred to branding, logos, messaging on television, radio, billboards, direct mail, etc.
Even then, people discussed how difficult it can be to stand out from the crowd.
But today, there are nearly Two Billion websites on the internet (as of 2022).
But that isn’t the whole story either.
There are also nearly three billion Facebook Accounts
There are 1.36 Million Instagram Accounts and 732 Million TikTok Accounts.
There are 2.3 Billion Youtube Accounts.
When you think about standing apart from the pack, you need to think about massive the pack has become.
When you are competing for people’s attention with your marketing, you aren’t just competing against the shop next door any more.
You aren’t even only competing with your competitors or other businesses.
Today you compete with an endless array of individuals and influencers who are prolific marketers.
Now only that, but if anyone on the internet see’s you do something interesting, they will copy it in seconds.
I see this in particular on TikTok – if something seems clever, pretty soon EVERY TikTok reel influencer copies it for their audience.
But if you want to succeed in business, your marketing must differentiate you from everyone else around you.
If it doesn’t, you’ll just look like another copycat.
That is why this is one of the top Principles of Marketing – Differentiate
Differentiation Determines The Price
When all things are equal, and all information is known, then lowest price will be the deciding factor.
How about that?
If everyone looks the same, and nobody stands out clearly, then lowest price will always win.
Do you want to command a premium price for what you do?
Then you must stand out clearly and in a meaningful way.
Otherwise, if everyone offers pretty much the same thing, then price is what will win.
It's Hard to Differentiate on Service
Lots of business marketers think they are going to set themselves apart based on service.
This is really difficult to do.
One, people EXPECT good service. They don’t think it makes you special. They believe it is part of being in business at all.
So if you are going to try and differentiate on service, you must provide UNMATCHED SERVICE.
And remember the other part – it must be clear and it must be meaningful.
So if you want to set yourself apart based on service, then your service level needs to be so absurdly over the top, that people rave about it.
It must be CLEAR that your service is different than everyone else.
Why? Because everyone claims to have unmatched customer service.
No, they don’t.
Most people suck at customer service.
But this makes it even harder.
Because so many make this claim, and fall down on it, people are skeptical when they read it online.
How can you make this work?
Social Proof – if you want to differentiate on service, you should have tons and tons of testimonials about it on your website, on Google,, and everywhere else.
Everywhere people look, they should be seeing people testifying on your behalf about your over-the-top customer service.
Otherwise, don’t expect to use service as a way to set yourself apart.
Principles of Marketing – Differentiate. It isn’t just a good idea. It is a core marketing principle.
So How Do You Differentiate and Set Yourself Apart?
If you are asking this question, then you are on the right path.
This question should dominate your mind and attention.
You should be thinking about it all of the time.
And until you have an answer, or develop one, you should be nervous about your marketing and the long term viability of your business.
To start off, don’t assume you have a clear or compelling differentiator.
Instead, ask yourself if anything about you or your company is TRULY special?
Don’t make up vague differentiators to ease your mind.
Be ruthless. People are going to judge you. Get used to it.
So if you are going to be judged, how can you set yourself apart in a way that is clear – and – compelling?
I like the idea of assuming the ways you think you are different aren’t that special.
Because if you know you aren’t special, and you aren’t clearly different or better than the rest of the pack, then you know what you should be spending your time on – becoming better, faster, more stylish, better quality, superior materials, more fun experience, etc.
What most marketers do is sit down and try to figure out what they are already doing that is special, and then highlight it.
This is how you end up with consultants telling you that you are different because you are you.
And although this is absolutely true – is it compelling?
If it isn’t, then who cares that you are you?
Rather than trying to “fluff up” how you area different already (when chances are you aren’t), instead, focus on building differentiation into your product or service.
Don’t try to figure out how you are different – MAKE YOURSELF DIFFERENT.
Look at your business, and think: How can we approach our products or services in a way that TRULY adds value, not “kind of ” adds value.
And you’ll know. If you have to have your marketing department “spin” what you do to “sound” compelling, then you are on the wrong track.
You shouldn’t have any trouble at all explaining how you are different.
This is especially true if you set out to build differentiation into everything you do.
So if you find yourself struggling at all to explain how you are different, then you aren’t different.
And you need to fix it – Principles of Marketing – Differentiate.
How To Be Different
There are so many ways you can set yourself apart. Here are just a few:
- Satisfaction Guaranteed or your Money Back
- Superior Materials
- Superior Knowledge
- Special Proprietary Technology
- Superior Technology
- Speed to Completion
- Results You’ve Achieved for Clients
- Low Cost Provider
- Premium Product or Service
- Luxury Product of Service
- Best Value For The Money (this is most difficult to achieve)
- Your Story (Why You Do What You Do)
- Your Mission (Why you are doing what you are doing or who benefits)
- The Way You Approach What You Do
- Time in Business – especially if you have been around longer than everyone else
- Social Causes You Support
- Your Hobbies or Background (Stay Wild Gets a Lot of Business From the Outdoor Community Because We Are Outdoor People
- Local Knowledge or In Some Places, Just Being Local
- Promise – (Always On Time Or It Doesn’t Cost A Dime)
- Superior Customer Service (But It Must Be True)
- Unique Design (this is why Apple is Apple)
- Most Professional Provider (this is especially relevant in in services like landscaping, construction, lawn care, movers, Etc.)
How to Present Your Differentiator
When you figure out what you are doing to separate your self on, The next thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to present that information on your website.
Here is what most website content sounds like when you read it:
“We are the leading supplier of blah blah blah, for the blah blah blah, and we pride ourselves on blah blah blah and we look forward to blah blah blah for all of your blah blah blah needs.”
Your existing website probably sounds like this. It isn’t unusual.
If you are truly different, then make sure you talk like it.
People who are truly different, make sure you understand it right away.
They don’t bury their differentiation under geek speak.
Here Are Some Helpful Writing Tips:
- Get Clear – If you aren’t crystal clear about how your business is different, the rest of these tips won’t work. In fact, most of the problems people have with their messaging is caused by lack of clarity. Lack of clarity causes lots of writing errors.
- Write in Plain Language. Don’t ever use a $100 word when a $5 word will do.
- Get Your Fighters Fighting – Don’t bore me to death reading stuff I don’t care about. Get to the action! Get straight to the point. Make sure you put the most important thing a person should know about you FIRST. Don’t bury it in “fluff.”
- Economy of Language – NO EXTRA WORDS – Use the LEAST amount of words possible to explain how you are different, and why anyone should care.
- Add Value – Once you’ve made clear how you are different, make sure you follow that up with plenty of information. Tell me some things I didn’t know. Give me some tips on how I might do what you do for myself. Entertain me while I am reading your boring business information (people love to be entertained).
Summary - Principles of Marketing - Differentiate
Differentiate of Die – Not just a catchy and evocative book title.
There are SO many people competing for other people’s attention.
It has never been more difficult to stand out from the rest of the pack.
But if you don’t focus on this principle of marketing and figure out how to differentiate yourself in a way that is both clear and compelling, your business will suffer. Especially online.
Make sure you get clear about how you are different.
If you aren’t clear about how you are different, then you probably aren’t different.
And that’s all right. Build your differentiator into your business, and then make sure everyone who visits your website is clear about it.
We hope you have enjoyed this article on Principles of Marketing – Differentiate. If you have other ideas or methods for differentiating yourself, please comment.
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About the Author – Tim Vanderkamp is Co-Owner of Stay Wild Digital Marketing, a Website Design Company based in Salt Lake City. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org