In marketing and PR, there is a lot of talk around “differentiators.” Marketers use this term to describe what sets a company’s offering apart from the herd of competitors. It’s become such a coined phrase that it’s now used loosely to describe anything different about the company. “Our culture is a differentiator,” for example, or “our methods are the differentiator.” While that all may be true, a differentiator is not really a differentiator until it is tightly defined.
A real differentiator is more about the valuation of a company’s proprietary technology, methods and solutions. Differentiators are more than statements of assertion; they need to be specific and supported by proof-points. Executives and marketers both need to reclaim and redefine the term of differentiator, associating it more with a term related to valuation versus just marketing.
Every innovative company knows their differentiators better than any outside consultant ever could, but often struggle to transfer it into concrete, distilled summarizations. Executives receive all kinds of feedback from current and prospective clients, vendor-partners and market experts within their sector that helps them refine their product or service offering. These pivots and responses to the market shape offerings that coalesce into deeper distinctions.
And, for some companies, the result is a highly complex web of methods, solutions, technologies, services and/or approaches that, when woven together, represent total segment or category leadership. Often, the category-defining technology is not a single point of shift – it is a series of advancements. This makes articulating the real differentiation far more nuanced and challenging.
Describing differentiators should not result in simply one-dimensional descriptions; it requires the descriptive + proof-points within the context of the market-leading vision.
Being precise, articulating and distilling the messages around differentiators is an intensive exercise. What is expressed, if unpacked with precision, creates a doorway of accessibility to stakeholders – whether that be target customers, industry analysts or investors. Often, the innovators surrounding the product or service-set are too close to the subject matter to break it down into its logical conceptual buckets, therefore, requiring an interpreter to translate.
To increase crispness and capture the game-changing narrative around products/services, key questions must be asked with precision. Blended definitions have to be untangled through logic to distill the narrative.
Here are the top four questions anthonyBarnum often works through during messaging for a product or productized service offering:
What is it?
With this question, we are looking for a noun, not a paragraph of descriptions. It’s not a market or an impact – it’s software, services, infrastructure or a solution-set. This is important because the hierarchy of messaging needs to go back to a ‘thing’ that tactically answers the question.
What does the offering do?
This is not so much every single functional component, but the specific sets of problems the offering or product solves. This should capture the heart of the function in the target market’s vernacular, not list every facet of the engineered solution.
How does the offering do it?
Now, we can go through and explain the technology/service in context of what it does. For example, “Our proprietary algorithm identifies XYZ.” OR, another example, “Via our proprietary artificial intelligence interpretive engine…” This is key to demonstrating there is a new approach that offers more effectiveness.
What makes the approach differentiated?
Since we’ve mapped all the basics, we need to draw contrast to the current market landscape. For example, a differentiator might be how the software is “hardware independent” in an industry where the software is typically embedded in a proprietary capacity. The messaging needs to bring forth the distinction between what’s available, pointing out its inefficiency, and what the new solution offers.
What is the benefit to the market?
After all the structured responses, it’s time to grab the benefits and simply capture them without hyperbole, and then align them to the differentiated approach. Here’s an example:
“The hardware agnostic technology enables companies to have faster response time, with significantly less investment in backend infrastructure.”
Here’s the real trick:
Once these questions are answered with brevity and precision, a narrative can be constructed. The shape of the narrative is a triangle with the most important statements made first, followed by the details and background. The stakeholder reading the piece is left informed and able to contrast the company’s unique differentiators.