SBM 101: It is Really Possible to Differentiate?

Have you ever tried to stand out in a crowd, whether at work or in your daily life? Maybe you wanted to show your boss that you offered something that none of your fellow employees could do? Perhaps you found an interesting person to date and suddenly realized that several other people were also interested in him or her? What did you do to stand out from everyone else?

Businesses, both large and small, face this same challenge on a daily basis. They have to find meaningful ways to stand out from their competition and do so in ways that are significant and sustainable. It is a big challenge.

A colleague of mine, Roger White, came up with a great way to demonstrate how differentiation occurs in the auto industry. He created a chart with 5-6 of the top brands listed down the left hand column. Across the top of the matrix, he list out points of differentiation, things like safety, speed, economy, sporty, etc. As an exercise, he then has you sit down and identify where the different automotive makers go on the chart.

It is a great exercise and it is fun to see how people reacts when they start trying to identify where the U.S. auto companies should go on the chart. What you quickly realize is that many of them have not established a clear point of differentiation. Now consider this for a moment. Here you have some of the largest companies in the country and even they have failed to differentiate themselves. What could be going on?

There are a variety of reasons for this:

  • They have tried to be too many things to too many people.
  • They were lazy.
  • Or they just didn’t feel like it was important.

I don’t know the industry that well; however, let’s turn the focus back on you dear reader.

  • What are some of your favorite examples of companies that have differentiated themselves well?
  • Who has failed to create a significant positioning?
  • What unique things have you done to differentiate your business?
  • What’s our personal point of differentiation?
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