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Value and Differentiation

One of the core ideas that I find myself teaching when I teach strategy to companies is the need to differentiate themselves. Or, in the way that I help frame the conversation: “Why you?”  

In studying differentiation models over the years, I’ve found a couple different POVs on the art of differentiation. 

  • Rosser Reeves taught us about the unique selling proposition which focused on having a strong, unique sales proposition. 
  • Ries and Trout talk about differentiation through the lens of your ability to affectively position yourself around 2 or 3 ideas or words. 
  • Byron Sharp thinks that salience weighs more heavily in customer’s minds than differentiation. 
  • Simon Sinek likes to offer up the idea of Brand Purpose as his way forward. 
  • Mark Ritson talks about relative differentiation. 

I think I’ve settled somewhere in the middle of these points of differentiation because I think your differentiation matters most in relation to the value that you are offering your market and that the competition you are facing is often more diverse than you might realize.  

Let me put some skin to this: 

When I begin the journey of differentiation, I start with the view of the customer.  

Who is your customer?  

This matters because depending on the level of the buyer, the value you offer is going to change, and the context of the purchase changes with it.  

If you are selling to a CEO: that’s a different value proposition than selling to the CMO. 

The EVP of sales is buying something different than a Marketing Manager or a EVP of Marketing.  

This matters because value proposition you offer needs to be entirely different.  

In broad turns, my focus is on helping my clients build strategies that are focused, effective, and profitable.  

In a narrow focus at the buyer level, depending on the person I’m speaking with at the time this might play out as a value proposition of one to the specific buyer I’m talking with.  

Here are some examples from my consulting practice: 

  • Talking with the Managing Director of a technology company looking to enter a new market: my value proposition focused on my knowledge of the market they were entering and my ability to help them find potential partners using my network and platform. 
  • Partnering with the ED of a non-profit, the value proposition I offered focused on managing the board and setting expectations that could help the organization achieve growth, starting by showing the board impact from some new marketing activities that were untested at the time. Then, allowing the organization the opportunity to grow beyond those small, targeted marketing efforts into a more substantial marketing roll out. 
  • Working with a major sports league, we discussed how the point of differentiation for me compared to other potential partners was my global view of the sports business market, my knowledge of best practices from around the world, and my ability translate those ideas into ideas that would work in new markets. 

In all three cases, we see that the value proposition changed to reflect the nature of the conversation and this differentiation was relative to the environment I was operating in.  

I guess this has me sitting down on the side of relative differentiation but I think the differentiation comes in relation to you and the option of not using you. Only after you’ve made the leap from you or nothing do you have to worry about differentiation versus other competitors.  

Does this same thought process work in B2B and B2C or just in consulting?  

In my experience, the answer is yes.  

The status quo is typically the biggest challenge we are dealing with in purchasing and buying decisions.  

This bias to the status quo seems to have only gotten stronger as we’ve moved out of lockdowns in the the current reality.  

Where the smart marketer has an opportunity is due to the fact that there are so many marketers that have drank the “tactification” Kool Aid and can’t recognize that the battle they are fighting is on two levels: 

  • Keeping the status quo.
  • Picking your product or service over another. 

My lessons to folks that are thinking about their value proposition and differentiation: 

  • Begin by recognizing why someone should act now? Is it pain or progress?
  • The decision about you is relative to what? Doing nothing? You or something else?
  • Remember that the status quo is your greatest competitor.