“Different” Isn’t Good Enough: You Have to Be UNIQUE

Don’t just take my word for it…

“Sustainable competitive advantage comes from being different.  What the strategic mind focuses on is:  ‘How can we, by limiting what we do, by not seeking to serve all customers, by not seeking to offer every product, by not seeking to enter every geography, how can we, by limiting ourselves, be unique?’  That is the essential strategic question.”

Michael E. Porter

“The goal of positioning…is to create a space inside of the target customer’s head called ‘best buy for this type of situation’ and to attain sole, undisputed occupancy of that space.”

Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm

“Positioning is the act of designing the company’s offering and image so that they occupy a meaningful and distinct competitive position in the target customers’ minds.”

Philip Kotler, Marketing Management

Who’s at Risk?

Much of what I espouse about strategic marketing applies to many types of B2B companies, but it’s primarily aimed at the sector I’ve studied most closely: the business solutions ecosystem selling to large and medium-sized businesses. In information technology sectors alone, this $3.1 trillion ecosystem employs more than 17 million people worldwide (sources: Gartner, Software Magazine, IDC).  It includes:

  • IT services and technology service providers
  • Systems integrators
  • Enterprise software companies
  • Enterprise software-as-a-service (Saas) providers
  • Computing and telecommunications hardware and equipment providers
  • Telecommunications service providers selling to businesses
  • Business solution providers
  • Management consulting firms
  • Business process outsourcing providers (e.g., payroll processing, accounts receivable)

What they have in common is that they sell intangibles. Customers can’t see, touch or experience these companies’ offerings. Customers have to buy on faith. They can only evaluate whether they got what they wanted and whether it was worth the price after they’ve bought and implemented the offering. Customers are evaluating promises and reputations during the buying process as opposed to evaluating tangible products.

There is another $900+ billion collection of companies with a similar issue.  This market includes:

  • Advertising, public relations, marketing and market research firms
  • Non-technology professional services firms, such as law, architecture, construction, engineering, and other types of management consulting
  • Other business services

In addition, there is an emerging population of companies in greentech (aka cleantech) and life sciences that sell business-to-business services and solutions, as opposed to straight products.

Every company in existence needs to differentiate itself in the face of competition, but the invisible nature of services and solutions makes differentiation exceptionally challenging.  The good news is that there is a relatively straightforward way to clearly differentiate one’s offerings in a crowded services market – I’ll be covering that soon. However, first it’s useful to understand what “differentiation” really means for a services company.

Up next:  Different” Isn’t Good Enough: You Have to Be UNIQUE