Leveraging Differentiation In The Marketplace


Business today is more competitive than ever. Technology advances have made barriers to entry lower and lower as far as starting a business today. Some of the most successful businesses have carved out their spaces using powerful differentiation that articulates their unique capabilities, products, and services. Warren Buffett often talks about one of the criteria he looks for when investing in a business is the width of the protective “moat” that is built around that business which keeps it safe from innovative disrupters in the industry and other strong competitors. Let’s face it, market share adds up to 100% and unless the total pie gets larger, when one company’s market share goes up, competitors’ share goes down.


Talking this through is much easier than conceptualizing and then executing a differentiating strategy that is successful in building that moat around your business. The first place you must win this strategic battle is in the mind of your prospective customer. Your customer’s mind is constantly under attack with information, in fact, more information has been produced in the last thirty years than in the previous five thousand years of human history. More than four thousand books are published around the world daily and every day, the Internet grows by one million electronic pages per day. So, it’s pretty noisy out there when you are trying to gain attention for your business.


All this means is, we have to be even smarter when trying to gain precious real estate in the minds of our prospective customers. Taking into consideration the noisy messaging environment, we must also look at principles of how our minds process information. It happens through our perceptions and our perceptions are selective plus our memory banks have a limitation to the number of stimuli we can retain. This means if you are competing in a tough, crowded category, your singular difference might not even be enough to stick with them unless it’s a real dramatic difference.


Human beings rely on learning more heavily than any other species that has ever existed. Learning is the way humans and animals acquire new information. Memory is the way they retain that learning over time. Memory isn’t just your ability to remember a phone number or your address; it’s a dynamic system we use in all aspects of thought processing. We play games through memory. We use memory to see. We use memory to understand languages. We use it to find our way around in the world. Minds absolutely hate confusion, so the best way to enter the mind is through oversimplifying the message as much as possible.


Because business owners and managers often operate from fear of loss such as leaving money on the table, they want to tell your prospective customers about everything they can do and the multitude of problems they can solve. This creates confusion in the mind of the prospect, because rarely will they have all those problems at once. In addition, they also wonder if you do all those things; you may not be good at any one thing. In other words, you are perceived on average as a “one-stop shop” rather than an excellent specialist. Would you go to a family practitioner if you needed brain surgery? I doubt it. If there’s a way to finding that simple set of words to trip a prospects trigger, it is to be ruthless about how you edit the story you want to tell.


Focus comes from elimination, not addition. You must be relentless about taking things away until you get down to the absolute core of your business. Eliminate anything others could claim as well as you can. Eliminate anything that requires complex analysis to prove. Boil it down to a place where your business is the only one who can make the claim. Be the specialist; focus on one product, one benefit, and one message. This focus allows you to put a sharp point on the message that quickly penetrates the mind of people you want to do business with you.


Finally, taking the position of the specialist now gives you the possibility of gaining the position of the expert or the best. Prospects think, “If that’s all they do, they must do it really well.” If you are really good at this, you have the possibility of becoming the generic for your category. Tissues are referred to as a Kleenex. Copies are called Xeroxes. Watching a movie online is called “Let’s Netflix something.” This is something only a differentiated specialist can do and one-stop shops can’t.

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