Differentiation. It’s a given that in a discussion about building a brand, you’re going to have to talk about what makes your company or product different from your competitors. Or, posed as a question, why should a customer choose your company instead of your competitors?
Let’s say you’re a university. Like all the others, you’ve got to recruit students – they are your primary customers. My 16-year-old son receives truckloads of mail from what appears to be every college in North America. And one thing is painfully obvious: they all look basically the same when you flip through the daily stack. The images each uses are repeated over and over, including:
• Young adults playing sports, from soccer to softball to water polo
• Cheerful, backpack-laden students walking to class beneath a lush, green tree canopy (it never seems to be winter, even at colleges in far-north latitudes)
• A majestic building with that unmistakable Ivy League look
• A helpful, benign-looking professor engaged in serious discussion with a student
• Sometimes, a shot of dedicated youngsters hitting the books, although no one seems to want to emphasize this image too strongly
Granted, to some extent college is college and it’s truly difficult to differentiate yours from any other when everybody has the same objective – to make the school look attractive to a prospective student.
But this conundrum is illustrative for all businesses. The great majority of businesses do not – at least on the surface – look or feel much different from their competitors unless they’ve worked hard to discover and develop real differentiation. This doesn’t happen by itself.
Case in point: I dropped a vehicle off for repairs at a new shop recently and this company had put some serious thought into differentiation. The lobby area looked like a nice living room. The work bays were brightly lit and immaculately clean. The co-owner offered waiting customers a plate of home-made spaghetti!
Was this just another cookie-cutter repair shop? Not at all. It looked and felt different in all the right ways because someone had thought seriously about how to be something more than their competition. Different. And better. I’ll definitely go back. And next time I’ll be hungry.