When you intentionally differentiate your brand, you get clear on what makes your brand special so that you can best serve your audience.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re in a saturated market/space/category/industry, especially in today’s digital-heavy world. And it’s probably also safe to assume that the question of how to differentiate your brand and business has probably crossed your mind.
While you may understand the importance of setting yourself apart from others in your space, the question that I hear most often is, “Yea, but how?”
Yes, there are a variety of ways to stand out in a crowded space, which makes it a little overwhelming. If you’re in the beginning stages of your brand building, pick one strategy to go all-in on. Then, as you start working with more people and getting more clarity around your brand, you can bring in another strategy with the goal of utilizing all three.
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In This Article
But first, competitor research
Before you decide on a strategy, you first need to understand what else is out there. What differentiating strategies are your competitors using; what are you competing against? And I use that term loosely because there is absolutely enough to go around. However, it’s important to get a clear picture of the market. And it’s not just direct competitors but also indirect ones. Remember, you’re not just differentiating against other businesses but also other options the potential client may take to solve their problem.
By getting clear on the overall space you’re operating within, you can see where the gaps are in the market. This allows you to step in and fill that gap, ideally utilizing one of the three strategies we’ll outline next.
Sidenote that needs to be said: please do not differentiate yourself solely on price. What I mean by that is, do not put all your differentiation eggs in the lowest price [whatever service you offer] basket. Because, at the end of the day, there will always be someone who is willing to offer the same service for less money. And that’s not a battle you want to be the winner of. As a business owner, your goal is to make a sustainable income so that you can continue to serve and have a positive impact on your community. If you aren’t making any money, you can’t sustain your business – and how does that benefit your audience?
Strategy one: ideal client
If you’ve read even a handful of other WCO blog posts, it may come as no surprise that ideal client differentiation is strategy number one. Because, around here, we believe understanding who you serve is always, always the first step.
Whether you’re brand new to the business ownership world or you’ve been at this a few years or decades, not being for ‘everyone’ is a great strategy.
The idea of utilizing ideal clients as your differentiator means you’re specializing in a certain type of client. The benefit is that you get to be known for serving that audience and can go all-in on providing them with great value, support and offerings. The downside of this strategy is that anyone can jump in and also claim they specialize in that particular market or group of people. The other downside is that it can be a little more challenging to branch out when a certain audience is what you’re known for. I.e., you provide coaching for wedding photographers but you now want to integrate nature photographers as well; you may come across pushback that sounds like, “But aren’t you the wedding photographer coach?”
This is a great option if, during your research phase, you see a glaringly obvious gap in who is (and is not) being served in your market/industry/space/category.
Strategy two: packaging and offers
This strategy is all about differentiating based on the structure of your service and/or offering. For example, let’s say you’re a marketing strategist and most competitors offer monthly retainers for clients. You can then decide to differentiate and do day-long intensives or yearly programs as a way to separate your brand from others.
What you’re doing here is specializing in the delivery method of your services which may allow you to serve a different type of audience – you’re not necessarily focusing on a certain industry or stage of life but rather a person who wants to work with your delivery style.
The benefit of differentiating this way is that you can own a particular style of service and become known for working that way.
The downside is that others can adopt or integrate that style within their own work if it becomes more mainstream.
This is a great option for you if you’re seeing most competitors in your space having a similar delivery style and you want to operate differently, without compromising the client’s end-result.
Strategy three: framework or process
Last, but certainly not least, is differentiating your brand by providing a solution based on a unique-to-you framework or process. You get to own the process for solving the problem based on your intellectual property.
I’m going to assume that in your space, there is a standard for deliverables and/or expectations of what’s included to get a client from A to B. What this strategy is all about, then, is customizing the roadmap that gets a client from A to B, based on the specific steps that you have created.
The end result may be the same, or very similar, as your competitors, but the way you get there is 100% unique to you and your brand, which also makes the results equally as unique
For example, in the branding space there is a standard of deliverables that a client can expect to receive when working with a brand designer. Whether they hire WCO or another studio, there is a 99.9% chance they’ll walk away with a primary logo, logo variations, brand colors and font recommendations. However, what they won’t get anywhere else is our specific Brand Authority Method – our unique process that leads to the deliverables of a primary logo, logo variations, fonts and colors. So yes, the deliverable may be the same but the results are vastly different because of the framework, the process, the method.
The benefit of this strategy is that, as I’ve already stated, it’s 100% unique to your brand. No one else can copy it (well, they could but they probably wouldn’t get the same results because it’s yours, you own it, you created it, it aligns with your brand). The downside is that it takes a little (or a lot) of upfront work to determine what your process, framework, method is for getting results.
This is a great option if you’re wanting to put your spin on common-knowledge in your industry and really step into that thought leadership space.
A few closing thoughts
Differentiation, like everything else in the brand-building process, isn’t something that you will necessarily know right out of the gate. But as you work with clients, be intentional about asking them their perspective on what makes your brand, your work, different. And it’s okay if your key differentiator changes over time – as you grow and evolve, so will your brand. Remember, the goal here is to be intentional about how you want your brand to be perceived and consistent in communicating that desired perception.
Need additional branding resources?
Walk through four steps on how to strategically position your brand with ease.
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Read how to create a brand that feels right by focusing first on strategy.
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