Differentiate Effectively For Success

In today's overcommunicated society, it's important that your business is about something remarkable. That's how it will get noticed, get publicity, get word of mouth, and ultimately, get new customers and create loyal fans. And just being a little different from a competitor is no guarantee of that.

Being different is desirable. It's a good thing. Not only do you want to be different in order to stand out from your competitors, you want to be radically different. You want to be the "only."

Prospects need to understand your business by its reputation alone, and then you need to get them to pass that message on to others. That's how you turn prospects into customers and customers into evangelists.

According to Charlie Hughes and William Jeanes, authors of Branding Iron, "Consumers admire and gravitate to companies that display a compelling vision—a vision executed in a way that differentiates them in the marketplace."

Why differentiate? Jack Trout, in his book, Differentiate or Die, says “The big difference is that what used to be national markets with local companies competing for business has become a global market with everyone competing for everyone’s business.”

Just copying the competition is a race to obscurity. So don't settle for copying others. Let's go back to Hughes and Jeanes for a moment: "Corporate Me-Tooism. Monkey see, monkey do. Copycatting will get you exactly what you've earned: a cloak of invisibility."

Learning Differentiation From Pizza

Let’s take pizza places for example. Sure, there are different varieties of pizza: deep dish, New York style, thin crust, and many more. But pizza would still seem a commodity business where it would be difficult to discover a differentiating attribute.

But Pizza Hut "owns" the family pizzeria marketplace. Dominos became a household name because they differentiated on the attribute of delivery. Papa Johns found success by focusing on ingredients. Little Caesars started down the right road with “Pizza! Pizza!” (a two-for-one value proposition) but they've since given up on what made them unique. Chuck E. Cheese is the premiere pizza place for fun and entertainment. Together, these are the top five pizza chains in the country because they've focused on an exclusive attribute that people care about. They've found a way to push out of the forest of sameness and into the open meadow of distinctiveness.

The tendency, then, is to think that the “big five” got them all. They’ve already taken all the unique pizza attributes. So if you were launching a pizza restaurant, how could you possibly differentiate? Here are three examples of restaurants that have found a way to grab a unique foothold in what would seem an overcrowded, commodity market. They could teach you something about differentiation.

Galactic Pizza

This restaurant recently opened regionally in Minneapolis and touts itself as "pizza with a conscience". Their food is delivered in electric vehicles and all of the power purchased to run their restaurant is renewable wind energy. They've incorporated a number of organic items into their menu, and even their mozzarella cheese comes from cows that have not been treated with growth hormones. And every time a certain pizza is ordered, Galactic donates $1 to a hunger relief organization. And just for fun (and yet another way they've differentiated themselves from the dozens of pizza options available in Minneapolis) Galactic's delivery drivers are each dressed in a distinctive super hero outfit.



Founded in 1998, Flatbread has done nothing less than redefine the pizza category. They start with their brand name, which is both descriptive and compelling. But beyond the sign out front, the Flatbread folks have developed a unique pizza (ah, make that Flatbread), that according to their website, “is very nearly a spiritual experience.” In addition to using natural and organic ingredients, they make their tomato sauce in a wood-fired cauldron right in the dining room and their flatbreads are baked in a wood-fired clay oven. With stores growing throughout the New England area (and one on Maui), Flatbread does not advertise, and have proven the point that being different is what gets the word-of-mouth conversation going.


Mazzio’s Italian Eatery

Ken Selby founded this chain, based in Oklahoma, in 1961, and it continues to reinvent itself. It’s the “innovative” pizza place, creating unique meals like their Calzone Ring® and Quesapizza®. Going beyond the normal pizza offerings, they’ve unveiled a line of made-to-order pastas and the Dippin' Zone®—a line of popular finger foods with a selection of dipping sauces—and other creative menu expansions. They stay relevant with remodeling programs that keep the atmosphere fresh and contemporary. All while retaining founder’s reputation for quality.

Your challenge—like Galactic Pizza, Flatbread, and Mazzio’s—is to turn conventional wisdom on its ear. Shake things up. Do it differently. That is the only way you'll attract and retain loyal customers for your business.

Is your business differentiated? If it is, you should be able to quickly and confidently complete this simple sentence:

"Our business is the only ________that _________."

The first blank is the category your business is in. The second blank should be filled in with your differentiating factor, the one thing that makes you compellingly different.

What sets your business apart? Embrace and celebrate your difference. Then, you're ready to tell the world. And that's what effective marketing is: telling the world (or telling the people that can and will buy what your business offers).

Differentiation Examples

Here are some other examples of businesses that are radically differentiated from the competition.

Hardee’s: When other fast food chains were getting “healthy,” Hardee’s reinvented itself with the Thickburger. (Unapologetically, the Monster Thickburger contains 1,420 calories!)

Body Shop: Founder Anita Roddick focused on all-natural ingredients, not product benefit claims.

Pepsi: When Coke was “classic,” Pepsi became the choice of the new generation.

Southwest Airlines: Became the first no-frills, point-to-point airline flying out of secondary hubs.

Voss: Charges $6 for bottled water in a designer container.

Enterprise: Ignored airports and focused on suburban locations and the “insurance replacement” market

Tom’s of Maine: When Crest and Colgate fought over market share for cavity and tartar control, Tom’s advertised all-natural ingredients (and Colgate bought them out for a cool $100 million).

Wal-Mart: Sam Walton took department stores to the hinterlands instead of the cities and made a fortune.

Differentiation is for EVERY business. We can help you find YOUR differentiating factor.