Differentiating When Everyone Is The Same

How do you position and differentiate a firm when everyone in the industry does virtually the same thing?

This is a challenge professional services firms wrestle with on a daily basis. Accounting firm to accounting firm, recruiting agency to recruiting agency, law firm to law firm, they all do the same things—at least in their own categories.

As a result, finding a clear point of differentiation is challenging, and many firms simply default to an obvious answer: the difference is “our people.”

Your people are not a differentiator

Professional services firms are people businesses. They deliver knowledge work, and the quality and caliber of their team directly influences the quality and caliber of their work.

But from a client’s point of view, they can’t easily assess your people from afar. Rather, the client is focused on herself and her own needs. She has a problem, and she is looking for a firm that can help her resolve it. Can you do it?

Real pictures of your staff emblazoned across your website and marketing collateral does not answer your client’s question, “Can you help me?”

Stand out with a unique experience

Providing a unique service or delivering specialized expertise is only one differentiation option. And for most professional services firms, specializing in a niche or a micro-niche is not the most lucrative strategy.

Instead of trying to offer something totally unique in your market, create a unique experience. Differentiate on your firm’s personality, values or interests.

Differentiating on personality and values is a common strategy, and is employed in a number of commoditized industries. For example, Virgin stands out with a youthful, charismatic personality, and competes across multiple commoditized categories. Its brand is embodied by the lifestyle and personality of its founder, Richard Branson.

Whole Foods has created a unique brand position in the highly competitive grocery category by differentiating on a core set of values: delivering local, organic food.

The same type of personality-based differentiation strategy can be applied in professional services firms. Rather than trying to offer a unique service, offer a unique experience based on the personality and culture of your organization, or the values and beliefs that your team holds dear.

Your differentiation is a rallying cry

An effective point of differentiation is a rallying cry. It gives meaning and purpose to your organization, and helps focus its efforts.

“Our strength is our people” is not very actionable. What do you believe in? What are you passionate about? What interests do you share with your clients?

These questions lead to the essence of what makes your firm unique, and this is what you want to bottle into your point of differentiation.

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Jeremy Miller is Brand Strategist, Speaker and the President of Sticky Branding — a strategic branding and business development consultancy that helps companies stand out, attract customers and grow sticky brands.

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