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Differentiation is What Others Think Sets You Apart

by Hank Barnes  |  March 28, 2017  |  1 Comment

Differentiation continues to be a hot topic (of course) for my client inquiries.   Working with a colleague, Mike Maziarka, we recently updated (and renamed) one of my earlier research notes on the topic.  Gartner clients can access the new version here (login required): “Tech Go-to-Market: 10 Steps for Improved Differentiation.”


But beyond the advice in the document, my recent discussions have reminded me of the most important idea around differentiation.   It is not about what you say makes you unique.  It’s about what your customers, prospects, and influencers think set you apart.

You can spout (and yes, often it feels like a firehose) off about your differentiators, but they fall on deaf ears if your audience doesn’t believe it and internalize it.

This can be a little tricky.  I’ve had people share with me customer feedback from branding efforts, where they capture what the customer thinks about the firm.  In many cases, the feedback is things like “they care”, “they’re responsive.”   If your source of differentiation is caring and being responsive, then the only way to prove and communicate that is through customer stories.  You saying “we care” will be met with skeptiscism.  After all, which of your competitors would ever say, “What makes us different is that we don’t care!”

If you have something you believe is differentiating, then your primary mission needs to be getting others to embrace that and say that.  If you succeed with that, then you have won the differentiation battle.  If that doesn’t happen, you’re one of many.  You’ll win some, you’ll lose some.  But you won’t stand out.   Your customers might appreciate you, but the reasons won’t be unique enough to make difference with the majority of prospects.

Differentiation is hard.   And the hardest thing is to accept that it has little to nothing to do with what you believe.  It is what your customers believe.

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: competition  differentiation  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Differentiation is What Others Think Sets You Apart

  1. Totally agree. As markets become crowded, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself on features alone. That’s why, in our STRADOF framework, we emphasize on the Total Ownership Experience for finding differentiators.

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