Unless what you do is genuinely and completely unique, nailing your real, high value, compelling differentiators onto the home page of your website is arguably your greatest marketing challenge.
It’s not enough to just feel different, having some vague, hard to put your finger on internal notion of your secret sauce. If you can’t write it down, put it into words and build a narrative around it, you don’t have a differentiation strategy.
Most firms will acknowledge that there’s work to be done to do better. A few admit they’ve objectively failed. Some are convinced they’ve done a good job.
I’ve laid out 5 points below that demonstrate where the battle to be different is lost right out of the gate. The problem is, these things are part of how consulting is traditionally positioned to the market. The odds are squarely stacked against you to meaningfully be different.
You’ve positioned around services and outcomes
Services and categories of outcomes are rarely differentiators. You include them on your website to line up your offer squarely in front of what you think the market wants to buy and what’s on their shopping list.
But there is only one market, served by usually many competitors.
And so, most websites treat marketing as a competition to be the most attractive version of what the market wants to buy. This simple strategy of following the market means everyone looks and offers the same thing with just minor surface level differences.
Should you have services on your website? The answer is likely “yes” to some extent. For buyers who are ready to buy and come with a shopping list in their hand, you will need to tick their boxes at some stage if you want to win this work.
The point here is one of where you focus your positioning. The more you position into the market around these market defined services, the more you are forced to relinquish any ability to differentiate.
What’s the alternative …? The alternative is to lead the market.
Leading the market, means you define it, framing the problem and defining the solution using your lens of unique perspective. Marketing then becomes focussed not on selling your services but creating a market and educating it into your worldview, shaping buyers to your fit and buying your way. I’d argue this is how experts should function, not just following along and chasing what the market thinks it wants to buy and has likely misdiagnosed.
Not being crap, lazy and incompetent isn’t a differentiator
You claim to be different, but different from what?
We are talking about consulting here, an industry that is always fighting against poor reputation, underperformance, and lack of accountability.
You don’t have to look far to see there are bad operators out there, so there’s some merit in simply not being one of them. But this is more an indictment on the industry, not necessarily something to be proud of and is shaky ground to build your value proposition on.
Don’t fall for the trap of making your differentiation strategy simply being on the good side, not the bad.
Good differentiators make you different from your best competitors. You shouldn’t be different because you are good and they are bad, but because you have a difference in your perspective or approach that allows you to attack some problems and challenges in a different way that gives a higher value result in specific scenarios. Your competitors may deliver a better result in different scenarios.
Would you make this mistake?
Take any point of difference claim on your website and flip them to their opposite.
Here are some examples to illustrate the point – sound familiar?
- “We are outcome and results focussed” is differentiating from “We don’t care about outcomes or results”.
- “We are focussed on delivering high quality outcomes” would be differentiating from “We’ll deliver mediocre outcomes”.
- “We design innovative solutions” differentiates from “We rehash the same old solutions everyone else does”.
Keeping your options open with platitudes
Everyone is afraid of turning buyers away, saying anything that could polarise them or rub against the grain of what’s generally expected.
This is where “marketing speak” comes from. It’s that voice you hide behind when you try to attract clients by tip toeing around with an overbearing politeness. It’s fearful of saying anything too specific, or polarising and just focusses on telling the market what they want to hear in the broadest possible way (as opposed to what they need to hear).
“Marketing speak” kills off any opportunity to be different. It’s generic and full of platitudes that are designed to speak with ambiguity to avoid the risk of turning anyone away.
Communicating a real point of difference requires bravery, confidence, clarity, intent and precision if it is to be compelling. It should be highly attractive to those who will benefit from your difference but turns away those who won’t.
If it doesn’t turn some buyers away, it’s probably not different enough.
Any claim that can’t be validated externally (i.e. without working with you directly) isn’t a differentiator worth sticking on your home page. It’s a claim that buyers ignore, and you’d only use them if you lack strong, substantive points of difference.
But worse, unsubstantiated claims often feel like differentiators. Being easy to say and difficult to prove means that everyone uses them and are therefore not really differentiators anyway.
Not sure if you are making unsubstantiated claims? If you are differentiating around these words, you probably are.
- “Results focussed”
- “We listen”
- “We bring energy”
The 4 step process
The standard 4 step process of “diagnose, design, implement, review” isn’t unique in itself, but most consulting firms feature this “innovative”, “proprietary” process as a major point of difference.
Put it on your website if it helps build the story of how you engage with clients, but don’t rely on it as a differentiator unless your firm is one of the very few who actually have discovered a different way of working.
I’ve presented here these 5 differentiation killers to highlight a point; lack of differentiation plagues the consulting industry. And without differentiation, marketing will always feel too hard especially when you want to move outside your usual referral channels.
What to do about it? Start here : The only differentiator you need to care about.