Are your sales a little lack-luster? Last week we looked at how you can know if you have a product differentiation problem, not an awareness problem. Then, in true marketing fashion, we promised differentiation doesn’t need to be difficult or laborious. So this week we will explore the basics of product differentiation.

1. Look at the competition for your answers. Some competitors are “the biggest”. Some are friendlier. Some are highly innovative. Some project “youth” while others focus on “experience.” The more crowded your market is, the more clear it becomes how the market leaders have put a stake in the ground on what they stand for.

Once you have a reasonable idea of how the market leaders have positioned themselves, then you need to look at where the gaps are – is reliability without mention? How about speed and efficiency? Do you have a particular market niche that isn’t really covered?

Alternately, you may have a particular focus that, while someone claims it, you are better suited to claim it than they are, or at least you can give them a run for their money with sub-point differentiation. Look at GEICO and Progressive insurance companies battling it out over coverage price? One claims you’ll save 15% while the other offers you a “build your own plan” option. Both sell better pricing, but handle it completely differently.

2. Don’t get hung up on the product. Whatever it is you sell, that’s not what customers are buying. They are buying the solution your product provides. Someone once said, “They don’t buy the drill. They buy the hole it creates.” Therefore, differentiation must focus on how the customer feels AFTER they have purchased your product. Better off financially? Secure? Loved? Worry-free? Respected? Satisfied?

But even that is not the differentiator. The differentiator is how you manage to ensure how they feel. So, if you avow that customer service is your differentiator (and more than half the businesses today do, which leads to a whole other conversation) you are not done. You need to clearly articulate how your particular brand of customer service creates a better experience for the buyer, after the sale.

3. You are not your (target) customer. Additionally, your current customer is not necessarily your prospective customer. What you think matters to the customer you have yet to win cannot be determined by guesswork, or obtained with absolute certainty by asking your existing customers. You need to take the time, the effort and the investment to determine what your prospective customers are lacking that you can provide. Just because you think it is a good idea, or because no one has done it yet, does not mean that a particular differentiation will work in a given market – or that it will help your sales in any way. An example of this behavior might be labeling your company as the most environmentally conscious, “green” provider of X. However, if your target demographic is over 50, even if your existing customers in their mid-30’s love the position, and increase their loyalty, the new targets are not as inclined to pay attention to such claims as important to them. Therefore, your differentiation, while defined, is not targeted to the perceived needs of your target customers.

However, sometimes differentiation must be created, not simply claimed. There are some tried and true methods for creating differentiation where no clear and obvious differences exist.