A few years ago, after a long rant with a co-worker about how my clients always seemed to be more worried about what their competitors were up to rather than what they were accomplishing in the market, my boss overheard us and recommended that we all read the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Now, I’m not a big fan of reading non-fiction books (I like to get lost in fictional storylines that whisk me away to new worlds with interesting characters), but because my boss suggested it, I gave it a chance. And, it totally changed everything for me.
The premise of the book is that we need to challenge how we approach our competitive strategies, shifting our focus from competing (a bloody red ocean) to creating new market space (a clear blue ocean) — making the competition irrelevant. Think of it this way: In the marketing world if we are no longer driven to take action just to “keep up with the Joneses,” then we open up more possibilities, opportunities, to create new types of campaigns for our clients that will truly build awareness, drive sales, etc.
I was totally gripped by the idea of making the competition irrelevant, and since the day I finished reading the book it has become a personal motto, as well as a professional one, for me. The challenge was how to apply my new way of thinking to the work I was doing with my clients…clients who are very much aware of what their competition is up to and are used to doing business with their competition always top-of-mind.
As I started talking with my clients more and more about this idea, a solution evolved and formed. What each of my clients needed was a differentiation strategy — to identify the ways they stand out from the competition and to play to those strengths. By developing a differentiation strategy, my clients and I are able to identify how their businesses are unique from others in the area and use those opportunities to set themselves apart to gain market share.
How to get started
The best way to get started with a differentiation strategy is to spell out what sets your company apart: Every company has its own special way of doing business, based on the owner’s personal philosophy and best practices learned over time. These philosophies and best practices are the foundations for a differentiation strategy. It is important to have them written down so they can be referenced at any time.
With the foundation in place, the next step in developing a differentiation strategy is to conduct a SWOT analysis – identify your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities in the market and threats from the competition. This analysis needs to address factors particular to your company’s operations, such as location, hours of operation, capabilities, employees/business partners, customer support and service and so on.
Putting together a plan
Once the analysis is done, developing your differentiation strategy becomes much easier — a differentiation strategy is built on the results of the analysis.
For example, some clients request us to develop marketing campaigns that need to incorporate certain technologies or tools, such as mobile applications, WordPress or SalesForce, in order to complete their projects. Because technology rapidly changes, if we identify technology as one of our strengths, this differentiator can be used to our advantage when vying for clients’ business.
Whatever the differentiators are, once they are identified we need to make it a priority to document them, share them with everyone that influences or affects our business and use them to gain customers’ business and loyalty.
At the end of the day, what is most important to developing marketing campaigns that make the competition irrelevant and positively impact sales is to work closely with our clients to set the right expectations for the differentiation strategy and to guarantee that it will be a good return on their investment.