Marketing Lowdown: Differentiation | SalesAndMarketing.com
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Marketing Lowdown: Differentiation

Everyone's looking for a way to differentiate his product from his competitors'. Whether it's the bigger this, the faster that, or the longest lasting other thing, finding that key point of difference means the difference between winning or losing the sale.

Even if there's little or no difference between your product or service and your competitors', you still need to find something distinctive.

David Olgivy, the famous ad man, first realized the importance of product differentiation back in the 1960s. He took a commodity product (gasoline) and managed to set his client (Shell Petroleum) apart from the competition…simply by identifying an ingredient found in all gasoline and claiming it. His ad campaign for Shell, with Platformate, is legend.

Now, all gasoline may have contained Platformate back then, but Ogilvy recognized the importance of getting there first. His claim preempted the competition, and Shell became the best-selling gasoline in the U.S. It took years for the others to dispel the notion Platformate was unique to Shell.

In the present day, gasoline companies try to create product differences through service offerings. Many have combined with convenience stores selling milk, bread, and other household necessities. Some offer Speed Pass convenience at the pump. Anything to set themselves apart in a commodity marketplace.

Fortunately, not all of us sell commodity products. Most of what we sell can be easily differentiated. The secret is finding that unique product difference, because it must be the thing that you advertise—the "big idea," as Leo Burnett called it.

Here's how to identify your own offering's unique difference. Every product has three parts:

1. The actual product.

2. The core product.

3. The augmented product.

The actual product is the specific thing customers receive in exchange for money (or barter).

If they buy shampoo, it's the liquid itself. If they buy a drill bit, it's the twisting piece of hardened steel. If they buy an airplane ticket on Midwest Express Airlines, it's simply the ticket itself—the piece of paper that promises a seat on board the airplane.

The core product is the primary product benefit they receive. For shampoo, it's the clean hair. For the drill bit, it's the hole. And for the airline ticket, it's the seat from here to wherever.

The augmented product is the unique product difference, the characteristic that makes your product different and better than anyone else's.

For the shampoo, it's the shiny hair, the tangle-free hair, or the dandruff control. For the drill bit, it's the hardened carbon steel, or the carbide tip. For Midwest Express Airlines, it's the first-class seating, the in-flight champagne, and above all, the chocolate chip cookies.

Good marketers promote more than simple product benefits. Any shampoo will get your hair clean. It's the extra shine, body, or dandruff control that makes it unique. That distinctive characteristic is what must be promoted.

Midwest Express Airlines doesn't promote the lowest fares, nor do they emphasize their vast route system. Theirs is "the best care in the air," exemplified by their first-class service and delicious cookies.

Often, the product difference can be found within one of three categories: quality, service, or price.

Your product may have exceptional durability, or special features, colors, sizes, or models. These are all quality-related issues.

Your product may have the industry's best warranty, the fastest delivery time, or an outstanding service record if anything ever goes wrong. These are service-related issues.

Price-related differences include low price, multiple price points, credit terms, or quantity discounts.

Examine your product or service for those unique characteristics that you, and only you, offer. Then promote those.

Disregard the core benefits; your competitors offer those, too. Find what makes your product unique, and focus solely on that.

Robert Grede is an author, teacher, counselor, and public speaker.