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marketing differentiation

Competition is a natural part of doing business. But it’s not always easy. The trick to a good small business marketing plan is to find ways to set yourself apart from the competition. But how do you do that, especially as a small business with competitors that may be decidedly bigger than you? Marketing differentiation is truly the key.

What is marketing differentiation and how does it help? Let’s get into that…

What is Marketing Differentiation — And Why Is It So Important?

Marketing differentiation is a strategy within small business marketing that highlights truly unique aspects of your business, products, and services. It also involves building up other aspects of your business to set you further apart.

How does this help your small business?

Competition exists in every industry — there’s just no avoiding it. You are bound to go up against companies with a larger advertising budget and more name recognition. It might not be fair, but them’s the facts.

Marketing differentiation, on the other hand, helps you to play to your strengths. These strengths could be customer service, the quality of your product, or something unique about your company’s background.

It’s a great way for small businesses to level the playing field.

Let’s consider a few specific ways that you can leverage marketing differentiation within your own small business marketing plan.

How to Rock Marketing Differentiation for Your Small Business

1. Choose a Niche

As a small business, you can’t go head-to-head with the major big-brand companies in your industry. Oftentimes, they cover a wider swath of the industry and have the name and status to do it successfully.

But that’s the end of the story.

Instead of trying to match these big companies in everything they do, carve out a smaller niche for yourself within your industry. Be the expert in a small space that attracts a very specific segment of the audience.

What does this do for your small business?

While your competitors’ messaging may speak to them in generic terms, you can speak to them in a specific, direct, and personal way. This has the potential to excite and delight your customers.

How do you choose a niche? Take the time to lay out where your specific expertise lies. Choose a niche segment of your industry that captures your interest — your excitement will be a humungous factor in your success.

Then get to know your audience. What are their interests and needs? How can you fill those needs? Since you’re dealign with a smaller audience, chances are you’ll be able to stand out to them and craft niche marketing campaigns with a personal touch that many larger companies lack.

2. Enhance Your User Experience

Nothing can kill a good product faster than a bad user experience — and word of a bad experience has a way of spreading like wildfire.

So take the time to create a solid user experience that meets the needs of your audience and delights them.

If your product includes an online interface, make sure that it is easy to use and has all the features that your customers could want. Take note of what features and designs your competitors are using and see how you can improve on that. You should even talk to your customers and ask what features are most important to them.

If your small business delivers actual products, take the steps to streamline the ordering and delivery process. Invest in the fastest shipping methods, provide updates on where packages are in transit, and include extras in the package to surprise and elate your customers

You might even take a page out of several small business handbooks and include a personalized handwritten note with every purchase.

3. Step Up Your Customer Service

Customer service is an extremely important way to differentiate your business. Supporting this is a study from Microsoft which revealed that 60% of consumers wouldn’t hesitate to switch brands because of a subpar customer service experience.

Many larger companies struggle with this, simply being too big to ensure top-quality customer service. They just have too much going on.

And this is where you come in — as a smaller brand, you can invest in your customer service experience to ensure that it is a positive one.

And the formula for customer service success is relatively simple. Listen to your customers. When they provide feedback, take it in stride and see where you can make improvements. Treat every customer as unique and make them feel important.

Finally, stay on top of your social media. Many customers will use a business’ social media as a customer service portal, leaving comments and reviews there. Keeping track of these comments can help you to address their concerns before problems snowball and learn from their feedback.

4. Distinguish Yourself as an Expert

In many industries, being an established expert is in essence a magnet for customers. It’s truly a way to set yourself apart. Sometimes we call this thought leadership — becoming the go-to source for industry knowledge and advice.

Creating content remains the top way to achieve a reputation as an industry expert. Write blog posts on trending industry topics. Post to social media with authoritative posts on industry news and trends. As people consume this content, their trust and appreciation for your name and brand will grow.

One example of this that sticks out to me is Neil Patel. He has spent years developing his reputation as an SEO and marketing expert. A few years ago he released his own SEO tool called Ubersuggest. Now, there are definitely bigger players in the SEO industry — SEMRush and Ahrefs, to name a couple. But because he took the time to differentiate himself with his proven expertise in SEO, Patel has been able to build up a loyal customer base for his product.

5. Invest in Customer Relationships

You’ve put in the work to attract customers to your brand. And it pays off — they make a purchase! Is that the end of your efforts?

For many of your competitors, it most likely is the end. But it shouldn’t be for you.

Learning more about your customers and building relationships with them is an essential way to set yourself apart.

Keep in touch with your customers after their purchase. Follow up with an email to see how they’re enjoying your product or with suggestions on how to make the most of it. Invite them to special virtual or in-person events that build an exclusive community around your brand. You may also give them the first pick of new products or special discounts.

As you build these relationships with your current and past customers, you give them a glimpse into the kind of brand you are. It’s a great way to showcase your thoughtfulness, reliability, loyalty, and support.

This will not only win you the loyalty of your customers but also attract new ones.

6. Shine Socially

In recent years, customers have voiced a preference for brands who are socially responsible. This can mean many things depending on your industry.

Social responsability can include…

  • Sustainable manufacturing
  • Charitable donations
  • Minimizing your carbon footprint
  • Community volunteering
  • Fair benefits packages for your employees
  • And more

This interest and investment in socially responsible causes shows that you’re not just interesetd in your bottom line — instead, you care about the well-being of people and the planet as a whole.

Concluding Thoughts on Marketing Differentiation

Marketing differentiation is a great way to give your small business the umph it needs to compete with other companies within your industry. It’s one strategy where it doesn’t matter how big your company is or the size of your budget.

There’s always new tactics out there to help you further differentiate your small business. Whether you look at ways to improve your customer service or distinguish yourself as an expert, I hope you’ve been able to glean ways to effectively set yourselves apart as a small business!

Photo by Cristofer Maximilian on Unsplash

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Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx, author, coach and marketing and branding authority is the founder of Thriving at 50 Plus, a coaching program that helps baby boomers find more purpose and meaning in life. Wendy over the last 30 years has helped many business owners and executives become well-known, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™. Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets.

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