DIFFERENTIATE OR DIE - MARKETING FOR SME'S
A company has two choices when it comes to building its business. Either it can follow the lead of its competitors, and thus blend into the mass of contending brands cluttering the marketplace. Or, it can make a stand, armed with some bold marketing communications and a clear vision. The former option is a sure route to a steep decline, while the latter, even though involving risk, has the potential to reap great rewards.
TYPES OF DIFFERENCES
The ways your brand differentiates itself from all its competitors should be viewed as an asset and an opportunity for growth and expansion.
There are multiple areas where brands can stand out from the competition:
WHAT A PRODUCT IS
This is the most fundamental form of differentiation within a market. If you cannot successfully compete in a market by producing the same product as your competitor, then find a product you can compete with. This can be seen within the bakery market. Smaller bakers cannot compete with the large players in the market such as Greggs due to economies of scale - they simply can't produce the same product at a lower cost per unit. Smaller bakeries combat this by offering more unique and specialised products such as artisan bread and elaborate pastries that consumers cannot buy in the bigger chains.
WHAT A PRODUCT DOES
Specialising in a particular function of a product allows companies to carve out space for themselves in crowded markets. This can be seen in the motor industry where all manufacturers begin by making a product designed to take you from A to B, then specialise outwards from there. Some cars are designed to emphasise speed, some emphasise how well they perform on rough terrain and some emphasise how safe they will keep your family. The product is the same at its core but the way they function fulfils a completely unique need.
If all cars were designed to be all-round vehicles with no specialisation, the industry would be a lot less technologically advanced in specialised areas and the market would feel a lot smaller!
HOW YOU WILL FEEL
Emotional benefits are a great way to differentiate cheaper products that consumers are likely to buy on a whim. For example, let's take a look at the market for calorie and nutrient-dense food bars you will usually find near supermarket checkouts. There are multiple guises these products can market themselves as, for example;
Power bar - A bar of food that is going to give you a boost of strength and energy throughout the day.
Protein bar - A bar that is going to give you strength, help build muscle and improve performance in the gym.
Breakfast bar - A bar that is going to fill you up and give you energy for the day ahead.
Energy / Granola bar - Bars of food that are going to increase your stamina and endurance throughout the day.
The list could go on with things such as meal replacement bars and diet supplements but the point is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. These bars are all extremely similar products: all serve the function of calorie and nutrient-dense bars of food. What separates them - apart from slight variations in the ratio of macronutrients - is the emotional benefits of consuming a bar of calories and nutrients that they decide to emphasise.
WHO YOU ARE
A more elaborate form of differentiation is the type of person your products are symbolic of. This is most commonly seen in luxury products. Very often, luxury products - especially clothing - provide very similar functional benefits to their less luxurious counterparts. A padded jacket from a high-end designer brand, such as Louis Vuitton, is going to serve an extremely similar purpose as a padded jacket from The North Face: warmth and comfort.
FUNCTIONAL BENEFITS VS EXPERIENCES AND PERSONAL IDENTITY
If a company elects to stand out from its competitors, it is really all about anchoring the differences in their brand to potential benefits. This may have been purely practical in the past, but today customers are much more concerned about how a brand reflects their lifestyles and self-image.
Cheaper impulse products are more successful when they emphasise experience and personal identity in their marketing communications, and products, that are seen as long-term high-value investments, find that marketing emphasises their functional benefits works best.
Learn more about this from our guide to consumer involvement theory!
EXPRESS YOUR DIFFERENCES THROUGH COMMUNICATION
All your marketing efforts should communicate what makes your company unique in the marketplace. They should be geared towards illustrating the experiences that customers desire and defining the type of personal identity that the brand fits into. Don’t fall into the trap of making your marketing and advertising clichéd, and in line with everyone else's. Anchor your communications to innovative, and memorable means of expression.
Constantly look for opportunities to differentiate your brand from the crowd. Once you find this, it is important to authenticate your company, product, or service by linking this difference to a potential benefit for the customer. If you prove your worth, the customers will come.
About the author: Vincent Bissette is a freelance Brand Strategy and Design Consultant with over 30 years experience of branding and rebranding businesses and organisations, systematically, thoroughly and objectively. He has worked in major Design Consultancies as well as having run his own agency for 25 years, working with SMEs all over the UK to help them modernise their brand, grow their business, attract new customers, penetrate new markets and increase their sales, market share and profit. Throughout that time, there’s not much he hasn't done or many industries he hasn't worked in. He’s a creative, strategic thinker and problem solver with a wealth of experience in diagnosing trouble spots in brands and discovering their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Now based in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, he works throughout the entire UK.
Get in touch with him on Linkedin here