How to Identify Your Differentiator

The elements of your brand identity will lead the way.

A differentiator is any unique value or characteristic that sets you apart from the competition, ultimately attracting customers to your brand. It could be something as simple as offering lower prices or something more high-level, like easy-to-use tech. But to find it, you’ll have to take a deep dive into the “why” and “how” of your brand.

Look at Your Brand’s Purpose

Finding your differentiator starts with understanding your brand’s purpose and answering the question, “why does your brand exist?”

Your brand’s purpose should inform every aspect of your business, from internal and external messaging to how you engage your audience across different touchpoints. This makes it a great place to start the search for your differentiator as you can mine key points of information—like who your target audience is, how you reach them, and who your competitors are. This will help you understand where and how your brand is positioned in your respective market.

Examine Your Positioning

Your differentiator can be tied directly to your position in a market or brand category. Market leaders or pioneers tend to define the space they’re in, choosing differentiators that directly address its main pain points or purpose. They might even create a new category which they then come to define. 

For example, Apple is a market leader in the smartphone category. Their differentiator is offering “better” technology and experiences for users. Meanwhile, Samsung, who entered the smartphone space later, competes on the differentiator of “newer” technology and experiences, often offering consumers new features and models before Apple does. 

In this way, we can see how a market leader’s position in a category impacts not only their differentiator but also their competitors’. 

So, let’s figure out where your brand falls.

Breakdown Your Value

According to the book Kellogg on Branding in a Hyperconnected World, your brand’s differentiator can be represented by the value it provides to consumers. This value can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Benefits (physical + emotional) 
  • Costs (monetary + time)

Your differentiator will usually fall into one of these categories depending on your brand’s purpose and how you feel you compete best. So, for instance, if your goal is to make gourmet coffee more accessible by making it more affordable, your differentiator would fall into the “costs” category. On the other hand, if your goal is to provide the best coffee-drinking experience to consumers regardless of price, your brand would compete with a “benefits” differentiator.

Look to Your Competitors

Maybe the easiest way to identify your differentiator is to study your competition. Understanding what competitors offer can lend you better insight into where your brand differs. This also ties directly into the category hierarchy. 

Is your competition the pioneer or market leader in the space, or are they a late entrant looking to iterate on what has already been done? Depending on the answer, the value your brand provides to consumers will differ.

Reexamine Your Differentiator

It’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone. There will always be new entrants to the market and new competitors on the horizon. For this reason, once you’ve found and established your differentiator as part of your brand identity, it’s important to reexamine it periodically. 

You may find that the unique value you once provided no longer reflects the current space or that your competitors have begun to iterate on it. But by following the same process you did to arrive at your original differentiator, you’ll be able to find other key values that help your brand adapt to the changing landscape.

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