The amount of today’s marketing channels is both a blessing and a curse for marketers. While there are a lot of ways to reach potential clients, the maze of traditional and online opportunities make it easy to get lost in the crowd and remain frustratingly invisible to prospects.
The key to rising above the noise and standing out in the crowd is something called a differentiation strategy.
What is differentiation? It’s a unique feature or trait that sets you apart from your competition. More important, it’s a difference that is valued by your potential clients.
What are some differentiation strategy examples? Expertise is perhaps the strongest example of a good differentiator. Expertise is something that meets the three tests for a successful differentiator: it’s true (you can’t fake expertise), it’s relevant (if you specialize in, say, business accounting, corporate financial professionals will be interested in you), and it’s provable (things such as academic degrees, experience, and published pieces all reinforce claims of expertise).
However, while developing expertise as a differentiation strategy sounds like a great idea, there is a catch—clients are notoriously uninformed when it comes to judging actual expertise. Consequently, your firm’s expertise is often unseen by the marketplace. And if your firm’s expertise is not visible, for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist. Fortunately, it is possible to make intangible expertise visible and real. With a good strategy and a little work, it’s possible to become what we call a visible expert in a relatively short period of time.
At Hinge, we’ve conducted extensive research on highly visible experts and the businesspeople who hire them and we’ve learned that there are certain strategies and techniques that can elevate the visibility of your expertise in the marketplace.
Public speaking, writing blog posts and articles, and publishing books are all effective ways to demonstrate your expertise. And there are many others. The value of these different techniques, when put together as part of any one of many differentiation strategy types, has been proven time and again.
Building your differentiation strategy
Developing and implementing a differentiation strategy is a five-step process:
1. Determine your expertise and what you want to be known for
What are you expert in? Your area of expertise or other differentiators should be broad enough to be valuable and relevant to your clients. Just don’t make it too broad. The narrower and more specialized your expertise, the easier it is to make it visible and defend against potential competitors. Specialization is a good thing.
2. Do your research
Research will help you align your firm’s offerings with the requirements and preferences of potential clients. It will also inform your selection of topics to write about to make your expertise more visible to your target audience. We have found firms that research their target client group tend to grow faster. In fact, the fastest growing firms (those that grow at least 20 percent year over year) are twice as likely to conduct research than their no-growth peers.
3. Develop your differentiators and focus
What sets you apart from competitors and delivers exceptional value to a segment of the market? Build a list of potential differentiators and put them to the three-step test we mentioned above. If you end up with three to five differentiators, that’s great. But one truly strong one will do.
Regardless of the number of differentiators you come up with, you’ll need a focus. That focus, along with the supporting differentiators, will inform your positioning statement. Think of it as the DNA of your differentiation strategy. Your positioning statement is a short statement that describes:
- What your firm does
- For whom it does it
- Why a prospect should choose you
4. Build your story
Next, you’ll need to develop the story you want to tell your target audience. Most prospects will check out your website, so that’s a great place to start. Be sure your web content will help visitors answer the question, “Is this firm for me?” Remember, first impressions matter, so make sure your story is compelling, sets you apart, and provides value.
But your website is only the beginning. You need to make that all-important expertise visible to the outside world. How? Publications, webinars, workshops, speaking engagements, video—the list goes on.
5. Now tell it
Now it’s time to tell the world, or more specifically your target audiences, the story of your firm. Implement the plan. Track your efforts and their impact. Monitor your new business pipeline. Then test and adjust your story and distribution channels as needed to maximize impact. The message gets better and the brand gets stronger each time you make results-driven adjustments.
As we stated earlier, expertise is just one of many differentiation strategy examples. Your product or service, your place in the market, and your competition will all factor into what you choose as a differentiator.
If you haven’t already established a differentiator, now’s the time to get going. With a unique differentiator in hand and a solid differentiation strategy to spread the word, you’ll be well-positioned to go from invisible to visible expert.
Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., is managing partner at Hinge, the leading branding and marketing firm for the professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.