In the olden days, when there was just one blacksmith in each town, it was easy to brand yourself as the best blacksmith around.
If someone needed a blacksmith, you’re the blacksmith they called. But then villages grew into towns and a new blacksmith moved into the neighborhood. All of a sudden, people had a reference of comparison and competition was born – along with the need for differentiation.
So what happens as more and more people enter into a profession, and as the profession itself becomes more widely recognized as a helpful service?
The needs of the market get sliced and diced in a variety of different ways – and the professional that focuses on one of those slices is more highly valued than the professional who continues to try to be all things to all people.
That’s why we have doctors who specialize by part of the body – cardiologists, podiatrists and nephrologists. We have doctors who specialize in type of patient – pediatricians, gynecologists and veterinarians. We have doctors who focus on geographic regions. And we have doctors who work in small teams, in large corporations and as individual ‘freelancers’.
Today, you’d laugh if you heard a doctor say, ‘The process of treating a patient is the same regardless of the type of patient or the specific ailment, so really, I can treat anyone with any complaint.’
And as each specialty fills up with more people, it gets sliced and diced into finer and finer sub-specialties. Look at any profession and you’ll see the same pattern. Whether you’re a lawyer, accountant, consultant, coach or any other independent professional. You either focus on one of those slices, or you don’t get much respect in the market.
That’s the specialization-differentiation imperative.
But how do you specialize if you are a general practitioner? And even if you are already a specialist, how do you differentiate yourself from the other specialists in your sub-specialty?
The answer comes from a concept that’s as far away from the branding labs and market research focus groups as you could imagine – and it’s the same for individual careers, entrepreneurial businesses and international corporations.
The answer is authentic differentiation.
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to align the differentiation that already exists within yourself or your company’s culture with the matching slice that already exists in the market.
‘Differentiation’ is the slice in the sales and marketing pie that my company focuses on. We help companies and individuals discover their true differentiation and then communicate it in the most compelling way. It’s what I call their ‘Essential Message.’
Your Essential Message is what enables generalists to command the same high status and privilege of a specialist, and what enables specialists to rise above other specialists.
Finding your differentiation is the number one reason why independent professionals join my Essential Message Membership program or buy my eWorkbooks; it’s why event planners book me for speaking engagements, and why my client companies set up Clarity Package sessions that I facilitate.
Here’s a powerful way to brainstorm your own differentiation possibilities using W5 – who, what, where, why, when and how. It’s not as simplistic as it sounds, so if you’re ready to start your journey of discovering your differentiation (and it is a journey), then get your pencil out and take a deep breath.
On a blank sheet of paper, draw a table with six columns. Label the columns with who, what, where, why, when and how. Then as you read the descriptions for each one below, jot down whatever applies to your business today as well as what you’d like to explore in the future.
This refers to your clients – the different ways you can define and group the people you work with. The more you specialize in a specific target group, the easier it is for you to focus your sales and marketing budget.
Do you offer group coaching? Do you sell physical products? Do you hold weekend retreats on luxury cruise ships? Or do you sell an hour at a time? What’s the tangible part of what you provide that people buy?
Proximity used to mean geographic proximity, but now extends to mean visibility – in person, online or in any media. Where are you most visible? Where are you most visible? And don’t ignore the power of old-fashioned physical proximity. If you are the only coach in your geographical area — and if geographic proximity is important to the buying decision of your clients — highlight it!
Traditional marketing approaches recommend you focus on the ‘why’ — the benefit of what you offer. But in today’s information overloaded world, benefits often sound like empty promises that people have heard before. A more compelling way to frame your ‘why’ is the flipside of the benefit – what are the problems that people need your help with and what are the risks if people do not use the solution you recommend? Be granular and list all the problems that you help your clients with. The more specific you are, the easier it is for you to identify the one problem that you solve better than anyone else.
In sales, as in everything else, timing is everything. For the purposes of discovering your differentiation, ‘when’ is closely related to ‘why’. What are the trigger events in your clients’ lives and businesses that bring a latent problem to the surface and cause people to (finally) do something about it? Simply by being visible at the same time and just prior to these trigger events, you can make it easier for potential clients to find you when they need you most.
Which one of these is not like the others? That’s right — it’s ‘how’. How you do what you do is one of the best places to ‘dig’ for your differentiation. You might have a unique approach that comes so naturally to you, you may not even realize how powerful it is. That’s why it’s helpful to get other people’s perspective. (In fact, you might even want the assistance of a coach!)
My own journey of discovering my differentiation started when I ran my own ad agency. It took several frustrating years of offering non-differentiating services before I realized that the real value we offered our clients was in helping them discover their differentiation at a deeper level than they had experienced with other communications companies. That realization became the impetus and the foundation for my company today – The Essential Message.
The W5 Approach to Differentiation is one way of looking at your differentiation. And the examples that I gave you in this article may not be appropriate for you. For more ideas of where to look for your differentiation, download a free worksheet at: http://www.essentialmessage.com/elearn.php or, you might be interested in trying a completely different approach which you’ll also find on the website, called ‘What Drives You Crazy Makes You Great!”
Your differentiation is at the heart of your Essential Message. Discovering who you really are and using it in your life and in your work is perhaps the most satisfying, most rewarding thing you can ever do.
More than just greater business success, the feedback we get from audiences and clients is it gives them the confidence, momentum and resilience that can only come from being absolutely clear about your strengths and unique difference both as a company – and as an individual.
And that’s why I hope you don’t just read this article… I hope you do it!