This is the second in a series of blog posts designed to help people in the technology industry learn to position their brands more effectively. In this post, we’ll cover another critical concept you must master in order to effectively position your technology brand: Points of Difference.
What are Points of Difference?
Once you’ve determined the competitive frame of reference in which your brand should be positioned, the next step is to determine the points of difference and points of parity that distinguish the brand within that competitive frame of reference (we’ll come back to points of parity in our next post). Remember, brands can never been positioned in a vacuum, so it is important to have your competitive frame of reference front and center as you start to investigate points of difference.
Points of difference, also referred to as differentiators or key differentiators, are characteristics of a brand that make it stand out from other competing brands.
But it isn’t enough for your brand to just be different than the competition. It must be different in a way that is desirable to potential customers and deliverable by the brand.
So the best points of difference have three key characteristics:
1) Desirable: something that people actually want or would value
2) Deliverable: a promise the brand can actually deliver on (and people will believe it can deliver on)
3) Differentiated: something that is distinct from what other competitive brands offer
Let’s put this into practice by determining the points of difference for Supplyzus, the fake “Uber of office supplies” company we introduced in the post about competitive frames of reference.
Start By Studying the Competition
As you may remember from the previous post, the primary competitive frame of reference for Supplyzus (a company that is kind of like OrderUp for office supplies) is office supply merchants. So as you think about what differentiates Supplyzus from its competitors, you’ll want to start by focusing on the office supply merchants competitive frame of reference.
Next, brainstorm as many competitors as you can within this frame of reference.
The two key leading office supply merchants are Staples and Office Depot/OfficeMax (which merged in 2013). But there are also online office supply merchants, including Uline, Quill, and OfficeSupply.com. And there are larger retailers that stock office supplies, even though it is not their main business, like Amazon.com, Target, Walmart, Costco, and Best Buy. I’m sure you can think of even more competitors, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s start here.
Why Would Someone Buy from us Instead of our Competitors?
Once you’ve brainstormed this list of competitors, begin to think about why a customer might buy from you instead of any of them.
Would they buy from you because of your selection of office supplies? Well, you do have an amazing selection, but Staples, Office Depot, Uline, Quill, and OfficeSupply.com can carry everything you can carry, and in certain categories, they have an even broader selection. So while selection is desirable to customers and deliverable by your brand, it is not differentiated from the competition. It may differentiate you from some competitors (you have a better selection than Target or Walmart, after all), but it is probably not a key point of difference.
Would they buy from you because of the quality of your office supplies? Again, you have good quality products, but so does everyone else in the competitive frame of reference. Desirable: check. Deliverable: check. Differentiated: not so much…
Then it hits you. One thing that really makes you stand out from all of these competitors is delivery speed. Like I said earlier, Supplyzus is essentially the take out food delivery equivalent for office supplies. Place your order, and a friendly delivery person shows up at your office in as little as an hour. If someone needs office supplies fast, they need Supplyzus. Delivery speed is absolutely a key point of difference, because it is something customers want (desirable), a promise the brand can guarantee (deliverable), and no one else offers this service (differentiated).
What else might differentiate Supplyzus? Another interesting thought is that Supplyzus is a modern, 21st century version of an office supply merchant. Your online ordering app was designed from the ground up specifically to give customers a great mobile experience. Customers can follow their delivery driver online via GPS tracking, so they know exactly when their order will arrive. They can send for a driver to pick up returns with one click on their smartphone. So a simple, modern ordering process is another key point of difference for the brand.
Finally, you think of a third key point of difference. Doing business with Supplyzus is fun! It’s the opposite of the antiseptic, big box experience of Staples and Office Depot. It’s more personal than ordering from Amazon.com or OfficeSupply.com. Supplyzus has a sense of humor. The delivery drivers show up with a big neon-colored paperclip on the roof of their car and smiles on their faces. Every order comes with a small surprise gift just for the person placing the order.
And now you have them: three key points of difference that distinguish your brand from competitors in the office supply merchant competitive frame of reference:
2) Simple & Modern
Mission one, complete.
Secondary Competitive Frames of Reference
Now that you have the key points of difference in your primary competitive frame of reference you can advance to the bonus round—analyzing secondary competitive frames of reference. Each time you move to a new competitive frame of reference, you need to reexamine your points of difference, and make sure they still apply.
For Supplyzus, we defined the secondary competitive frames of reference as business-to-business delivery services and Uber of ________ companies.
Against other business-to-business delivery services, the fast point of difference isn’t quite as powerful, since several other local services have same-day delivery.
But no one has a simple, modern ordering process that matches yours. So as you expand beyond office supplies into other types of business supplies (like restaurant supplies, plumbing supplies, etc.), the simple & modern point of difference becomes even more important.
Fun is still also an important point of difference, but you think of two additional points of difference that make you stand out in the business-to-business delivery market: scale and pricing. Because Supplyzus operates nationally, it has scale and pricing power that are unmatched by any local delivery companies. This means that our prices are always lower than other delivery services, and our national reach means we have the money to invest more in continuing to improve our technology, logistics, and selection.
So in this secondary competitive frame of reference, our key differentiators are:
1) Simple & Modern
2) National Scale
3) Lower Prices
You’ll want to repeat this same activity for any other secondary frames of reference.
Applying the Concepts
So how do you use these points of difference in practice?
Any time you are creating new brand content, start by asking yourself, “who is my audience for this content?” If it is potential customers who would be deciding between you and other competitors in the primary frame of reference (office supply merchants in this case), you’ll focus on the first set of differentiators.
But if the audience for your content is potential customers who would be choosing between Supplyzus and other business delivery services, you’ll want to focus on the second set of differentiators.
An Exercise to Get you Started
New Kind has a simple, step-by-step process to get your tech company started identifying its key points of difference. Be sure to check it out on our site.
In our next post in this series, we’ll introduce the idea of points of parity, the jujutsu moves of positioning.