How To Differentiate When You Have No Differences

How do you differentiate when you don't have any differences to highlight?

Mnet 191815 Manu 1
Andrea OlsonAndrea Olson

Your company makes and sells widgets that are considered a "commodity" in the market. You have many competitors that can quickly and easily produce what you offer, and it's a continual struggle to tell the "we're different and better" story, without it becoming dull, non-impactful and mostly worthless.

How do you differentiate when you don't have any differences to highlight?

You can't win over customers simply by re-emphasizing the same points your competitors are in a LOUDER way. You have the best quality? So do they. You meet XYZ specifications? They do too. Is your product made of the highest grade materials? Theirs are too. The most important thing to remember is that you can't argue your way to convincing someone that what you offer is better, nor can you counter competitor messages by simply saying, "They're lying".

In addition, when you narrow your focus to simply discussing product, you narrow the field of possible differentiation. This causes an increase in pricing pressures, and encourages comparison shopping. Yet there are a few methods for shifting the conversation from the old "features and benefits" to compelling differentiators.

Start with the Big Picture.
The first thing is to step back and examine the big picture — your entire company, rather than just the product you want to push. Do you have stellar customer service? Do you have field technicians with decades of experience? Is there flexible payment options or financing? Identify those elements of the "customer experience" that you have a leg up on the competition, outside of simply your product offering.

Think Outside the Box.
Examine your customers and their challenges — beyond the need for the components you offer. Are there ways to make doing business with you faster/easier/quicker? This can include anything from transparency on active orders, past orders and the status of current orders to intelligent automation of reordering wear parts, and delivering them on site exactly when they need them.

Give Weight to the Experience.
Every company has its limitations, but examine the customer experience process soup-to-nuts. When customers call in with technical questions, are they bounced around to multiple persons? Do they have to wait hours for a call-back? Do they have to make multiple phone calls to resolve a billing issue? Often times, most issues can be addressed with simple process changes and employee training. Poor customer experiences can overshadow even the best of products, causing customers to examine whether they need to find a new vendor. Make sure their experience from beginning to end is flawless as it can be — it's worth its weight in gold.

Even thought you might offer products that "everyone else has", there are ways to communicate and highlight how doing business with your company has its unique advantages. Beating the same drum on how you have a "better product", "just because it's us" isn't going to resonate for the long haul — or attract new customers. Where will your company be in five years without that essential growth?

Andrea Olson is founder of marketing and communications strategic consulting firm Prag'madik.

More in Operations