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How to Differentiate Yourself From Your Competitors: What Makes YOU So Different?

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How do you differentiate yourself in a marketplace so intensely regulated that everyone has to charge the same amount for services rendered? Likewise, how do you differentiate yourself when the service you offer is free and people see little difference between you and your competitors?

Those questions became the theme of the most recent episode of Marketing Smarts, which we recorded live in Los Angeles on April 25. Our guests were Eric Granof of AIA, the nation's largest underwriter of bail bonds, and Brad Abare, founder of the Center for Church Communication and communications director for the evangelical Foursquare denomination. And though you might not think bail bond marketing and church marketing have much in common, they do share this problem: differentiation.

During our conversation, Eric pointed out, "Bail's a regulated insurance product. Everyone has to charge the same. You file rates [so] it's all marketing; it's all branding."

To help AIA's agents address this issue, they created a site, ExpertBail, that does three things: It provides a lot of content to educate people on the bail industry; it profiles agents to put a human face on the industry (a face that doesn't resemble Dog); and, finally, it recommends agents that have been vetted according to the site's standards. This "certification" can make a real difference, according to Eric, "when you go down that bail bond row."

Why? Because after seeing bail agent after bail agent, you suddenly see "ExpertBail---Trusted" and think, "I"m going to trust that guy."

In other words, when you can't differentiate on price, and the product is essentially the same, you need to differentiate on things like character and trust. With ExpertBail, AIA provides a platform that allows their agents to do just that.

Turning to the world of Christian churches, we run into a strikingly similar problem. To the extent that they preach the same Gospel and are based on a common set of values, churches can't really "compete" on message. For all intents and purposes, they all have the same message. And because church services tend to follow the same template (music, prayer, sermon, etc.), you can't really compete on, well, service. So, how do you entice people to visit your church instead of the one down the street?

"What brings people in to a local church community," Brad told me, "whether it's a church or a parish or whatever the denomination is, is something unique about that church."

Because all churches are offering the same basic product/service, they need to pay special attention to the question, "What makes you you?"

It can take a lot of work and soul-searching to come up with a satisfying—and differentiating—answer to that question. Some churches focus on the pastor or minister, and his or her teaching as the community's unique selling point. The problem with doing that, Brad points out, is that if something happens to that person—they leave or, worse, become involved in some sort of scandal, as happens from time to time—then attendance inevitably goes down.

Rather than building a "cult of personality," Brad recommends that churches focus on defining the "personality of the church." Why was it founded? What is the goal of its ministry? How does it seek to serve the greater community? Churches then should work on bringing that to the surface. "That," he says, "is how you connect with community."

The bottom line is this: If there is nothing that truly differentiates you from your competition, you've already lost. Fortunately, there probably is something unique and special about your organization, be it a church or a business. Find and articulate that, and you've already won!

So how have you created differentiation when you can't do so on product or price?

If you'd like to listen to my conversations with Eric and Brad, you may do so here. If you'd like to make sure that you never miss an episode of Marketing Smarts, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Standing Out)

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by Mark Simchock Thu May 10, 2012 via blog

    Spot on Matt. Thanks.

    In fact, I think there's a broader takeaway for everyone, not just the types of situations you've referenced. That is, the key is empathy. In order to market your brand successfully you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your target (and not leave it up to them to take the time to drill down and sort out the details and differences). You might see 100 differences. But they might see just a couple - if that. The first step is fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem, yes?

    Typically that means admitting you might not be as unique as you think you are - at least not in your current form. The long steady run-up of the pre-recession years created a lot of myths and self-absorbed (if not lazy) brands. The brands that can break those bad habits and reinvent their approach (from the inside out) will be the ones to carry on. While those hoping for the return of the good ol' days are doomed, at best.

    In short, empathy and action are a marketers best friend.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Thu May 10, 2012 via blog

    I like the emphasis on "empathy and action," Mark. I also agree with you that figuring out your unique attributes, not for you but for the people you aim to serve, is key and, as you imply, hard work!

  • by Joe Tue May 15, 2012 via blog

    We were not doing a good job showing why our company is unique. We made design changes and continue to do a better job at presenting why we are unique. Our conversion rates have doubled.

    Simplify your site design and show what is unique about your product or service. You won't regret it.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed May 16, 2012 via blog

    Thanks, Joe! Of course, simplifying can be an incredibly complex process!

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