Marketers: Ask Yourself What You’re Differentiating Against

Published On: September 27, 2013Categories: Buzz, Uncategorized

By Ken Presti, Senior Consultant, Channel Impact

While you are reading this, marketers around the planet are hunched over their keyboards, crafting messages intended to persuade people to do something, to buy something, or, perhaps, to feel a particular way about their product, service, or client.

Doing this successfully is more of an art than a science. But one of the most useful tools for judging the likely influence on external audiences is to turn your message on its head and ask exactly what you’re differentiating against.

Let me give you an example.

Several months ago, while I was working on a series of media projects, I got a call from a young PR person who wanted to pitch me her client’s message for inclusion in my report. It seems her client’s CEO thought his company’s product was better than his competitor’s product, and she had a statement to that effect.

Imagine that. The CEO likes his product better than the competitor’s.

Clearly, she wanted me to believe this was ground-breaking, and she was quick to point out that her client’s marketing people also agreed that the CEO was making an important statement. In fact, the gravity of her description made me wonder if the Big Guy’s quote was being engraved on a marble tablet somewhere, and would one day be carried down the mountain.

“What are you differentiating against?” I asked.

After a long and vacant pause, I elaborated on my question.

“So your CEO is saying his company’s product is good. Are you differentiating against CEOs who say their product is bad? Cause if you can find me one of those, I think we have a story.”

Needless to say, we had no story.

Too often, marketers are telling us what we should think and do, rather than leading us through a thought process that encourages us to think and do those things based on a seemingly independent conclusion. In doing so, they’re making their own internal stake-holders feel good without accomplishing a whole lot with respect to the customers and influencers that they are actually paid to sway.

Let’s try a slightly less obvious statement on for size: “Our company is firmly committed to the success and profitability of our channel partners.”

While commonly used, this statement differentiates only against vendors who are saying, “Partner profitability is completely meaningless to us, but we’d like them to help us make money, even if they don’t.”

Obviously, no marketers in their right mind would ever say that, so there’s no point in differentiating against them. And regardless of whether that commitment and profitability are real, saying those things point-blank will fail to resonate with the partners. They’ve heard it all before.

Besides, channel profitability and commitment will be decided based on numbers and behavior, so marketers will be better off focusing attention on the numbers and behavior that support that conclusion, rather than merely reciting what they would like the channel to think.

We might, however, tweak the statement and say, “We pursue Strategy X, which is much more beneficial to the success and profitability of our partners than Strategy Y.” In this case, we’re differentiating based on strategy, which carries far greater channel impact and is much more likely to succeed.

In fairness, it’s true that the marketers all know that the client is paying the invoice, so it’s certainly tempting to directly focus on the statement they most want to hear. But true service to their cause lies in influencing the people external to the organization who buy the goods, re-sell them, report on them, or play some similar role. And that typically requires a more circuitous route to the desired conclusion.

So don’t tell your partners what you want them to think. Plant the seeds that will grow the conclusion you seek. By doing so, you will strengthen the influence of your message, and also your likelihood of success.

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