How to Identify Your Organization’s REAL Differentiating Factor

5 min read

What makes your organization unique? This can be a difficult question for many leaders to answer, or at least to answer in a compelling way that drives their stakeholders to take action. But no matter what field you’re in, differentiating yourself from your competition is essential to your success. In order to stand out from the crowd, you need to determine and then emphasize your company’s point of difference: the clear area where you stand apart from those in your competitive set.

But how can you find your point of difference and communicate it to your audience? Simply saying “we’re the best” isn’t going to cut it –you need to be able to show what your point of difference is, how you deliver it to your stakeholders, and why it’s important. Then, you need to back it up with real world examples. Like most things in communications and marketing, you’ll need to show not tell. Here’s how to bring your point of difference to life.

Research similarities and differences between you and your competitors and develop a competitive matrix.

You might think you know where you’re similar from others in your competitive set and how you’re different, but do you really know? And do you know if your external stakeholders are perceiving the same things you’re seeing internally?

If you and your main competition all offer the same basic features or services, those probably aren’t the facets of your organization you’ll want to highlight; instead, you’ll want to identify less obvious brand benefits to highlight. Consider this via an example that deals with one of my favorite foods: pizza. If you’re a pizza company looking to make a name for yourself, you likely won’t have much success highlighting your variety of toppings or your fast delivery service. Take a look at what you do that others don’t, and consider intangible benefits as well as tangible ones. If you’re the only pizza company in the area offering a gluten-free crust, now might be your time to appeal to the celiac-sufferers in your neighborhood and differentiate yourself from your competition. Or, if your organization employs pizza chefs who are rehabilitating after incarceration or it sources ingredients only from local farms that treat their animals humanely, you might highlight your social and environmental impact. Impact can be a great differentiator–but it’s got to come from the heart. If you want to show that your desire to do good and give back is about more than growing your bottom line, consider B Corp Certification.

Here at Prosper Strategies, we use a competitive matrix tool (and a great deal of research) to identify areas where our clients are similar from their competition and areas where they’re different. Here is a simple competitive differentiator workbook you can print for your own organization. After you fill it out, look for the brand benefits/features (or combination of a few brand benefits/features) where your organization offers something no one else does–that might be the beginning of your point of difference.

Consider your strengths, both real and perceived.

A strong point of difference statement is focused on competitive strengths and based on consumer insights. It needs to align closely with why stakeholders choose you over your competitors, and relate to a particular benefit or feature that distinguishes your business from the rest. And it needs to be believable and believed.

After you’ve done your competitive matrix exercise, talk to your real customers or intended customers and other stakeholders. Do they see the same areas of differentiation you’ve identified? Do they feel these areas come through in your messaging? At the end of the day, it’s what they think, not what you think, that matters.

Figure out the “Why.”

So you’re different. What does it matter? People need a reason to believe the difference between you and your competitor doesn’t just make you unique, it makes you better (at least for them).  For pir imaginary pizza parlor, allergy-friendly pizzas matter because celiac disease impacts more than 200,000 people per year, and those people should have an opportunity to experience the joys of great pizza. At Prosper, we call this “why” statement your reason to believe.

Create your own point of difference statement.

Condensing your differentiating factor into a statement isn’t terribly hard, but making that statement powerful and engaging is a bit more of a feat. A good point of difference statement is a succinct sentence or two that truly engages stakeholders, motivates them to action and clearly shows why your differentiators matter.

To create your own point of difference statement, you’ll need to think about three key elements: your unique benefit, your field or business category and a reason to believe in your differentiating factors. To put it more simply, you need your differentiator, who you’re competing against and why it matters.

Here’s what it might look like in sentence form:

(Your organization) offers (unique benefit) than other (category) because only (your company) (reason to believe).

For the gluten-free pizza parlor we’re dreaming up as our example, a point of difference statement might read:

“Julia’s Pizza offers more health-conscious pizza choices than other Chicago pizza parlors because only Julia’s Pizza aligns with Celiac Foundation guidelines to deliver delicious pies to anyone, regardless of allergies, and brings the joy of pizza to those with gluten allergies.”

With this point of difference, I’m suddenly a lot more appealing than just any old pizza parlor. There’s a difference between my business and others, and it makes Julia’s Pizza a smarter choice for the exact right kind of customer. Now, I just have to carry that point of difference statement through all of my communications and interactions, and keep evolving it as my stakeholders’ reasons to believe change.

So tell us: how do you differentiate yourself from your competition?

Photo Credit: Maria Reyes-McDavis