At the heart of every brand strategy is a firm’s DNA – what makes them different (i.e. their competitive advantage), and how they are positioned in the marketplace.
But what if your firm simply doesn’t have any differentiators? This article will explore four options for dealing with this common situation.
A. Embrace a new focus or underserved segment of your market. This is the most effective — and difficult — option.
It’s counterintuitive in that it almost always means letting go of one or more client segments in order to build momentum and mind-share in another.
It can pay huge dividends, however. First of all, if you’re currently trying to be all things to all clients, you’re positioned among the broadest possible group of competitors — firms that are all pursuing the same strategy. In contrast, by working to become the leading firm providing certain services to a specific set of clients, you can occupy a truly unique place in your market. Our experience with firms that take this step is that it creates a much faster path to growth.
B. “Own” a trait. Identify an aspect of your business that you would like clients and prospects to associate with your firm. It’s okay if competitors do it too, as long as nobody else is using it in the same way.
For example, you could identify differentiators that are internal within your firm, such as a unique technology or process. Or, if all of your staff share a specific characteristic or credential, or you offer a unique business model, those could be strong differentiators as well. Alternatively, you could differentiate yourself based on specializing in serving clients that are a certain size, share a common characteristic, or offer a particular type of service.
Keep in mind that good brand strategy relies on the cumulative effect of repeated, consistent messaging — so even a trait that may start out sounding a little unusual or awkward, over time develops a familiar ring to it. More importantly, prospects will be more likely to remember the firm and its unique traits.
C. Blend two qualities. This is a mashup of options 1 and 2 above. Select two primary traits, functions, or target markets of your business, and then combine them. You may be able to claim that you are the leader at the intersection of those two things.
For example, an appraisal company might decide to position itself as the “Authorities in Historic Appraisals” — combining the idea of being the leading authorities in their field with a focus on a certain type of property. Such a positioning has the potential for being easy for prospective customers to remember, especially if the company supports it by sharing thought leadership that demonstrates an understanding of the topic that is clearly better or deeper than that of competitors.
D. Maintain the status quo. If you are currently not promoting any differentiators (or promoting weak ones, which amounts to the same thing), the hard truth is that most prospects will remember little if anything about your firm. You probably already know what comes with that: you continue competing in a “sea of sameness,” in which it’s hard to convince a prospect why they should use you instead of the next firm. Because there are so many other firms in essentially your same position, you may be competing mostly on price — which is an undesirable business model, to say the least.
What to do first
If you’re interested in pursuing options A, B or C to develop strong differentiators in support of your brand strategy, you first need to do some research, for several reasons. First, that’s how the most successful firms operate, according to our recent 2017 High-Growth Study, which examined financial, positioning and other qualities of the firms in the top 20% of growth. We found that more than 34% of the fastest-growing firms conduct research as frequently as every quarter, compared to Low-Growth firms that never research. Second, conducting research is a way to avoid having “blind spots” about your market and your place in it. Last but not least, doing research identifies opportunities to specialize and make a name for your firm — and pull away from the crowd.
Some of the topics you can research include:
- What current clients think of you, what you do well, and where you could improve
- What clients’ real concerns are (i.e., problems of the “keeps-me-up-at-night” variety)
- Whether you or your competitors are known for particular services or areas of expertise
- Whether prospects understand all of your capabilities and competitive advantages, or see anything that you do as unique or special
- Which of your qualities or areas of impact your clients value the most (the results are often surprising)
One of the keys to remember is that repositioning a firm doesn’t happen quickly. But if you take a methodical approach to understanding your clients, how they see your firm, and what opportunities exist for positioning your firm, you’ll have much better chance of developing differentiators that really resonate with clients. Doing so will put you in the best possible position — not only to win new business, but also be to seen by clients as a firm that is unique and valued in your field.
To learn more about some of the steps you can take to better position your market firm, I invite you to download our free Marketing Planning Guide.
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