Find the Right Marketing Differentiators for Your Business
How to use marketing to separate yourself from the competition
Marketing is supposed to generate leads and new clients. It’s supposed to make people searching for your product or service choose to purchase from you instead of the competition. But marketing isn’t a vacuum, and you have to assume your competition is marketing just as much, or more, than you are.
So if you and your competition are marketing to the same prospects, how are you supposed to win new business?
We all like to think the simple act of marketing is enough to generate sales. And to some extent that’s true. But growth, improvement, and beating out competition requires more.
Your marketing has to separate you from and set yourself above your competition.
Let’s explore how you can do that.
All marketing is not created equal…For you
Every business has access to the same marketing activities that you do. Everything from email to paid advertisements are at your fingertips, and it can certainly be tempting to think that more will make you better.
After all, marketing where your competition isn’t should give you a leg up, right?
Unfortunately, all marketing is not created equal for your business. Depending on your industry, product/service, budget and resources, certain activities may be out of reach or simply not generate enough ROI compared to other options.
That’s why it’s very important to understand the difference between each type of marketing activity, including:
- What resources they require
- Their ROI
- How long they take to generate ROI
- What audiences they are ideal for
Before we get into individual activities, let’s talk about how to make your marketing yours.
That original question of how your marketing can set your business apart from and above the competition? This is how.
Your marketing needs to do more than highlight pain points, solutions, or products. That’s what all your competition is doing. You need to make your marketing unique by highlighting the one of a kind aspects of your business.
Here are some ideas about what you can highlight that sets your business apart:
- Approach to providing service or developing products
- Highlight your people
- Special interests
- Community organizations
There are a lot of approaches to implementing these ideas into your marketing content. Some things, like your culture or your unique approach, can be subtly introduced into how you talk about your products or services. Other ideas, like your staff, special interests, or philanthropic activities can be shown in newsletters, social media or your website
The main idea here is that you want your audience to walk away with more than what services or products you sell. Part of improving your sales and marketing is establishing a brand that prospects recognize.
Highlighting different types of information and content through newsletters benefits your mainline marketing as well, with 31% of B2B marketers believing newsletters the most effective way to nurture leads.
By highlighting more than what you do you are able to form a relationship with prospects. Giving them information about the why of your business, or showing them your team, or just sharing some fun stuff that happens in and out of the office can leave an impression that promotes brand recognition.
It’s easy to see marketing as a numbers game, but to truly set yourself apart from the competition you have to provide a human element to your business.
Leading with culture
The best way to find your unique marketing angle is to take a look around your office.
You’ve no doubt spent a lot of time refining the culture of your business. Your leadership, new hires, core values, service standards and even how your office is laid out all contributes to your culture.
And culture sells.
It’s a bit cliche, but think about your Googles or Apples. These silicon valley businesses redefined the modern office. They put culture at the center of everything. We all know the cliche Google office that has a bunch of amenities and fun stuff to do. Apple at this point treats their offices as another thing they regularly market.
We know very few businesses can put this level of care or attention on their office culture. But your culture still differs from anyone else’s, and it can be used to augment your marketing.
Here are some ideas to help you naturally incorporate your culture into your marketing:
- Identify which of your core values are outward-facing
- Consider how you talk about what you do and try to infuse it with language that aligns with your culture
- Find space on your emails or website to highlight social events and employees
- Put on small digital events every quarter that promote direct interaction with your business, like raffles or webinars
- Emphasize the focus on culture/staff on your preferred social media channels
Since no two businesses’ cultures are the same, this is always an inside track for you the separate yourself from the competition.
Defining your edge
When you’re marketing is all about what your business does, it’s all too easy for prospects to lump you and your competition together. What our businesses do isn’t all that unique. We’re a part of larger industries that are all doing the same or similar things.
When you are marketing against your competition, you have to highlight more than what you do. You gotta highlight how you do it.
Let’s take a look at an example of this.
Cariuma and Allbirds shoes are both marketing to the same people. The style of their shoes are very similar, and they both market heavily on social media, targeting 20-to-30-somethings who are willing to spend in the neighborhood of $100 for a pair of sneakers.
Right off the bat, these two brands set up what makes them different. Cariuma uses the website slogan “Today plants the future,” and Allbirds uses “Light on your feet. Light on the planet.”
So right off the bat, we know that each of these brands are focused on making the how of their business eco-friendly production. This type of messaging immediately let’s us know the audience they are targeting and what they see as their market differentiator.
It can seem cheesy, but consumers react well to things that make your business seem more approachable or authentic. They buy based on trust, with 81% of consumers saying they need to trust the brand before making a purchase.
Your prospects want to know the how and why of your business. They are searching for something to identify or connect with. This doesn’t only apply to consumer products, either. Business owners making B2B purchases want to know the business they buy from is trustworthy.
This is part of your brand. How you do what you do and how you support customers is all a part of your brand development. It’s important to be consistent here, as you can generate 33% more revenue with consistent branding.
So consider adding how you talk about what you do to your branding guidelines. This is just as important as your colors and logo, and can arguably have an even greater impact on marketing results.
This is the way that you can incorporate the how/why of your business into your core messaging. Whether it’s a software focused on efficiency or a service focused on simplicity, you can find ways to incorporate how you do things into your marketing to help set you apart.
A friendly face goes a long way
It’s pretty easy for businesses to become a sea of faceless entities vying for your audiences money and attention. Too often companies lose sight of the human element of their business, instead shifting all of their focus to their designs or their products.
Being honest, this concept doesn’t apply equally to all businesses. Sometimes, it makes sense that software and products can feel a bit devoid of a human element. Even with those, there are some extremes that we’ve found.
Take smartphones for example. So much of what we’ve come to expect from smartphone advertisements and marketing over the years has seemingly removed the human element. The focus is always hyper-clean backgrounds, glass and metal. No hands, no people, just the product.
Recently, though, we’re seeing industry leaders like Apple and Samsung rely more heavily on the presence of people in their advertisements. Instead of dropping a bunch of numbers on the screen while showing off the products, they are showing how the product is used, and how it can impact and improve people’s lives.
As a quick example, here are some of the ads that were used for the iPhone 3GS, which was announced in 2009. Mostly, it is a hand holding and interacting with the device. No faces, no scenarios that feel like real life. Extremely product centric. This worked back in 2009, as these type of high-technology products were very exciting, and Apple had defined the visuals of presenting them.
Fast Forward to 2020 and the iPhone 12. A lot’s changed in 11 years, and marketing language around smartphones has come a long way. Because these devices are such an integral part of daily life, we no longer need to be shown how they work or the cool features they have. We want to see how they work in our daily life.
Take a look at this ad for the iPhone 12. Everything here is people-focused. It shows the device being used in real-life scenarios: downloading songs at a bus stop, shooting video of your friends skateboarding, and all the different places you use your phone.
It’s a stark contrast to the earlier iPhone advertisements, which portrayed the device in an almost sterile environment.
Obviously, very few businesses are at the Apple level of marketing, but you can still take advantage of the lessons they’ve learned. Right now, audiences want to see people: people using your products or providing your services. It gives a point of connection for your audience and helps them form a relationship with your brand.
You can even go the extra mile and use photos of your staff where possible. Things like employee sections on your website, or employee of the month features on your newsletter are a low-effort way that your prospects can connect more with your brand.
Be a part of something bigger
82% of U.S. consumers consider corporate social responsibility when making purchases. Chances are, your prospects are looking for businesses that are involved in some way with the community.
A great way to separate yourself from the rest of your competition is to become a part of your community and incorporate that into your identity.
Whether you’re a part of charitable institutions, local business chapters, or operate your own grant program, all of this is relevant to your potential customers. These special interests also create new routes of outbound marketing for your business, as interfacing with other members is a great way to form new partnerships.
You can also leverage your community involvement for some marketing that is focused on brand building instead of selling. For instance, if your team volunteers at a local food bank you could take a few photos and send a quick email to your clients and prospects talking about the experience.
It can seem kitschy, but there are prospects who would really appreciate knowing more about your brand apart from the services or products you sell.
There are also great opportunities available through local business associations. You may not find a bunch of new clients this way, but you will get access to business-building opportunities, like certifications, mentorships, and professional networking. Don’t overlook your local associations, especially if you’re a small or start-up business. You can learn a lot from your peers in the area.
Putting your differentiators to work
Now that we’ve helped you find some of your differentiators, let’s strategize the best way to use them.
How you incorporate your differentiators into your marketing is largely up to you, as it can be a matter of taste. But we can provide some helpful guidelines that can organize your messaging and focus to promote your differentiators to the right audience without detracting from your core marketing message.
Email marketing is one of the most used marketing strategies out there, and it’s a great opportunity for you to practice the way you talk about your business and what you do.
Like we covered earlier, the how and why of your business is a key way to differentiate yourself. Sometimes, simply finding the right way to talk about your process is enough to set yourself apart. Many industries have very similar ways of doing things, either because of standardization or regulation. That doesn’t mean you can find a unique way to talk about how you operate that connects more to your prospects.
Manufacturing, for instance, seems like an industry where things are done very similarly from business to business. So how could you differentiate yourself without relying on price?
Outcome-focused language is a great tool in situations like these. If how you do things may seem similar to your competitors , focus more on the outcomes you want for your business and your clients. For manufacturing, maybe you want to focus on your ability to meet demand and deadlines. Or maybe your ability to work with clients to exceed expectations.
Saying things in a way that puts your prospect at the center of the conversation opens up the door to a relationship based on trust.
Newsletters are a must-include for your email marketing strategy. They are easy to make and help you generate more prospect engagement.
Newsletters act as a sort of catch-all for your previous month of email marketing. These should include:
- New blog posts
- Any high-interaction social media posts
- Company events
- Promotional reminders
You can customize your newsletters to include other items, like employee of the month or feedback of the month. Get creative here, because treating your newsletter as a culture-packed item can help you with brand recognition as well as interaction.
Be sure to send these out on a monthly basis to help keep your brand in front of prospects. Also, monthly or quarterly pushes to sign up for your newsletter on social media sites is a great strategy for increasing the emails in your mailing list.
Giveaways and sales
A partner once told us that people go apesh*t for a free Yeti cup.
And that’s all you need to know about giveaways.
Nah, just kidding. While getting a Yeti from a giveaway is awesome, there’s a bit more to it than free stuff.
Giveaways, raffles, promo deals, limited time bundle, BOGO…all of these concepts are very similar in what they do: get more interaction and more sales.
Hell, Small Business Trends found that contest forms had a 34% conversion rate. Compare that to lead gen forms, and a measly 17% of those fully converted.
And on the BOGO sale style of marketing, 95% of consumers say that they have taken advantage of BOGO promotion at least once, and 67% say that BOGO is their favorite discount promotion.
This kind of thinking applies to any limited time promotion or event. The perception of value is greatly impacted by both the limited nature of the event as well as the savings/benefits of taking advantage of them.
So how can we take these concepts and apply them to marketing? Here are some ideas of giveaways, limit time offers, and events any business can do.
- Limited time sales/bundles
- In-person or online event
- Access to a piece of content or service
All of these items are great at getting people to fill out forms with marketing data, opt into your list, or purchase more items.
Also, they type of event or sale, or the purpose of it, can help to create even more brand distinction. Going back to those two shoe brands, Allbirds and Cariuma we could imagine a great sale or promotional opportunity for them would be Earth Day, simultaneously promoting their overall culture and mission while passing on value to their customers.
A similar line of thinking is a great opportunity for you to sync up events, promotions, sales or giveaways. Find a meaningful date — even something simple like your anniversary — and push a special promotion during that time.
Try to keep in mind that perceived value directly impacts the likelihood of prospects filling out forms, so have a solid backlog of ideas that you can deploy.
In person events
This one might be a no-brainer, but face time with prospects can really help differentiate your business. Sometimes you just gotta state the obvious.
What’s not so obvious is how to creatively market these events to get your message in front of the right people.
For the sake of this conversation, we aren’t going to talk about industry events or trade shows. Instead, we want to talk specifically about events that your business can host for the express purpose of getting in front of prospects.
Events like this are especially valuable if a closed deal means tens of thousands of dollars in revenue or more.
There are a lot of options when it comes to what kind of event you want to host. Instead of trying to put all of them in a list, here are some ideas of what a good event should look like.
- An engaging activity that the average person would want to attend. Family-friendly events can be especially successful.
- A common space where people can mingle or get refreshments
- Clearly marked locations where people can — but are not required — sign up for more information about your company or special offers
- An end-of-event opportunity to schedule a one-on-one meeting
- Items attendees can take with them that are branded. Be sure to include a business card or contact information.
What type of event you choose should be something that your team would like to participate in. You can rent out a theater for the latest blockbuster, or take up a few stalls at the local Top Golf. There are endless options, so just focus on finding one that’s fun.
How should you run these events? Well, try to be as hands-off as possible. There should be an introduction to the event where you talk a bit about your company and an end-of-event call to action where you try to get some meetings on your calendars. Apart from that though, let the attendees do what they will. If you create areas where mingling naturally happens, such as a bar or snack table, conversations will happen. Sometimes one conversation is all you need to leave an impression.
The fun nature of the event, the value of getting something for free, and the opportunity to interact directly with you and your staff make events one of the best ways to leave a lasting impression that will always differentiate you from the competition.
Webinars are a rapidly growing format for marketing. 91% of B2B professionals say webinars are their favorite type of content. On top of these, 5 to 20% of viewers convert into buyers.
The numbers along make webinars an amazing tool to have in your marketing loop.
But what makes them so good at differentiating your business?
Simply put, webinars are an amazing replacement for in-person interaction. If you format your webinar correctly, you’re not only getting your face and brand in front of more people, you are also creating a new channel to communicate directly with prospects.
Webinars have a few great features that make this possible.
- Filtered chat
- Live polling
- Interactive questions
- Live video and screen feed
- Stats and analytics
- Offers and handouts
- Automatic reminders and follow ups
When you organize your webinars to maximize the benefits of these features, you can actually get more from a webinar than you may be able to get from in-person events.
The key to a successful webinar is to take advantage of the one-of-a-kind format. You and prospects can interact directly — no waiting for email analytics, or seeing how social posts are received. Make sure the format of your webinar gives plenty of room for interaction.
Have a set of polls and interactive questions ready to use, but be ready to create some on-the-fly as well. You can never be sure where the conversation of your webinar will lead, and being agile with your interactivity can greatly improve the results you see. Webinar attendees want the hosts to be charismatic and engaged, so be sure to stay on top of the conversation.
Try to keep your webinars under 1 hour. Attendees stick around for 52 minutes on average, so be sure to organize and outline your webinar with that in mind.
There is also plenty of prep work to a webinar. You’ll want to send you first email and social blasts at least 15 days out from the event, preferably a month. Be sure to consistently send emails and post social updates on a weekly basis reminding your audience.
Branding your webinar with graphics and logos is also great. Different webinar platforms handle this a bit differently, but in general using a streaming software to place a logo somewhere on screen can be helpful. We’ve used OBS and Xsplit to help us create live-stream and webinar graphics.
And most important of all is follow up. After your webinar, you should immediately get to work organizing your signups and attendees into lists to send some follow up email campaigns. Share interesting insights from your poll and question results. Give them other formats of some of the information you covered during the webinar. Webinar attendees are extremely engaged leads, and need to be followed up with on a one-to-one basis.
And don’t forget that webinar platforms will give you detailed analytics of attendance, viewership, engagement and poll results, all which can be used to better understand your audience.
Social media is where you can really stretch your legs and focus on leading with your culture.
The core purpose of social media is community interaction and engagement. It’s where people go to get insight, learn new things, and communicate with people they may otherwise never find. Oh, and to share those spicy, spicy memes.
That’s what makes it perfect for highlighting your company culture.
Images, videos, and text posts are all welcome on variou social media platforms, and what’s even better is that you don’t need professionally produced content for 100% of your posts. People enjoy content that has a more casual or authentic tone to it. Viewers on social media are used to videos recorded on a walk, in a bedroom or some other “non-professional” environment. That means a simple phone recording in your office is totally fine.
Social media also offers a great opportunity to tap into trends. Whether a dance or a meme format, social media always has something new going on that your business may be able to tap into to get more interaction.
What’s important is choosing the best social media platforms for your business. Each platform has slightly different user demographics that make them more ideal for certain businesses.
- LinkedIn – Professional networking site ideal for B2B products and services, as well as job searches. Ideal for interacting with professionals directly or through common interest or speciality groups. LinkedIn is built around your work and job, which makes it an amazing social media site to have meaningful conversation about business, which means LinkedIn may not be great for companies focused on B2C sales.
- Facebook – Used mostly by millennials and Gen X’ers, Facebook is a great platform for product-focused brands due especially to their on-platform store. It can also be a great place to post videos, photos and event updates. Facebook can work for businesses of every industry, from B2B to B2C.
- Instagram – Used most by people aged 18-44, Instagram is the more commercialized channel for influencers. The built-in purchasing options make it great for products, but the ability to share photos and videos of any length make it a dynamic platform for any business to share their culture. It’s ad integration and format make it great for B2C companies.
- TikTok – Primarily used by people age 10-19 (25% of users), but also used by people age 20-49 in large part, TikTok is (as of the writing of this, surely set to change in coming years) the fastest growing influencer-driven social media platform. Currently its marketing tools aren’t quite as robust as platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, but it can be used to put your brand in front of people in a fun way by joining in on popular TikTok trends or memes as well as partnering with influencers.
- Snapchat – 48% of the Snapchat user base is 15-25 years old. This is another great place to interact with your audience directly, especially if your ideal client skews younger. With a built in ad service platform and the nature of Snaps being temporary, Snapchat is especially good for limited time offers and sales.
- Twitter – Most heavily used by adults age 18-29, Twitter is a popular, fast-paced interaction platform. Currently, it’s extremely popular for breaking news, but can be used for things like sales, in-stock alerts, or other timely items. In general, Twitter is not ideal for posting ever-green content. Getting higher interaction on Twitter for many non-journalism businesses can be more effort than it’s worth.
Don’t be afraid to practice your inside angle
Now that you have some insight on finding your own marketing differentiators, what’s the next step?
Start applying them.
Look, no one gets it right straight out of the gate. The only way to tailor your message, strategy and focus is to start using these tactics in your marketing. Your audience will tell you the rest. Activities that increase interaction, sign ups and sales are great! Things that do the opposite may need a little extra work.
There’s no “how to differentiate” silver bullet that works for every business. You just gotta get out there and find your own inside angle to separate your business from the competition.
Sometimes, a tool can give you the momentum you need to start making a positive impact. If you need a way to up your email game and apply some of the strategies we talked about here, check out GlassHive. It’s easy to use, so you can focus on defining your differentiators and get to marketing faster than ever.
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