Today, we're looking at differentiation and positioning. We'll discuss how to identify attributes of your product, service or business that have high value to your customers. So, without further ado...
Watch the video
This blog was originally a webinar, which you can view here:
The difference between 'sushi' and 'cold dead fish'
Differentiation in marketing is the difference between sushi and cold, dead fish. It's functionally taking the same thing, finding the bit that appeals, telling the right story and targeting it in the right way to the right people.
That's the contribution that we marketing flacks can bring to this.
You bring the sushi-grade fish, right? That's your problem, your requirement as a company. We can't fix bad companies. We can't make great products for them. We can give feedback and advice, but our job is to dress it, present it and get it out to people. So that's what we're talking about here. That key difference.
Be more Subaru
In this video, Sonia Marciano talks about points of differentiation that matter and points that don't.
To summarise the insightful 40-minute video:
High value, high variance attributes is where differentiation happens.
'Sock puppet', but really sweat the things that make a difference as a strategy.
Find a niche market that values those differences. Check this book out on finding your niche in professional services firms.
Make it difficult and expensive for competitors to copy you.
Return on invested capital is her mantra. So we beg you to watch this. It's really fascinating.
Start with why, not what
The second video we recommend is from Simon Sinek. He talks about the 'Why?' behind leadership from a business and a differentiation perspective.
Almost all businesses start with the 'what' when they're talking about differentiation and very rarely the 'why' language.
This is especially true in our world, where we specialise in B2B tech companies. Many organisations talk about things in their language, as opposed to end-user customer language. Starting with why is a really important understanding.
Watch the video and you'll be inspired.
Now, let's get to the juicy bits.
Differentiation for high-flyers
Let's use airlines as our example. Here's some example slogans that don't work:
We haven't crashed in a while is not a great slogan. And you can't really buy airliners from anybody else. It's all utterly undifferentiated.
A very large proportion of B2B tech companies position themselves in this way. We'll give you an example later.
Now, here's some examples that everybody uses:
Our cabin crew are friendly
We have food and drink
It's nice in First Class
There are perhaps 60 percent of B2B tech companies in the cold dead fish, 'our planes don't crash' category. And there's another 20 percent in the 'we give great service, we have nice people, we're very easy to work with' category. Boring, but serviceable.
There are some positions that work better.
Let's look at service innovation.
Look at the size of those seats. They're enormous. That's a service differentiation. It's the first all-business class between New York and Singapore.
Now, let's look at price. Ryanair's the classic example. But, it may be wise to avoid a race to the bottom... only one company can be the cheapest after all.
This is an old advert. They don't have massages anymore. Virgin airlines had a relatively small point of difference but they positioned it really cleverly.
These tiny marginal differences in the service were amplified into a much better experience. And Virgin really stuck it to British Air. But they also did it with style and wit and tone of voice in marketing language.
You can make small differences and amplify them with marketing.
Now, here's a really special example.
NetJets do an amazing job of branding and differentiating themselves for their target audience. If you've got a few hundred thousand pounds and you want to fly 60 hours a year in a private jet, it's cheaper than owning a jet. And it's better than flying first class.
So how do they position that?
It will save you time because you can drive straight from your limo to get on the plane.
You've got a lot more privacy. And that, for some people, is really valuable.
And then they have the safety aspect. They practise various emergencies, and they're recertified.
These adverts, this positioning, is fantastic.
Now, most businesses aren't quite in the niche and cleverness of NetJets, but they have something that matters to their customers more than other things. And most businesses have some point of difference.
So let's now take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Me-too blah blah
It's always good to ask yourself, 'What's the other end of this? What's the opposite of NetJets?' And we're picking on, pretty much at random, an IT company.
On their homepage, they have a banner. Fine. That's normal. And then the first thing they want to tell you as a visitor about themselves is this:
Outsourcing cloud application and consultancy services. Fine. That's the bit that they're selling, but it's still very cold, dead fish, not sushi.
Most IT companies do this.
And then, slightly further down the homepage, we see IT support managed cloud services, cyber-security, business applications, etc. This is also very generic.
Every IT company has some variant of these services. If you do the same thing as everybody else, how do you defend your margins? How do you create a premium product? How do you add value?
All this says is:
'We've got the same as everything else, same stuff as everybody else. And we haven't got a particularly good reason to explain why it's different and why we're better.'
Now, let's talk about what's meaningful.
The great news in the IT sector is that everyone is over here doing me-too stuff. There's scope to be at the other end of the spectrum, doing something really different.
Ripple intranet said;
'We're going to be different. We're going to focus on telling stories. We're going to focus on the people aspect of intranets, how you use them. And we're going to target corporate communications professionals, not IT decision-makers.'
The differentiation also has to be clear. It has to be meaningful and intelligible to the recipient.
Here are two examples of basically the same product:
Apple's sexist, smallest, lightest-weight laptop, the MacBook Air
Over on the left, you've got the MacBook Air. They've really focused on the product features. They actually show you how thin it is.
On the right, it doesn't really show you how thin it is. They just tell you.
What you're saying has to be backed up with some evidence and 'reasons to believe'.
It also has to connect on an emotional level if you can. Tech marketing, is very, very rational brain driven.
And this is a big one.
There's a real fear in tech that if you start specialising and narrowing the target audience, you're going to be reducing the opportunity. But that's not the case. You actually increase your opportunity because you have a better chance of differentiating, and a better chance of defending higher margins if you specialise.
Now, we're going to give you a tool that can help you to unpick all of this.
It's really easy. It's just a sentence.
The persona of your ideal client is something that delivers benefits you can believe in. Here are a few quick examples.
(Not their actual positioning, just an example)
For corporate communications folk in mid-market companies, Ripple Intranet is the easy-to-deploy intranet tool, that helps people express themselves, tell their stories and share what they know because you can get it up and running in a day and add new content in minutes without any special training.
These are tangible reasons to believe, very clear targeting and the rest of the content would flow out of this.
(Not their actual positioning, just an example)
NetJets is a fractional jet ownership company that cuts travel time, improves productivity and ensures your safety and privacy when travelling because you have the plane to yourself, your car takes you to the steps, we do twice as much pilot training as other airlines and we can reach 5000 small airfields that regular airlines don't service.
This is very clear. Pretty much anyone could read that. They're not talking about, "Our jets cruise at 35,000 feet," or, "They go this fast," or anything like that.
For social justice-minded parents in their 30s and 40s, Subaru is the safe SUV, that protects your loved ones because it has a four-wheel drive, better safety features and a stronger protective cage.
And here's how we'd run this exercise for ourselves, which is pretty close to the phrasing we actually use:
For marketing managers and business owners in purposeful B2B tech companies from mid-market to Enterprise, Articulate Marketing is an award-winningmarketing agency that delivers beautiful websites, thought leadership content and marketing strategy and HubSpot consultancy because we're a HubSpot Diamond partner, Investors in People, a certified B Corp and we have 20 amazing, talented marketing experts in the team.
We hope this has been a helpful insight into the world of differentiation and positioning. If you have any questions, please get in touch, set up a meeting or come visit our website. We'd love to hear from you. Have a great day.
[This post was originally published in 2021 and has been updated in 2023.]