Differentiate

Not everyone's product, service, or company is as groundbreaking and sexy as the iPhone. What do you do when your product or service is boring?

Differentiate.

Godin defines it as a Purple Cow, Neumeier couples it with four other requirements for an awesome brand, and Trout says "Differentiate or Die." They all agree that in order to have a brand that people connect with, you have to find something to differentiate yourself.

Example

Wufoo has gotten plenty of press (Samantha wrote about it here) for being fun, innovative, full of energy, and joyful. It builds forms. That's it. Forms. When is the last time you used any of those words to describe forms? They have found a way to differentiate themselves. And they didn't just do it through a facelift design, or some clever messaging. They did it with everything. The functionality, the design, and the messaging are highly complementary. They are all...different.

In my mind, what differentiates Wufoo?

  • Wufoo AvatarMessaging like the reports section telling you, "Oh no, buddy! There are no reports! Let's go make one!"
  • Little poems and famous quotes splashed throughout the site
  • A playful and inviting visual design
  • The default avatars crack me up
  • The UI provides encouragement both through slick functionality and clever notifications

Honestly, it's fun, fast, easy to use - just like their tagline.

A Few Guidelines

Of course, differentiation for the sake of differentiation can actually be a bad thing. What if American Apparel (who has done a great job of differentiation through quality products, great customer service, and excellent brand and product focus) decided to make all their t-shirts backwards - tag on the front with a high neckline? That, would suck.

Here are a few guidelines for differentiation (somewhat specific to the web):

  • Be useful - backwards t-shirts are not useful
  • Be holistic - marketing, design, messaging, and functionality should all complement one another. Marketing bleeds into design, design bleeds into messaging, messaging bleeds into functionality. Either everything compliments one-another, or everything is disconnected
  • Be true to yourself - if you're not funny, don't pretend you are. If you are funny, be hilarious
  • Be open to change - yes, you have to be true to yourself; but, if you're not fun and you're trying to reach kids - you might need to make a change
  • Be fearless - don't let timidity kill creativity
  • Be honest - what really does make you great? Zappos sells shoes. So what? So does Payless. Zappos exploits their amazing customer service. They're honest with what they're good at

The Takeaway

If you're in agency land, push your team to help your clients be truly unique. Find a useful way to differentiate your client or you client’s product and you'll be a hero. (Almost) every company has something unique no matter how "boring" their product or service is. Find it. Exploit it.

If you're not in agency land, find an agency or find a few of your own employees who will help you identify or create something unique. Figure out what makes you different, and then exploit it. And lastly, learn to appreciate being pushed out of your comfort zone.

Josh Chambers

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Posted in Article Category: #Strategy
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