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What's the Difference?

By Lee Amon
Posted Saturday, October 23, 2004

What makes your product or service unique? Here are 5 simple tips for communicating to your customers
Whenever I meet a new client, before I start planning any kind of marketing activity there are a series of questions that I ask. I might start with a general “Tell me about your business” but pretty soon I start drilling down to details:

Who is the target market?

What are your customers trying to accomplish?

What is keeping them from achieving their goals?

How do you help them?

Most of the time, my clients answer these questions easily. After all, they know their business, and they have usually thought about many of these issues. Often they tell me stories about how they helped a customer solve a problem or reach a critical goal. Usually at this point the customer is enthusiastically telling me about the company and its offerings. Then I spring one of the most important questions of all:

What makes your product or service unique?

All too often this question is answered with a sort of embarrassed silence, and this is really unfortunate. You see if you aren’t unique, if what you offer is the same as what your competitors offer, then you run the risk of competing on price alone, and when that happens, everyone loses. Most important, you are placing your business at risk. Competing on price can be dangerous because someone will eventually undercut your price. To avoid price competition you have to bring something to your customers that is unique and of value.

To help your customers understand the true value that you bring them, and to get a competitive advantage, you need to understand what makes you different, and you need to communicate your uniqueness properly.

How are your product or service unique?

The first thing part of this process is to ask yourself what it is that makes you or your product different from the competition. It doesn’t have to be one thing; it can be a combination of features and services. Does your product have a unique feature set? Do you offer a better guarantee? Is your customer satisfaction record better than other companies in your industry? If you are selling a service, do you have a unique depth of experience? Or, do you have a unique breadth of experience? Do you focus on one kind of customer so that you are an expert in their issues and requirements?

And why should your customers care?

Having a differentiator is crucial, but for your differentiator to increase your business, you must communicate it to your customers, they must understand it, and it has to matter to them. Here are some guidelines for effectively communicating what sets you apart.

1. Focus on the benefits, not the technology. The benefits of your technology may be obvious to you, but not necessarily to your customers. They have their own goals, issues, and concerns. You have to explain how and why your technology helps them to achieve their goals. Why does your product or service help them to increase sales, cut costs, or reduce risk better than the other alternatives available to them?

2. It’s the result, not the process that matters. You may have built a great process, does it help your customers achieve their goals? How?

3. Avoid jargon. Your jargon might not be the same as your customer’s. In addition, the first person to see your material might not be technical. Speak English, not acronyms, not jargon. When you must use jargon, explain it.

4. Think Service. One of the most effective differentiators is customer service. It is also one of the hardest to prove, and one of the most difficult to maintain. Customer expectations continuously evolve, as customers and competitors raise the bar. What was outstanding customer service in the past might be considered adequate today, and might not even be average in the future. If service is your differentiator, you will need to constantly review and improve.

5. Be honest. If you say that you offer the best service, pricing, or delivery, DO IT. Talking the talk is fine, but you have to walk the walk, or it comes to naught.

One final thought. Offering a customer a unique combination of benefits is crucial if you are going to avoid price competition and get the full value you deserve, but nothing in business stays unique for long. Your competitors will soon be imitating you. Therefore, to gain and keep a competitive advantage, you will have to communicate to your customers quickly, and in a way that makes an impression.

About the Author
Lee Amon is principal consultant for MarketQwest Associates, a bay area marketing communications firm specializing in marketing for technology and scientific companies. Lee has over 20 years of marketing experience, holding positions with companies such as GE/Calma, Chips and Technologies, and MDL Information Systems. MarketQwest helps clients of all sizes to create effective marketing plans and to turn those plans into compelling marketing materials. To find out more, contact me at 510-796-9820 or


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