In Business Communication, the first step of a marketing strategy consists in defining the voice or persona of the company. In order to achieve at the end of this process a strong and defining brand identity, it is very important for the business to understand what sets it apart from the competition, and how to leverage these differences.
Differentiators are the main driver of a value proposition and brand identity, because they are the piece of information that is most easily retained by prospects: many businesses claim to be leaders in their industry, but the one with facts to prove it will ultimately be the winner, leveraging a real differentiator to appeal to customers. The nature of a differentiator in itself is not particularly important as long as the difference is clearly explained: technical features, customer service, business model, experience and pricing are all potentially valid starting points for the definition of a differentiator.
Some market research on the competition is required in order to verify the validity of what is perceived as a differentiator inside the company; it is recommended to perform what Gartner has defined as the “Competitor Swap Test” to double-check the effectiveness of the messaging concerning the differentiator. This simple tests consists in swapping your brand’s name with the competition after the first draft of your message: if the message still rings true, a real differentiator has not yet been identified.
Once your messaging has passed this test, the next step consists in matching the right differentiator with the most responsive audience. Typically, a technical feature setting a product apart from the competition will resonate better with a technical audience, project managers will be interested in the details of support and customer service, while the CFO is likely to focus on business model and pricing. Tailoring communication to the audience is particularly important, especially when a certain degree of technical skill is required to be able to fully appreciate the value of a technical differentiator: the risk of a mismatch or “information overload” is a loss of interest from the prospect, if too much effort is required to understand the value proposition.
Finally, a word of caution is necessary about planning to use pricing as a main differentiator. While the cost/value ratio is certainly important when taking business decisions, a brand relying solely on price as a differentiator or for its value proposition is vulnerable in terms of reputation and attacks from the competition. Unless the lower pricing is the result of a groundbreaking business model, it is not intrinsically difficult to compete on price: the most valuable differentiator is one that cannot be duplicated (hence the value of patents).
While finding the perfect differentiator for every pitch might require some work, the results are typically rewarding: solving real customer problems in a unique way is an excellent starting point for a well-structured and comprehensive value proposition.