The Path to Differentiation: 3 Steps to Understanding Your POV

February 15, 2016 Ryan Schulz

How many B2B and professional services organizations have you seen use one (or several) of the following to describe their organization: innovative, client-focused, collaborative or responsive?

B2B and professional services organizations are currently drowning in a sea of sameness, going to market with the same key messages. Why is this happening? I believe it stems from a misunderstanding of positioning and value propositions. If we are looking for true differentiation, we need to focus on defining our point of view. Defining a point of view shows how we see the world, not how we want clients to see us. If we can establish a clear point of view, differentiation will be within our grasp. And it’s worth the effort. Finding and understanding a clear point of view will result in several significant rewards:

Your audience will pay more attention to you. It is inherently more interesting to be different and not just another firm that attempts to harness the true meaning of innovation.

It provides audiences with an actual plotline. It gives history and context to your organization: why you’ve acquired businesses, why you’ve expanded capabilities…etc.

Offers better rational for your pricing structure. If you are a premium brand, for example, it sets expectations for why something is priced the way it is.

All of these things sound great, right? Well, to truly differentiate your brand, you have to have a clear point of view.

Here are three steps to better understand how to define your point of view.

1. Know what you sell.
Despite what your CEO or managing partner thinks, you do not sell practice areas, you don’t sell industry expertise, and you don’t sell collaboration.

Famous movie star Marlene Dietrich once said: “Glamour is what I sell, it’s my stock and trade.”

Marlene Dietrich

Miss Dietrich did not actually sell glamour – she was an actress. She showed up on set, memorized her lines, performed and got paid. Glamour was the lens through which she did everything – it dictated her role in movies, how she dated, how she dressed and every other aspect of her life.

Just like Marlene Dietrich, what you really sell is a feeling, be it confidence, perspective, focus or something else. Own it and embody that essence throughout the expression of your brand.

2. Know your audience.
Again, I’m going to start here with what you don’t need to know about your audience. It’s not their names, where they work or how much they spend with you. Those things are important to know but that is not what it means to truly know your audience.

You need to know what drives your audience. You need to know what your work does for them, and how they feel when they are successful. You need to know them as actual people. You need to find a way to build meaningful feedback loops into the work you do so that you can learn about these things as they change and evolve.

3. Try to understand why they chose you.
This is always changing, depending on what capability you’re selling and such. But you need to be ready to adapt. You need to be willing and open to ask them why they did or didn’t choose you. And you need to be ready to own this answer.

Lastly, as an additional bonus to these three things, you need to be disciplined. Constantly check yourselves against these three things that define your point of view when you move forward in your marketing plan. Elements of all of these things will evolve and change, and it is necessary that you respond and adjust just the same.

I hope these things help lead you closer to uncovering your unique point of view. Whether you’re the blue-sky strategist or the obsessed perfectionist, make sure your POV, whatever it is, has a unique tension to it. This is interesting to your audience and an interesting lens through which to understand the things you do with your brand. These are unique ways you can think about something as simple as innovation or collaboration. Once you have a sense of what, who or why you do what you do, I hope you can move forward with a more impactful and engaging brand to break out of this sea of sameness so many of us feel we’re in.

This content was inspired by my talk Genre Bending – Finding Your Differentiator at One North’s Experience Lab: Digital Working in Concert.

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Ryan Schulz Managing Director, Experience Design

As Managing Director of Brand and Experience Design, Ryan Schulz is responsible for making sure clients’ true character is represented in everything his team does: messaging, brand, user experience, visual design and front-end experiences. With more than 15 years in brand consulting, he helps clients break through the sea of sameness that plagues the world of professional services. 

  •  Favorite color: Greenish
  •  Favorite breakfast food: Breakfast tacos

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