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August 9, 2013

If your summer is slow, focus on marketing & sales for a competitive advantage; part 8 – Differentiate your firm

different2Our summer blog series has covered of number of tactical topics like developing a list of new sales prospects, enhancing your online presence or getting active on LinkedIn.  Now, it’s time to do a little strategic thinking…

When I was starting Harpeth Marketing and doing my due diligence, I spoke with research firms across the county.  One of the questions I asked every one of them was, “How do you differentiate your firm from your competitors?”

For those that didn’t have a point of differentiation (a POD) – which was the majority of them – the answers were consistent across the board… and not very compelling.  They all said nearly the same thing, “We do great work… we have great people… and we really take care of our clients.”

Sound familiar?!  Is that how you would respond to that question?  And if everyone is saying that – then no one is really different!  Which, for the most part, is the case.  And if that’s the case… how can research buyers make a decision?  How do you stand out?  Why should they choose you over your competitors?  Which leads us to…

Summer tip #8: Establish your Points of Differentiation

Call it positioning, your unique value proposition, your brand… those terms are all a little bit different, but they really are all about one thing – differentiating your firm in the marketplace.

As you look across the MR landscape, the firms that do have a POD generally differentiate themselves in one of the following ways:

  1. By their industry focus
  2. By their methodology focus
  3. By their application focus
  4. By their use of technology
  5. With their marketing
  6. With their content
  7. With unique operational processes
  8. With their size & scope

And there may be a few others… but for the most part, that covers it.

By the way, having a Point of Differentiation doesn’t mean that you are going to stand out from every single other firm out there… but what you want to do is reduce the number of firms you’re competing against.  For example – let’s say you’re a full-service shop with no defined point of differentiation, then (in theory) you’re competing against every other full-service shop out here.  But if you’re a full-service shop that specializes in automotive research, now you’re competing only against those who also claim to be automotive specialists – a much smaller list.

So, what do you do if you want a POD but don’t have one?  There are fundamentally three ways to go about it:

  1. Do you actually have a genuine point of differentiation from your competitors – something that’s truly unique – but prospective clients don’t really know about it?  If you do, then to make it work, it’s all about promoting that difference.  Focus on it… build your marketing & sales efforts around it… make it your centerpiece… and eventually, you will become known for it.
  2. You might need to actually develop a point of differentiation.  Think about what you’d like to achieve and create one.  For example… you might say, “Based on where the industry is going and what our clients are asking for – we are going to become the mobile qualitative experts in the industry.”  Do your homework – make sure that what you want to do is actually something that someone will spend money for.  Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
  3. This third one – while it might seem a little shady – is actually the one that most firms employ.  They don’t have any true points of differentiation, but they market like they do – trying to create the perception that they are different.  E.g., they talk about being an expert in your industry – even though they’ll list 15 different industries on their website.  Or, they go to great lengths to explain their qualitative methods – with words like unique, world-class and best-of-breed – when in fact, they’re traditional moderators just like everyone else.  I’m not saying compelling messaging is wrong – just don’t be misleading.

However you do it, having a perceived Point of Differentiation (real or not) is critical to creating a competitive advantage.

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