Don’t be different, be better

Huge marketing budgets and minds are expended on trying to articulate a business’ point of difference. There is a widely held belief that clients will buy from you because you are different from your competitors, that your USP is crystalised in that tiny space where you are somehow not the same as other businesses in your field.

Understanding what you are all about is crucial, a business needs to get its messaging crystal clear. But for our clients, in professional service firms, looking for ‘difference’ isn’t necessarily productive. Clients won’t be looking for ‘different.’ They’ll be hunting for ‘right for me’ and that’s a different(!) thing entirely. We all want to be understood, we all want answers to our problems, and we all want to feel like we’ve made the right decisions.

There are better things to be than ‘different.’ Here are five of them.

  1. Know your customers better than your competitors do. This means talking to them, getting under the skin of their problems and the way they want to be treated. Build your website around what they’re looking for, design it so that it welcomes and inspires them.
  2. Be more helpful than your competitors. There are no secrets any more. If you are a professional services firm, your expert knowledge can be found online somewhere. Share what you know to help your clients. Be the generous, useful one.
  3. Be more human and likeable than your competitors. We don’t mean by sharing your holiday pictures on your website, but by articulating the frustrations and joys of your clients world, in language they like. Getting to grips with social media helps here too – use it to develop real relationships.
  4. Be more expert. Know your niche better, and talk about it in an engaging way. Keep learning and share what you know freely.
  5. Be more relevant than your competitors. Understanding your clients inside out means you’ll be able to talk about your services in a way that chimes with their concerns. What problems are they facing now? How do they feel about it? Show you’re the one that absolutely understands the terrain, so you’re the one they will trust to guide you through it.

Proving you are more valuable will really set you apart.

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  1. Jim O'Connor

    Great article, such an important point you make about being better rather than being different. Being better is the point of difference that matters most! Also, great check list of what it means to be better. Thanks Sharon, it’s reassuring to find someone out there who can see things clearly and articulate them so succinctly.

  2. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Jim, really glad you liked it. I wrote it because this difference thing has been coming up a lot recently. The analogy that came to mind, but I didn’t include because it got in the way (and it’s a bit daft) is that people wouldn’t choose to buy a house because it was dramatically different (‘the roof is made of jelly and there are no floors!’) People buy houses because they feel right to them, and they can imagine feeling happy living there. It’s the same for selling services – don’t waste time trying to reinvent yourself as ‘different’, show you’re right for them.

  3. Gary Williams

    Spot on Sharon. It amazes me how much people talk about the need to differentiate, “what is our USP” etc. There are very few firms that can truly claim to be different and hardly any have a really UNIQUE selling point (many have strong selling points and should focus on those). Much better to be relevant and useful than different!

  4. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Gary, agreed! Relevant and useful are much better things to be than ‘different’.


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