9 Steps to Differentiate Your Brand from the Competition and Connect with Your Customers

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Digital marketing has changed everything.

While working at Food & Wine magazine back in 2008, I experienced a major shift in marketing: Almost overnight, customers became in control of a brand’s destiny through online reviews and social media.

I had the most enlightening conversations with some of the world’s most recognizable brands’ marketing teams. They had to evolve—and fast.

Ten years later, it’s as if this has always been how they engaged with consumers. These strategic marketers no longer think in somewhat old-fashioned terms like B2B and B2C; they now embrace P2P (or person-to-person) marketing and connect with their customers on a human level.

No matter what we are buying into, consumers want to support brands that align with our own values. We seek out the ‘good guys,’ the top rated, the fastest, the most affordable, the brand with the best customer service or the one that gives back.

Just how does a company prove to its ideal client(s) that it’s the one best to choose? The answer might be simple, but it takes deep strategy to get there. Here are my recommended steps to take to truly differentiate yourself from the competition:

  • Identify your direct competitors
    First, think carefully about who your primary competitors are in the marketplace. For the sake of time, start with your top three or five—and, if possible, go deeper (10–15).
     
  • Learn more about them
    Check out your competitors’ “About us” website pages and social channels. Dig deep into the language they use to describe themselves. If it helps you stay organized, find a “Competitive Analysis” template or chart online to keep all the data in one place. Remember to focus on the task at hand, and don’t get burdened with comparing every company detail. Consider what’s important to your customer base.
     
  • Take an internal poll
    Ask colleagues in different departments how they honestly perceive your business to be different. Marketers see one thing; a sales or service department may see another. Make it anonymous if you think that’d solicit candid feedback. 
     
  • Ask key customers
    Reach out to key customers to ask them why they really prefer you over competitors. Their answers might really surprise you. If you’ve received customer reviews, this would be a good time to explore their content.

    And while on the subject, marketers, please emphasize with the team to never say your brand is better than your competitors’ to your potential customers. Explain the differences, when asked, sure. But no brand is perfect, and there are more impactful ways of sharing your value proposition.
     
  • Communicate what you learned
    Don’t let this key information go to waste. Find an effective way to share it with the staff (including shareholders, if applicable). I wouldn’t recommend waiting until you have the exact plan in place—especially if you work in a fast-paced industry. Let everyone know the findings were too good not to share and you will present a plan when it’s ready. (And, obviously, ask that it’s kept internal.)
     
  • Get to work!
    If you’ve completed the process above, you are on track to start effectively marketing. Pull your team together and start placing priorities on what’s next. Don’t forget to communicate with all departments that they’ll play an important role in compiling all marketing materials (website, social, videos, brochures, presentations, everything) to ensure they reflect your correct unique voice and value proposition. If not, it’s time to develop a game plan to make changes.
     
  • Stay true to core values
    It’s easy to get distracted by competitors’ campaigns and decide to change course. Perhaps take those values and create some reminders for all employees to consistently see (framed signs by elevators, mouse pads, note pads, screen savers, Intranet, etc.).

    Our strategy with client Goldfish Swim School (GSS) is to stay ahead of the competition in the markets they serve by focusing on GSS's value proposition: water safety. The core of GSS's curriculum, water safety is taught in every class from babies all the way up to 12 years old. GSS is positioned as water safety and drowning prevention experts in the market through traditional media relations and influencer/community engagement, which builds brand awareness and highlights GSS's purpose.
     
  • Dare to be different
    Listen to nearly any of Guy Raz’s “How I Built This” podcasts and you will be reminded that it’s okay to take risks on how you market your unique values. Stick with it—it will work. My personal favorites: Honest Tea: Seth Goldman, Atari & Chuck E. Cheese's: Nolan Bushnell.

    The Le Meridien hotel brand is a prime example of a company that’s chosen to market differently than its competitors. It achieves great visibility by taking a large, international hotel brand and localizing it for each market. At Le Meridien in Columbus, Ohio, The Joseph hotel is deeply immersed in the local culture, sights and sounds of the Short North neighborhood, giving them an advantage to what they do and the types of customers they attract.
     
  • Continue to watch the competition
    In today’s fast-paced marketing world, competitors can pop up all the time. While at an organic grocery delivery company, I used this strategic marketing model for analyzing competitors and it changed monthly (weekly, at times). Be nimble and work with your team on developing a realistic timeline to repeat the process.

Interested in this strategic method, but don’t have the time or resources to help? We can help. Approach us any time at hello@approachmarketing.com