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In a crowded industry it has been proven that when you differentiate yourself with identifiable value, you will be chosen over a competitor. To do that, you need to create a differentiator which must meet three important criteria:
- It must be true. You can’t simply make it up.
- It must be an important value determinant to potential clients.
- It must be provable. If you can’t demonstrate that it is true, it won’t be believed.
Listed below are 18 ways companies have separated themselves from the others by achieving that differentiation:
- Specialize in a niche industry: This is called Account Based Marketing where you conduct research and choose the specific industry that you want to specialize in. Libraries offer significant research, easily obtained for free, that helps you to identify and select an under-served industry.
- Specialize in offering a specific service: Not just another service, but one that an under-served company needs to achieve their objective, whether that is a new building, or other need for your skill. If it doesn’t solve a problem, it’s not a good idea. If it reduces pain, or improves how their company functions, it solves their problem. You solve their problem.
- Offer a truly unique technology or process: Whether it is a patented material, or a procedure process that ensures speed and quality delivery, that becomes your differentiator that can be respected. You find this out by asking current, or new customers, on what roadblocks they have. You may have that answer with your 12-step process, that others don’t use.
- Focus on understanding a specific audience: A key differentiator for some firms is their in-depth understanding of a particular audience. Your firm might specialize in designing churches, or restaurants. Often, when you create one completed project, it becomes easy for that client to recommend you to another business in need of that specialty.
- Specialize in serving clients of a certain size: Whether it is a Fortune 50 company or solo-preneurs, that size has similar problems. The more you specialize in the size, the next project will require less research and planning as you are familiar with that size requirements. You also know that specific size company’s problem and can ‘speak their speak’.
- Your staff have earned a specific characteristic or credential: Everyone feels like they have a great team. It’s tough to make that stick as a differentiator. But what if each of your staff architects hold advanced degrees, or certifications in a specific material? What if they are Six Sigma? That, is both provable and meaningful to a potential client
- Focus on solving a specific business challenge: Here, the spotlight is not on the client as much as on the nature of the business challenge they are facing. To work, it must be a challenge that is easily recognized and tough to solve without specialized skills and experience, such as getting a project approved by a Village because you have a relationship with that manager.
- Have one or more individuals who are known ‘unicorns‘ in their fields.: This is a time-tested strategy that works very well. Having the country’s top expert in your specialty is a very powerful competitive advantage. Many firms have been built on this differentiator alone by adding experts, and you will have a compelling and very valuable Brand.
- Offer a unique business model: Everyone in your profession bills by the hour, but you offer a fixed fee. Everyone requires half-down, half on completion, and you offer extended payments. A unique business model can be both meaningful and easy to prove.
- Have a specific geographic focus: you concentrate in a key about-to-be growth area. You create your Brand by being there ahead of the crowd. This is gained by knowing the Village planners before it becomes known ‘on the street’.
- Offer access to a unique set of information not available elsewhere: Sometimes, access to certain information can be very valuable to potential clients. Do you have bench-marking data that no one else possesses? Some firms have built very valuable practices around proprietary data not easily duplicated.
- Offer a unique set of contacts or relationships not easily accessible: While the previous differentiator focused on information, this one is focused on relationships. Public relations firms have long used relationships with reporters and editors as differentiators. What relationships can your firm bring to the table?
- Do business with a distinctive level of service: Are you ‘horizontal‘ that does one aspect of the project, or are you ‘vertical’ where you do most, if not all, of a project plan.
- Distinguish yourself by the clients you have: Having an impressive client list is a plus for many firms. But what if you take it further? Some firms differentiate themselves based on their client list. For example, if your firm serves the higher education market and your clients are Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, you have a differentiator.
- Focus on the size or age of your firm: We are the largest, We started in…fill in the blank. Size sends a signal that you are doing something right in the minds of many potential clients. This combines nicely with a specialization to show both relevance (the specialty) as well as success (the largest). Find a niche and dominate it.
- Emphasize your relationship with a parent firm or Strategic Alliance Partner: A close relationship with a parent firm or innovative companies that are your Alliance Partners, can be a limiter (potential clients may feel like you cannot be objective about other technologies for example). But for other potential clients, it can be a big asset. Who knows the ins and outs of the technology better? This same differentiator might also be applied to situations where your firm is a value-added partner rather than a subsidiary.
- Focus on a notable signature accomplishment: Some firms can build a strong brand based on achieving a notable accomplishment ( such as AIA Architect of the Year ). Firms that invented a technology or solved a highly visible problem for a very visible client are good examples. This type of notoriety can be leveraged throughout an industry.
- Specialize in producing a unique or very valuable result: Similar to focusing on a notable business challenge, this differentiator focuses on a valuable result. The key difference is that you may need to overcome multiple business challenges to produce the valuable result. For example, you might have designed a company building that won a special award in their industry.
In a crowded industry, or one where every company says the same thing, you need to find a way to separate and differentiate yourself. Not with just a different voice, but with a different offer that proves your value.
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