XTC 6/16: Viva le Differentiation! Giving Superlatives a Rest in the Quest to Differentiate

Thinkstock Biggest, best, fastest, first, only … when it comes to making brands stand out, nowhere else in the world at any point in history have superlatives ever been more overused than in the technology sector.

Okay, maybe that’s over-stating it, but that’s my point—in an attempt to get our message out over all the white noise, we stretch superlatives past the point of meaning anything. Whether you’re in a maturing space with massive consolidation and commoditization of technologies, or whether you’re in a hot new space flooded with startups, there are so many different companies clamoring for attention that virtually every PR practitioner has their own formula for smart messaging. But what some companies lack in rhetorical finesse they try to compensate for with brute force of verbiage. It’s the “Spinal Tap” approach to differentiation, where the volume on your value proposition “goes to eleven!”

Even worse, most of the superlatives we fall back on in tech PR are utterly subjective. Words like “best” only mean something in context—best for whom, and under what conditions? Words like “first” only mean something today if you can prove up the competitive barriers to entry. And words like “only” can work against you as easily as they work for you. If you’re the “only” vendor to take a certain technology approach or play in a certain category, it could be a warning sign that you’re on the path to obsolescence, not innovation.

With that in mind, here are alternatives to articulate differentiation:

Differentiate by customer. Not all solutions were meant for all customers. Sit down with your business development, product marketing and analyst relations teams and challenge yourselves to answer the following question: who should not buy our stuff? Which part of the market would be best served going to a competitor, and under what conditions? Differentiate yourselves based on a surgically selective sweet spot in the market—preferably one with money and purchasing power.

Differentiate by problem. A corollary of differentiating by customer is differentiating by problem. What is unique about how you define the customer challenge? In the David Maister “Trusted Advisor” model, the way to make the leap from being just another vendor to being a strategic partner is to help your customer see their challenge in a new way. Help them redefine their problem in a way others don’t. This differentiation also helps you pull ahead of competitors in thought leadership.

Differentiate by revenue agenda. You can also differentiate yourself at a corporate level by demonstrating unique differences between your revenue agenda and that of your competitors. What legacy approach are they defending? How can you call out any discrepancies in how they make money and what’s in the best interest of customers? Are there any disconnects between the promises your competitors make to shareholders and customers? And where is your own business model best aligned with your customers’ needs? Differentiating by revenue agenda is a powerful technique, as it leaves no room for your competition to mimic you.

Differentiate with storytelling. Brand differentiation is an established science. A more emerging technique is to differentiate based on your ability to engage in viral storytelling. That is, outmaneuver your competition with a narrative around your company that is true, compelling, succinct, competitive and eminently shareable. The most important technique to embrace here is the art of the “viral question”—a provocative, open-ended question that genuinely solicits fresh thinking from your audience around how they ought to be defining their challenge and what market myths ought to be challenged.

What differentiation techniques do you find most compelling? Share with us @BlancandOtus.