|Description||Article written by Ross Sturley and published in Construction News on 17 April 2008.
What’s the difference?
Those of you who’ve ever been on a cold sales call, or met up with any prospective customers at events, will probably have been asked a question somewhat similar to ‘so, why should I use you then?’.
What this customer is really doing is asking what’s different about you from the other people who offer the same product or service that you do. Hopefully, you’ve got an answer – and for your sake, I hope it’s not ‘we’re the cheapest’.
You’ll frame your answer around what makes you special – your experience, expertise, people, your speed, capability or flair. If you’re doing well at this, you’ve probably either consciously or instinctively picked something that is hard for your competition to duplicate.
In marketing speak, this is ‘differentiation’ – you’re setting out why you’re different from everybody else.
Differentiation is important – well-differentiated companies usually make more money as they are able to command a premium price for their services. Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants, Mercedes, British Airways – these are all companies who are known for being better than most of their competitors, and can charge significant premiums on their prices as a result.
Differentiation needs to be special – an old phrase for it is USP, or unique selling proposition. It’s the unique that’s key. For it to be a true differentiator, it needs to single you out in the customer’s mind as the only company who can do what you do.
The reason it’s important that your differentiation, or point of difference is hard for others to copy is, to use another buzzword, to make it sustainable. It’s pointless having your point of difference as something your competitors can copy next week – as they will, and you’ll be back to competing on price in a commodity market after having the cost of differentiating yourself the week before.
Sustainable differentiation will give you a long term advantage. It will also lead to defining ‘positioning’ for your services, products and brands. Positioning is, essentially, how the customer understands your differentiation.
Think of Boddingtons Beer – it’s positioning used to be ‘the cream of Manchester’. Basically it was a creamy beer, drunk by people who wished they were in Manchester because (at the time) it was a trendy place to be. The creaminess was the real bit – the thing competitors would struggle to copy – but this turned into ‘cool’ in the minds of the customers who drank it.
Positioning, then is how you communicate your point of difference - the customer’s perception of your differentiation.
So be different, be special, be unique. Draw yourself apart from your competitors in the minds of your customers and you can charge more for what you do. Then you should make more money. Simple really, this differentiation lark.
Ross Sturley, Principal of Chart Lane, Strategy and Communications consultants, is a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG). www.cimcig.org.
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