Think of all the businesses in the world as species of fish in an ocean, and then imagine all of the individual fish within each species. In the current corporate climate, there are more species and families than there have ever been before, filling the ocean with all kinds of colors and types of fish so that it is densely populated.
Now imagine your customers as ocean divers who are each searching for the fish that they need. The only way that each diver can pick out the one they are looking for is to recognize a simple, crucial difference that sets it apart from all the other fish in the ocean.
Yes, You Need a Differentiator
If you’re not familiar with the concept already, then commit this to memory. It doesn’t even matter if you’re entering a completely saturated industry–you can do very, very well, but only if you’ve got something that sets you apart from every other small business that does exactly what you do.
Consumers today are savvy, discerning, intelligent, and they do their research because the wealth of online information makes it easy to do so.
When your potential customers are looking for a particular product or service, they are going to find numerous businesses that are carbon copies of each other, but all you need is one thing different from the others that people will notice and compel them to choose you over your competitors.
What is a Differentiator?
So, what does this differentiator look like? Can it be described? Definitely. But it will be different for every business. It’s that not-so-subtle edge your business has, that the next business does not have.
Maybe your product is handmade; maybe it’s made with the highest possible quality components; maybe you respond to all customer inquiries of any kind within 10 minutes. Those are the sort of things that seem small but will capture the attention of customers more effectively than you thought.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Big
The differentiator can be described as the thing that splits the market between two (or more) businesses in the same field. One group of people say, “I like Company A,” and the other group of people say, “I like Company B.”
What each group is essentially saying is that they chose one over the other because it has this, or does this; the other group of customers chose theirs because it something else. Whatever that thing is does not have to be huge.
Take Toyota and Hyundai, for example. Those are two makes of automobile which are extremely similar in design, aesthetic, and even cost; so, how are consumers supposed to choose between them?
Of course, each car company is doing extensive research about their particular market to understand what people want, but it’s going to ultimately come down to a customer’s preference for subtle differences in one make of vehicle, over the other.
Maybe the driver’s seat feels better; all the controls seem to be more easily in reach without needing to stretch; the warranty is better; premium safety features are standard on one vehicle make, but not the other. It can be one small thing that tips the scale for the customer.
How to Find Your Differentiator
The easiest way to define the differentiator for your own company is to imagine the following scenario: A customer calls into your business and asks you, “Why should we choose your company over Company X?”
Your answer (and hopefully, you have a good one) will tell you exactly what your edge is that people can latch onto and call your product their own. And that’s the idea… People want something about the product that they can point to an brag about it—“This thing that I chose is better because it has this.”
There has to be something about your product or service that makes it special, something the customer can identify with and latch onto, as an extension of themselves. They want to feel like they’re part of a special club, so to speak, a community that others are not a part of. For more on this, check out this post:
“Differentiator” is kind of a buzz word these days among small business. Maybe it’s due to the massive number of new businesses opening up, but in any case, small businesses are beginning to see that if there is not something remarkable about them that makes them better than the next guy in some small way, then no one will notice. In a world with numerous competing businesses in any given field, having a differentiator is an essential factor.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.