How are you different?

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New clients often tell us that they need a positioning and messaging strategy that will differentiate them and give them a competitive edge. Successful differentiation requires two things: that you appear different and that you be different. The former is pretty easy; the latter is anything but.

No matter what you offer or how competitive your market is, there are four main ways to differentiate:

Category A

Your company sells something different, and better, than your competition. You’ve got a strong and clear technical advantage in a product or service, or your business model is innovative and clearly better. You may have even created a new market category. This is by far the strongest way to differentiate because it’s the most difficult to imitate or replicate.

Category B

Your company may sell a product or service that’s comparable to others in your space, but you run your enterprise differently from, and better than, the competition. Your approach is different. Your attitude is different. And your customers love it. Assuming your claims are based in fact, this is also a strong basis for differentiation.

Category C

If you don’t sell anything different, and you don’t run your company differently, then you must make a provocative assertion and say something different: about the market, about your product or service, or about your company itself. It’s likely to garner attention, but you’ll have to back it up with great products and services or else risk a strategic backfire should misalignment between your walk and your talk become apparent.

Category D

If none of the above apply, the only way to differentiate is to try to look different or better with a compelling aesthetic. This is the least effective method of differentiation.

One of the many reasons we love doing positioning and messaging for cleantech companies is that they tend to fall into the category at the top of the list. Which means we can give them a firm foundation for successful marketing. Corporate sustainability initiatives and “triple bottom line” organizations typically fall into the “B” category, and “greenwashing” gets a “C” or a “D.”

To inform your positioning, messaging, and branding efforts, first think about which category your company falls under. It will give you a firmer foundation for success.

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