Find Your Key Differentiator

[26 Ways to Gain A Competitive Brand Advantage]

Building a brand is a game of strategy and one of the very first strategic tasks is to identify the key differentiator your brand will be recognised for.

But why is having a key differentiator so important?

How do you know if yours is valuable?

And…

How do you go about finding a unique key differentiator for your brand?

Well, keep reading and you’ll find out.

key differentiator header
key differentiator header

Building a brand is a game of strategy and one of the very first strategic tasks is to identify the key differentiator your brand will be recognised for.

But why is having a key differentiator so important?

How do you know if yours is valuable?

And…

How do you go about finding a unique key differentiator for your brand?

Well, keep reading and you’ll find out.

What Is A Brand’s Key Differentiator?

key differentiator deal

Brands are developed for one reason and one reason only.

To make a business seem more appealing to its target audience so they choose that business over its competitors. It’s that simple.

Through its messaging, visual appearance and overall experience, the brand attempts to influence the audience’s decision to choose that brand.

In order to do that effectively, the brand must give that audience a compelling reason to make that choice.

That reason is the key differentiator.

Key Differentiator Definition

key differentiator unique

To put it as succinctly as possible, a key differentiator is a brand’s distinct and unique value that sets itself apart from its competitors within the market.

This differentiator and unique value answers the question:

Why would I choose this brand over one of its competitors?

Also known as your USP or Unique Selling Proposition, the key differentiator very clearly distinguishes itself from the other options that exist within that market.

Product Differentiator
vs Brand Differentiator

key differentiator experience

Differentiation strategies are at play on different levels throughout a business.

Each product or service a business has should have its own unique difference from similar products or services available on the market.

When it comes to brands however, the differentiation strategy refers to the brand’s overall experience.

This experience may include unique features and benefits, an innovative purchasing experience or outstanding customer service.

Any experience the customer might encounter on their buyers journey is all part of the brand experience and therefore every touch point is an opportunity for the brand to differentiate the experience.

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Characteristics Of A Key Differentiator?

key differentiator value

Before defining your differentiator, it’s critical to ensure that you inject the relevant characteristics into your strategy.

Without any one of these characteristics, your differentiation strategy may not have its intended effect.

Your key differentiator should be:

Unique
Your competitors should not be able to find the exact same experience from one of your competitors. Of course they may find similar products or services, but your experience should be unique.

Valuable
Your audience should place a level of value on the difference you offer whether that’s a monetary value, a time value, a convenience value or any other value. (i.e. how does it improve their lives?).

Defendable
Your differentiation strategy should not be easily replicated. For example if your differentiation strategy is based on low price, your competitors can easily replicate your price-point making your differentiation strategy redundant.

Using A Key Differentiator Template
(What is The Onliness Statement?)

key differentiator web

The onliness statement is a term that was coined by Marty Nuemeier in his book “Zag”.  It was distilled from the “Unique Selling Proposition” and provides a very simple key differentiator template to help in identifying your key differentiator.

Our [Blank] is the only [Blank] that [Blank’s]

Or

Our [Offer] is the only [Category] that [Benefit]

key differentiator filter

Though there is a lot more to your differentiation strategy than filling in a template, it’s an effective tool in distilling your ideas.

If you try to mean all things to everyone you’ll end up meaning nothing to anyone.

Ways To Differentiate Your Brand

key differentiator unique 1

The ways to differentiate your brand are quite simply endless.

Differentiation strategy is a game of creative thinking and key differentiators are only constrained by the limits of imagination.

If you’re creative enough, you can find a unique differentiator for your brand regardless of the industry you’re in.

To get your creative juices pumping, here are some examples of ways to differentiate your brand.

Example #1
Specialise In Your Market

key differentiator potter

This is one of the most basic differentiation strategies you can apply. We value those who specialise in their field and do one thing really well.

What can you let go of to focus on specialisation?

Example #2
Role Specialisation

key differentiator role

This is an effective B2B differentiation strategy which involves appealing to a specific organizational role within an industry.

For example, if you’re head of sales at an IT firm, you’ll feel in good hands if your coach specialises in helping people in your exact position.

Example #3
Unique Sales Experience

key differentiator experience 1

If you can take your customer on a journey through the buying process that stands apart from industry norms your audience will appreciate the uniqueness and see it as a breath of fresh air.

Build-a-bear workshop is a great example of this. They don’t just create unique cuddly toys, they provide a fun, interactive and customisable experience.

Example #3
Niche Service Specialisation

key differentiator niche

Providing a very specific service can help you to be more relevant for those only looking for those services.

For example a business that wants to advertise on facebook, will find a facebook ads agency more relevant than a broader digital marketing agency.

Example #5
Alternative Approach

key differentiator maze

Many businesses within a given sector often have a similar approach to solving a problem.

Brands that can break industry norm and approach the problem from a different perspective with a different approach identifies as innovative.

Example #6
Hyper-Targeted Audience Messaging

key differentiator aim

A key differentiator for brands that go above and beyond to understand their target audience is to use this knowledge to their advantage.

Although the actual messaging doesn’t hold much value for the client, how the messaging shapes their perceptions certainly does.

Example #7
Business Size + Sector Combination

key differentiator focus

I’m not talking here about positioning yourself as a brand that serves “small businesses”.

To use this effectively you need to get specific. “Creative Solopreneurs” is far more relevant to this specific group that “Small Businesses”.

Example #8
Shared Value Processes

key differentiator safe

What values do your clients hold dear and how can you use them to resonate?

For example a financial services brand might proudly distinguish their personnel as “PhD Only Advisors”.

This would resonate with a shared value in traditional education while building a sense of safety and trust.

Example #9
Unique Distribution Method

key differentiator deliver

Your ability to get your products to your customers could be the difference between them choosing you or your competitors.

One of the reasons that Amazon and Apple are such giants is their chain of supply while Tesla bypassed costly dealerships and opened up showrooms in convenient places like shopping malls.

Example #10
Highlight Your Shared Journey

key differentiator share

This differentiator resonates with the audience through a shared pathway.

For example, an immigration law firm built by immigrants who arrived in a particular country and overcame all the challenges to achieve the same desired outcome their audience has.

Example #11
Specific Business Challenge

key differentiator obstacle

This differentiation strategy crosses all industries but focuses on a common business challenge across the board.

The more easily identifiable, common and difficult this challenge is, the more effective this differentiation strategy.

For example, a brand that helps businesses qualify and apply for government funding or assistance.

Example #12
Industry Recognised Expertise

key differentiator expert

This is one of the oldest but most effective differentiation strategies still in use. Brands can be build on the back of the reputation of an industry expert or leader who has at one point, achieved a relative level of fame within the industry.

For example, an author of a well-known fitness book who develops a brand with a program for aspiring fitness coaches.

Example #13
Unique Pricing Structure

key differentiator price

This strategy simply changes up the way the fees are charged to offer the audience an alternative to the norm.

For example, your industry might charge on a per-month subsequent to an annual contract while you might offer a contract free alternative.

Likewise, instead of charging by the hour like your competitors, you might offer a single monthly fee.

Example #14
Rapid Market Responsiveness

key differentiator fast

By keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry you can be quick to adapt to your customers needs and provide them with what they want, sometimes before they even know they want it.

Fast-fashion such as H&M and Zara has become synonymous with this model, by taking styles from the runway to the rack is lighting quick time.

Example #15
Location Exclusivity

key differentiator exclusive

Since most businesses have gone online, allowing them to serve a much broader client base.

Brands that fly the flag for a certain location can leverage specific and topical messaging while also generating a sense of loyalty from their audience.

Example #16
Unique Information

key differentiator info

Providing a certain type of information your clients can’t get anywhere else can be highly valuable and even critical for certain groups.

Does your brand have access to certain data or information that no one else has?

Proprietary data is one of the most difficult differentiation strategies to duplicate.

Example #17
Unparalleled Relationship Networks

key differentiator partner

Relationships are an extremely valuable differentiation strategy.

This is a tried and tested differentiation strategy that allows the audience to leverage pre-existing relationships that they ordinarily wouldn’t have access to.

Can you develop your relationships and offer your customers access to these relationships as a point of difference?

Example #18
Partnership Specific Alignment

key differentiator office

While the previous example highlights a brand range of partnerships, this example leverages a specific entity.

This may be a parent company or a partnership but to be effective and should preferably be leveraging a bigger name (or a name at least on par).

Example #19
Quality Focused Differentiation

key differentiator quality

By taking a quality approach to your products or services, you can set standards in your industry and become known as a quality brand.

This is especially effective in industries where consumers complain about a lack of quality. Customer review sites can help identify gaps.

Example #20
Show More Love

key differentiator partner 1

Providing an excellent customer service experience might seem like a no brainer but chances are, a huge percentage of your competitors customers have had a bad experience.

Can you go all in to go above and beyond what customers in your industry are used to?

Example #21
Leverage Customer Status

key differentiator profile

An impressive list of clients is not just good for the bottom line, it’s great for the association of status.

If your brand is the go-to for top professionals or global corporations, you can leverage the trust earned by such prestige clients.

Example #22
Emphasise The Size

key differentiator tallest

If your brand can stake a claim to being the biggest [insert business type here], they can immediately leverage the perception as the go-to due to size.

This can be used effectively with a geographic location when otherwise, the brand wouldn’t be able to maker that claim.

For example, The biggest [X] in the [X] area.

Example #23
Accomplishment Alignment

key differentiator accomplishments

Some businesses may have had a hand in developing a key process, technique or technology that has become well known, commonly practiced or the industry norm.

By highlighting that accomplishment the brand can align itself to a well-known success, shaping the perception of that brand.

Example #24
Align Through Your Brand Personality

key differentiator friend

By having an intimate understanding of who your audience is you can uncover the characteristics that are most likely to attract them and sway their decision making.

Using these characteristics as a foundation, you can develop a human brand personality that can speak to your audience on a human level and resonate through emotions.

Example #25
Result / Outcome Focused

key differentiator goal

As people, we engage brands to achieve often a very specific outcome or result and we pay for the privilege of achieving that result.

Whether we verbalise that desire or not is irrelevant. It is the underlying desire that drives action.

Brands that focus on that outcome can solidify that idea of success in the mind of their audience.

For Example you might specialise in turning 6-figure businesses into 7-figure businesses.

Though you may offer very similar services to your competitors, this outcome focus can align your brand with the picture of success more effectively.

Example #26
Go Against The Grain

key differentiator against

Most businesses within a given category often look or act the same, For example, the insurance industry is littered with brands with blue brand identities and overly corporate messages.

How could you differentiate your brand in your industry by going against the grain?

Your Key Differentiator May Be A Hybrid

key differentiator hybrid

The examples above, although exhaustive are still only a drop in the ocean.

Each one of these examples are unique in their own right but it’s not until you begin to combine unique differentiation ideas do you find truly unique differentiation strategies.

Finding your key differentiator is one of the most critical steps in the development of a strategic brand.

Before you commit to your approach, be sure to create an exhaustive list of possibilities and then, begin to combine them.

How To Evaluate Your Key Differentiator

key differentiator evaluate

Once you’ve identified a shortlist of potential key differentiators you need to evaluate their potential effectiveness.

This is best achieved by screening the ideas with a series of evaluation filters, which are.

Evaluation #1
Value To Your Audience

key differentiator audience

Your idea might be unique but how will your audience value that difference? Will they see it as a novelty that will wear off or will they see it as a game-changer?

Evaluation #2
Difference To Your Competition

key differentiator unique 2

By definition, your key differentiator should be different. But there are different levels of different.

Just how different is yours? Is it “slightly different” or could it disrupt the entire industry?

Evaluation #3
How Achievable Is It?

key differentiator climb

You may have a truly unique idea but how achievable is it? Is it a nice idea or you have the capabilities to not just pull it off but to built your entire position off of it?

Evaluation #4
How Defensible Is It?

key differentiator defend

When you find a truly unique differentiator the excitement is palpable.

But before your start congratulating yourself, you need to analyse how easy it will be to replicate.

If your competitors can make a simple adjustment to replicate what you’ve done, then your uniqueness won’t last long.

Evaluation #5
Does It Align With The Internal Brand?

key differentiator uniform

By the time you strategise your differentiation strategy you should have already developed your internal brand.

Some of the strongest and most authentic differentiation strategy have their roots in the internal brand including the purpose and values.

How to Find Your Key Differentiator

key differentiator find

Developing a key differentiator and ultimately a unique positioning strategy requires two well tuned skillsets:

1 – Creative Thinking

2 – Strategic Analysis

Without a doubt, discovering a unique key differentiator is one of the most challenging tasks for a brand strategist.

At first, it might seem like all of the best positions are already taken and finding that unique differentiator can be a daunting task.

Starting with this exhaustive list of ideas, you can immediately begin to explore these as a potential within your industry.

But just like chemistry, the real magic happens when you begin to combine ideas.

If you make enough combinations and push the potential of your brand to the limits, you might just stumble upon a key differentiator that can disrupt an entire industry.

Over To You

Are you developing a differentiation strategy for your own brand or for a client?

Have any of these examples given you an idea or will you make like a chemist and create something truly magical by combining ideas?

I’d love to hear from you!

If you have any challenges or any stories or differentiation strategy development, leave a comment below right now!