Differentiation is a buzzy word. It’s a word that is used synonymously with unique. When applied to the marketplace, everyone….and I do mean everyone, is looking for that thing that separates them from their competitors. Competitive marketplaces today are less defined and connectivity opens up your marketplace competitors to include tangential services — thinning your share of consumer engagement.
Companies today feel the pressure to not just be good at what they do, but to be different. Compelling. Captivating. They are looking for that thing that differentiates. But…how do you know when you’ve hit differentiation? And which data gives you insight to what differentiates you?
First, you must define what differentiation is not. Here’s a hint: it’s not cool stuff or feature sets. Differentiation is different from characteristics of a brand. Characteristics are what defines the way the brand behaves within the marketplace, much like the way a person interacts or behaves is described by characteristics. Differentiation is what sets the brand apart. It’s a different deliverable. For some brands or products, cutting-edge technology or innovation is a differentiator — but for most, it’s a characteristic. In order to determine what differentiation is not for your brand, you must be able to answer the 3 questions:
- Who is my target consumer?
- Why do they use my brand/service/product?
- How do they use my brand/service/product?
Once you know who your target consumer is and how/why they use your product, you should be able to delineate the value propositions that bring them to you. Are they an early adopter, tech-savvy individual who uses your product/service/brand because it keeps them on the leading edge of advancements and delivers that service in small consumable amounts? Then innovation is likely a differentiator for you. If your consumer is a middle age professional adult who uses your product/service/brand because the customer service is responsive and they need a quick delivery, then innovation is not a differentiator — it’s a characteristic.
Once you know what differentiation is not you can begin to define what differentiation means for your brand. This begins with defining your known-unknowns.
Gaps in data offer a unique perspective on what we don’t know. And oftentimes this is where I first look to define differentiation. Typically, we see gaps as a cumbersome part of data collection — however, at a closer look, gaps can tell us what is going on in and around the decisions a consumer makes to engage with your product.
Pay special attention to failure. You can learn a lot more from failure than you do success. Conduct a dead product audit where you examine other companies who tried to do what you’ve done and failed. Understand what the hangup was. Was it pricing? Too narrow of a vision? Too broad of a vision? Include your own product in this audit. Are there features you’ve tried and failed? Push your site through a round of user testing, listen to your users.
Characterize carefully. We like to create user personas and split our user base into manageable chunks. But, because the marketplace is connected our manageable chunks we’ve always used, may be increasingly inadequate to describe our user base. One of our favorite “chunks” to use is demographics, specifically age group. Unless your product is created specifically for a certain age (think, toys) then you may want to reconsider grouping your users by behavior or other defining characteristics that tell you far more about how they use your product and what’s important to them.
Differentiation is a huge question facing brands today. How do we capture the user attention? How do we get our consumers to engage? How do we prove that we are different from our competitors? Part of the challenge in manufacturing differentiation is taking an honest inventory of what your brand/product is and who is your consumer and then building according to that — NOT according to what you think you know.
It’s Worth Doing Right podcast is a collection of conversations exploring the intersection of data in the creative process. You can listen to more of It’s Worth Doing Right Podcast, here.
Mad props from IWDR:
A huge thank you to Matthew Blakstad for chatting with us! Matthew is a writer, researcher, and communicator specializing in the experience low-to-middle income people have within the savings system. Based in the UK, his career has spanned private sector consultancies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, and government agencies. He’s also a published author, of novels that explore the relationship between people, technology, and data in the modern world. Check out his latest work: Sockpuppet and Lucky Ghost