In the vast sea of B2Bs and service-based businesses, what makes your organization unique? How are you differentiating yourself from all the other contenders fighting to win the hearts of your prospects?
More importantly, what are you offering your clients and customers that no one else can?
Competitors can easily copy your products, services, business model, pricing structure and many other aspects of your company. What they can’t replicate, however, is your brand’s core essence – its values, people, culture, heritage, assets and programs. These are the elements that create a deeper connection to your stakeholders and a higher purpose for your organization.
The essence of your organization is a much better approach for establishing differentiation and customer relationships than touting the features and functional benefits of your offer.
This is especially true for service-based businesses and BtoB firms that depend on relationships and connecting on a personal level to sell the same services as thousands of others in their industry.
Organizational Values & A Higher Purpose
Of all the elements within an organization’s essence, it is its values and higher purpose that provide what branding expert, David Aaker, calls a “reason to believe” and a foundation for its value proposition.
Highlighting more intangible attributes (values) such as quality, innovation and concern for customers allows for a more credible and memorable brand, and it positions the organization in the mind of its stakeholders in a more meaningful way.
Competing in areas such as price and features is rarely an effective strategy. Building a reputation as being number one in customer service, however, is something that will not only attract and convert customers, but it will also increase loyalty and word of mouth.
In his book, Aaker on Branding, 20 Principles That Drive Success, Aaker points out that among the many values that an organization can claim and use for differentiating itself from its competitors, seven are more common as driving forces. The list includes perceived quality, innovation, concern for customers, environmental programs, social programs, success/size, and going local. I’d like to further discuss the first four since they are more within your control than the last two.
Millions of ads use the word “quality” to describe their products. So many, in fact, that most of us discount, or at least question, those claims. This is especially true if the product comes from an unknown or disreputable company.
But a company that’s known for its quality doesn’t even need to make such claims. We just assume that anything coming from Mercedes is top notch luxury. Starbucks coffee always tastes better than the swill that the no-name coffee shop next door is serving. And we never question that movies produced by Disney will leave us disappointed.
Being innovative is especially important for any organization that wants to be known for their advanced offers, like tech and pharmaceutical companies. This value is also a plus for BtoB businesses that offer creative or strategic services. It’s never a bad thing to be known for thinking outside the box when problem solving.
I know Apple is used repeatedly as examples of good branding, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t use them again here. IPod, IPhone, IPad…enough Isaid. And love them or hate them, but Facebook is at the top of the list for innovation when it comes to advertising capabilities. Where else can you get such finely tuned targeting based on very specific, personal details?
Concern for Customers
You would think with all of the competition these days that every organization would be emphasizing the importance of customer service. While most companies claim this as one of their priorities, many fail to deliver.
To be known for exceptional customer service, you have to be willing to go way beyond the common practices of handling customer complaints and offering refunds. Consider Zappos with their free shipping return policy and customer rewards program. Or what about the above-and-beyond customer experiences that Ritz-Carlton is so famous for? JetBlue has the lofty goal of delighting customers and has delivered by creating an internal culture that supports and upholds this value.
Environmental & Social Programs
The public expects more out of large corporations these days, demanding that they take a more active role in social and environmental causes. Many organizations have jumped on the bandwagon for mere publicity, and it’s rather obvious.
Others, however, are authentic in their concerns and are reaping the benefits from customers who resonate with their causes. These organizations are also drawing like-minded employees, helping to build a more unified organizational culture.
The benefits of adopting a higher purpose isn’t limited to large corporations. Small organizations that champion a cause will not only stand out among their competitors, but they will also attract stakeholders who support their mission.
That being said, it’s important that organizations choose a higher purpose that aligns with their vision, mission, and products and services. It’s helpful if the higher purpose is linked to or inspired by the heritage of the company or the founder’s personal story.
Having a higher purpose is a strong differentiator since it is something that is difficult for competitors to copy. It would be impossible for another shoe company to use TOMS’ buy one give one model without looking phony, and it certainly wouldn’t have the same impact or attract the same attention as it did for TOMS.
Like many of the elements within the brand essence, the higher purpose should be more than just words in an ad campaign or quote from the CEO. It should be authentic and backed by action from the company. Words and sentiment without programs or activities that prove the organization’s commitment to a cause will be viewed as hollow rhetoric by the public.
The marketplace is filled with “me too” brands that are indistinguishable from one another. One way to stand out is to emphasize and live by your organization’s values. Though this isn’t the only differentiation strategy, it’s certainly a powerful way to separate yourself from the pack and communicate your value proposition.
Further demonstrating your higher purpose through environmental or social programs will help attract both customers and employees who resonate with the organization’s mission.
If you need help developing your higher purpose and differentiation strategy, we’re available to assist. Set up a free 15-minute consultation to get started.
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