The four golden rules for differentiation

by Stefano Dughiero on 02/17/2015

Raise your hand if you’ve never thought that one of your ideas or products was completely different from anything else in the world. I’m pretty certain that all your hands stayed down. It’s completely normal – it’s part of our nature, and it’s a common way of tackling problems and challenges.

On the other hand, the concept of differentiation is one of the principles that marketing professionals must always place at the foundation of any strategic or operational plans.

So then why do we so often find ourselves looking at so many products that all end up seeming the same? And – something that interests us much more – why is conveying our conviction that our product is different (and, of course, better) one of the most complex parts of our marketing efforts?
The answer is simple: when analyzing differentiation, we let ourselves be guided by our advance bias about our product, which makes it difficult for us to evaluate it objectively and systematically.

In order to shift our analysis back into a more structured context, it can be helpful to follow a path guided by well-defined rules. Based on the specific situation, sometimes we need to use all of these rules, and at other times only a few. In the latter case, it’s still always a good idea to evaluate whether this exclusion is based on actual need or once again on our bias.

  • Identify your reference market
    This is a crucial step that often isn’t given the appropriate consideration, and it answers the questions: who am I, what is my product?
  • Study your competitors in that market to understand where you can introduce innovation
    Many times this analysis isn’t even sketched out, because people start with the assumption that their idea or product is completely different from any other. But watch out: if there are no competitors, it means there’s no market (with all the consequences that this statement brings with it).
  • Fulfill a need that hasn’t yet been met
    It’s not easy to identify the problems that haven’t yet found adequate solutions, but it’s by working on this that you’ll increase your chances of success.
  • Have the courage to adjust your initial ideas to results
    This analysis must be done completely objectively, and this includes facing the risk of needing to address situations that create a need to change strategies that seemed clearly defined.

Each of these subjects merits much more in-depth discussion. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that by starting to reflect on these four rules it’s possible to get some good starting points right from the beginning for crafting a winning differentiation strategy.

Image: Ines Hegedus-Garcia.

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How to categorize competitors to your advantage | Pro Gamma's blog
03/11/2015 at 4:36 PM

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1 Ted Giles 02/17/2015 at 6:42 PM

Completely agree. Too often people are disappointed when their “next big thing” fails to take off. What you need is the daily dose of reality to keep you focussed, and for that you need a mentor. Not to squash your ideas, but to remind you to ask the right questions.
I have been involved in some stats work to see if a solution is possible for a global problem. The issues are known, the market is there, the calculations can be made, but noone has come up with a reliable product at an affordable price. In this instance it’s like the saying “don’t try and teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig”. The output is beyond a lot of users comprehension so they would make incorrect judgements based on the results. People who would understand are not in this profession. The ones who could use the output are earning a good living based on local knowledge so they don’t really need it.
The question I was asked by a very senior government cabinet minister when pitching a new system went like this;
“Good afternoon. Now I don’t know who you are, what your company does what you can do for me or why you are here in front of me”.
So I decided right then to make sure potential customers knew more about my business before we met.

With a lot of “presentation tap dancing”, we got the job, and a valuable lesson as well.

2 Stefano Dughiero 02/18/2015 at 9:22 AM

@Ted. I definitely like the “daily dose of reality” concept. And I also agree that there should be someone helping you to find the right direction.
In this particular case I realized that the best option would be that this “mentor” is a third party, the more authoritative and the less involved directly in your business the better.
This, in my opinion, allows both to avoid biases and to have quick solutions to any internal disputes.

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