“Different” vs “Distinct”

What’s the difference?

Points of differentiation have to go deeper than surface-level. To simply claim, “We’re really good at what we do.” is not enough. That’s not a differentiator, it doesn’t bring value in a particular way. And, to that point, it’s not about flavors or features, as specific product feature/benefits are sometimes confused with real differentiators.

Differentiation is about being the singularly right option for a specified audience. To offer a unique, identifiable collection of services or products in a manner that sets you clearly apart from your competitors. That sort of clarity gives people a solid, recognizable reason to choose your business over another that may seem otherwise similar.

Where’s the distinction?

Too often brands consider price their point of distinction—it’s a helpful feature, but not a distinction. If not price, can brands differentiate with customer service? Many brands we work with say, “Service is how we stand out, that’s our value proposition, that’s how we distinguish ourselves.” The problem is, “service, service, service,” is very difficult to measure.

Distinction can be defined as increasing a brand’s recognition and visibility in its competitive environment, by way of creative and strategic branding. To differentiate is a business goal. If a distinctive identity has not been established, then price battles result. We want purchase decisions to be based on the true value, impact, and yes, the sense of character that you provide.

Why should you care?

If you lack differentiation, if you lack distinction, what are you really losing? At the fiscal core of it, you’re losing pricing power. When you’re not distinct, it’s a race to the bottom of the pricing pit. In buyers’ eyes, this becomes all the separates you from others.

A brand standing on the customer service pedestal needs to communicate what specifically about their service is truly different and in turn preferrable. Service being a somewhat ambiguous attribute, it requires asking, “Why are you better?

When going deeper with self-examination, brands often inadvertently recognize that this problem is actually a symptom of something greater. Their efforts are going toward solving in the short-term rather than foundationally.

We’ve isolated three of the most common, industry agnostic, red-flag symptoms we hear from clients. These are indicators telling our clients that they’re not unique in the eyes of their customers.

ONE: Brush daily

When you look at toothpaste, every single product touts their magnificent feature or benefit or flavor or quality. It’s still toothpaste, and it’s still a commodity. So how do they stand out? How does Colgate or Crest sell more than generic brands? Distinction. It’s about building more of a story, and being distinct in the way they approach selling. “Features and benefits” is not a compelling or unique brand story. It’s time to consider a visit to the brand “dentist” (we promise it’s far more pleasant than it sounds).

TWO: Traction attraction

Another red flag is when clients complain about the lack of marketing traction. “Our website is not being found regularly.” We’re not closing on enough opportunities. Our sales lag despite pumping money into pay-per-click advertising.” And so on. When that trend appears across multiple campaigns and different sales approaches, it’s likely you’re blending into the vagaries of the marketing wallpaper. Or, you’re brand is solid, but you’re not speaking to the right audience. Solving this problem requires a level of self-evaluation few companies are capable of… or, few people. Outside, clear-eyed perspective and expertise is an ROI that pays well.

THREE: Your inside voice

There’s an issue when no one internally is singing the same brand tune and are essentially making it up on the fly. Or, you’re hesitant to read aloud your own external branding. A brand lives internally as well as externally, and companies have to create compelling atmospheres on both fronts. We hear frequently from our customers complaining about the challenges of attracting new workers. Employees often join new organizations with more attractive environments, despite pay, role and benefits being equal. When it’s apples to apples, a smart brand creates a more humane, unique and attractive environment for one to enjoy their apples. A brand is as important to your internal culture and team, as it is to your external customers and prospective customers.

Sussner Sum Up

To be a different and distinct brand goes deeper than your cost of goods or services, further than the color of your logo, and is greater than simply your external messaging. The brands that thrive do so with a purpose, a point and a position that is uniquely theirs. Finding that place takes honest navel-gazing and real self-analysis. We won’t lie, it could sting a bit on the way to sustainable success. So, it’s best done with the assistance of trained, experienced and compassionate professionals.


Let’s make a difference,

—Team Sussner


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