What are Marketing Differentiators?

What do these marketing taglines have in common?

  • We have what it takes
  • We go the extra mile
  • Providing excellence
  • Top quality at affordable prices

That’s right, they are all clichéd, meaningless statements that alert you to the fact that someone is trying to sell to you, without actually adding any value about who they are or why you should care.

Sloth yawn via GIPHY

We call these “non-differentiators”. They are words and attributes which fail to differentiate your brand or products, because anybody else doing what you do could claim the exact same things about themselves… and probably already do say those things, making it even more boring for your customers.

These safe, positive claims are all too tempting to include in taglines, ads, product descriptions, and other marketing copy… and many of them are important things to state about your features and benefits at some point. But you shouldn’t lead with them, because instead of helping you stick in your prospective customer’s mind… they do the opposite: people’s eyes glaze over and they yawn. Not a good marketing result.

Here are some more non-differentiators:

  • Universal
  • Professional
  • Expert
  • High quality
  • Affordable
  • Tailormade
  • Secure
  • Pride
  • Seamless (seriously, who advertises that they have seams?)
  • One stop shop / “not just a —” (heard the phrase ‘Jack of all trades…’)
  • Complete solutions
  • End to end
  • Caring / we care
  • Customer first
  • Service with a smile
  • Your partner

OK, you got me, how do we come up with better differentiators?

Glad you asked.

Think of things that genuinely make you better than the alternatives.

That’s it.

“Alternatives” means you need to know about your competition but also think about the need from your customer’s point of view – what options do they have… including doing nothing or doing what they have always been doing? Your differentiators need to be strong enough obviously to win out over other competing choices and over inaction.

Ideally, you can say things about your product (or your company) which makes it uniquely good.

Superlatives are good – the biggest, the best, the fastest, the newest…

Even better are statements describing you or your offering as “the only“.

Failing that, it’s going to have to be the combination of strengths which overall makes you unique. Kind of like the modern penathlon of brand positioning. (But remember not to market yourself as “we do everything”.)


Can you give me some examples?

Why yes we can, here is an entire cheat sheet of ideas for differentiators. Boom.

Cheat sheet of differentiators for marketing positioning – Adastra Fintech Marketing v2018 05 (PDF)

Pick what you are talking about – your company or a particular product. Work through with a colleague or three to create a shortlist of differentiating statements you feel confident making (and are able to back up when talking to customers), and then refine your differentiators to the final list.

It’s Creative Commons licensed so you can print it and even adapt it, even commercially, as long as you credit Adastra Marketing (adastra-marketing.com) as the original author.

Seriously, download the cheat sheet PDF, it will make you a smarter marketer, and it is freeeee.

Freeee? via GIPHY


What needs differentiators?

  1. Your organizational brand
  2. If applicable: each product line / suite – since this will have its own brand identity to create
  3. Each solution / product / service / package

Your organizational brand may be nothing more than “the people who sell Y” right now, but have a think how you can build that identity into something separate from your products. Sometimes a lack of strategy and marketing investment makes a company’s brand lag considerably behind the fame of its products: how many times have you found yourself saying “Oh I had no idea X made Y“.

A strong company (organizational) brand makes it easier to launch new products or product lines in future, and becoming a repository for differentiators like expertise, trust, quality, affordability etc which don’t necessarily reside in one single offering. A strong organizational brand is also an increasingly important asset in the eyes of prospective investors, partners, and employees as you grow.

Once you have a shortlist of differentiators that you’re confident about, this should not be kept just for marketing copywriters. Get it validated and shared by your leadership, top down to all stakeholders, and get everyone aligned with what’s good about you and how to explain it to people. You’ll notice this is extremely similar to running a workshop on creating a consistent elevator pitch, and we do indeed recommend to our clients to work through such an exercise with any new product or go-to-market campaign. Branding is about sales enablement after all, yay!


How many differentiators do we need?

At least one.

One may be enough if your differentiator is super-duper strong.

tfw you drop a strong marketing differentiator via GIPHY

If you do have a super-duper strong differentiator, stop there and play that top trump card the whole time. (And work very hard to put a competitive moat around it.)

Otherwise you are looking for up to four. By five you are straining the attention span and memory of your prospects.


What do we do if we don’t have any/enough strong differentiators?

Firstly, stop and congratulate yourself on avoiding the pain and expense of wasted marketing and sales efforts…

Secondly, go back to the drawing board of what your solution actually is, in order to improve your offering – intrinsically and extrinsically – so that you can come back and try again with some actually unique strengths.

(If you are feeling like what your business does is not that unique after all, here’s a quick tip for this, distribution, that is, the combination of visibility and availability, is the easiest thing to develop as a differentiator. As Woody Allen might have said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life“. Simply be visible and available to prospective customers where your competitors aren’t. But you still need to find a way to spin that into a parsable differentiator, because people want to feel good about buying from you, like they made a decision, not that they had no choice.)

If you (re)design your offering based on how you would like to describe yourself and how you would like to stand out, this is actually an excellent orientation because you are looking at something from the customer’s point of view, and you are designing something that is easy to buy. We call this “announcement page driven product design” – imagine the mega-strong headline on Product Hunt for your product at launch, then make the product that actually meets that claim.

Finally, don’t make up fake information…


Differentiators and the moments of truth

Differentiators are not just about copywriting: they form part of your deliberate brand identity and product design. That is, your marketing copy speaks consistently about your priority differentiators because they are the true, defining features of your offering.

This makes differentiators really important to all four marketing “moments of truth“:

0. Your customers are researching their problem. They see you… and they also see loads of other competing options. How will they remember your offer to come back to it. Your differentiators.

1. When your customers are ready to buy, literally or figuratively standing in front of the store shelf weighing up alternatives, what is going to make them choose you? What is going to help them rationalize their choice so they put their money down and complete the purchase? Your differentiators.

2. When your customer is now the proud owner of your solution… what will they recall from the time of purchase to evaluate whether the actual performance meets – or exceeds – expectations? Your differentiators. (This one is a clear reason why your differentiators can’t be exaggerated or simply fake!)

3. When your customer is – we hope – a proud and satisfied owner of your solution, what might help her know if and when to recommend it to someone else? What will she say when that diamond-encrusted ultimate marketing victory moment comes: a word-of-mouth recommendation? Yup, you guessed it, your differentiators are what they need.

In summary, as we like to say when meeting a new prospective client for Adastra’s brand consultancy services:

marketing strategy shrink via GIPHY

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