I believe you should think of differentiation as a company’s strategic position that drives everything: what products are marketed, what markets are targeted and which brands to compete against.
It’s not a specific appeal or offer. It’s not a copywriting technique. It’s not an ad campaign.
Yet I recently watched a video of a “marketing guru” claiming differentiation and positioning had to do with making a unique offer in a unique way. Those are tactics. They may arise from a strategic differentiation, but they do not drive the business. They are not a brand’s foundation.
Undoubtedly this speaker was steeped in the idea of a unique selling proposition (USP) being the key to successful marketing. But the USP is a tactic, usually a claim. Hopefully it will reflect the difference you have determined to call your own: a position you can own and defend. But that differentiation is more than a certain product quality and subsequent benefit.
The USP is a concept originally made famous within advertising circles by Rosser Reeves, then CEO of Ted Bates Advertising, in the late 1950’s. The agency was famous for driving home a USP with frequency, consistency and an in-your-face presentation. Most famous campaign was probably for Anacin. It featured a hammer banging on a cartoon head to dramatize the problem, then as the diagramed “head” took Anacin, the screen flashed “FAST, FAST, FAST” to demonstrate its USP.
But to really differentiate a company and their offerings from their competitors, a company must make that differentiation a core commitment of the company and the company’s employees. The company and/or its branded products come to stand for that particular differentiator in the minds of consumers. It must identify and adopt this unique, meaningful and desirable position, and keep it in mind with every strategic and tactical decision the company makes.
It is the measure for all activity: how will this activity we’re considering affect our market position, our differentiator?
Some who’ve set good examples include:
FedEx with overnight deliveries guaranteed…
Netflix with no-penalty movie rentals by mail…
Southwest Airlines with a fun, no-frills flight…
Target with good design combined with low prices.
All of these examples have their differentiation as a driving force for their respective organizations. Employees and consumers know what makes the companies unique.
One could define the differentiator as the “corporate culture” expressed through words, image and deed. It begins as the corporate vision and is then translated and transformed into the BRAND and the brand promise by keeping true to the position.