Don’t Differentiate Yourself Into Irrelevance

Most companies strive to prove how they’re different from the competition. Sometimes, the impulse to be different eclipses the need to be something much more important for clients: relevant.

A while back a marketing exec from the fund industry recounted her firm’s efforts to set their new product apart from similar ones in what was, at the time, a relatively new category. First observation: the whole thing was very product-centric. There’s nothing wrong with selling product–it pays the bills. But after enough years of content marketing, going out with a message like “buy this now” makes me a tad bit nauseous.

Making a list

Second observation: she rattled off a laundry list of product features that separately and taken together were expected to make their product different. This is where things began to disconnect. On a technical level, each of the features was sufficiently unlike what the competition had. But those features didn’t matter because they didn’t connect to clients’ needs.

An answer

“Different’ doesn’t sell. It doesn’t sell because it doesn’t get to where it should go: to the customer. Differentiation at the product feature level is great, when you can get it (not everyone can–and there brand and client service can prove pivotal). But what really matters is the outcome. Think better, not different.

In the end

Customers need reasons to purchase, so firms toss up unique selling points (USPs) in hopes that something sticks. Better performance, better client outcomes–cheaper, longer lasting, more effective–what have you–these are differences that count. It’s about time that firms stop drawing distinctions without difference, and focus on what matters to clients.

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