Differentiating Your Company’s Products and Services
Developing a clear Unique Selling Proposition (USP) has a lot to do with differentiating your website from others. I look at some of the major players in the online marketing information field where I compete, and I see some clear attempts at differentiation:
|Distinctive Z with an arrow alongside||“The ultimate resource for doing business online.”||Focus on Internet advertising and marketing professionals. Regular columnists with a variety of points of view. Daily e-mail.|
|Distinctive red ball with “e” on it, with consistent red, white and black color scheme.||“Where business begins online.”||Provides a variety of services for marketers, including news headlines, statistics, community, articles, and paid reports. Weekly e-mail, with daily stats and news.|
|Distinctive logotype font with site name||“The information source for Internet marketing and advertising decision makers.”||Serves professionals in the online advertising industry. News, articles, analysis of ad campaigns. Daily e-mail.|
|Distinctive logo of Atlas bearing a microwave antenna.||“eMarketing intelligence for intelligent marketers.”||“The definitive source for facts, figures, trend analysis and insider information in the Internet marketing industry.” Concise profiles of various industries, plus insider gossip. Bi-weekly e-mail.|
|No single logo||No clear overarching statement||Helpful collection of resources, especially focused on the needs of webmasters and small business siteowners. Bi-monthly e-mail.|
|Wilson Internet Services
|Small logotype plus photo of author||“We provide key information about doing business on the Net — hundreds of articles, thousands of links to resources on e-commerce and Web marketing.”||Collection of articles, an articles database, and three newsletters with an educative, “how-to” approach to Web marketing, e-commerce, and e-business. Primary focus on small to medium businesses. Bi-weekly and weekly e-mail.|
Besides these there are thousands of other marketing information sites. The best have their own distinctive flavor, look, and feel. Some have excellent weekly or monthly newsletters, often with a distinct focus. But many sites look like a thousand others, and tend to all blur together. I make it a point to visit many of these sites each month, and they blur together for me, too!
A Memorable Name
To stand out from others, businesses and products need distinctive, memorable names. If the name isn’t memorable, it’s hard to differentiate yourself. When I named my business Wilson Internet Services five years ago, I can’t say I found a distinctive name. It sounds pretty generic, and I’m sometimes confused with an Internet Service Provider. People often use my domain name, Wilsonweb.com, rather than my company name. The domain name was a happy confluence of several factors, a kind of sing-song, rhythmic, memorable name that has served me well. But I’ve made mistakes since then, too.
Web Marketing Today (http://www.webmarketingtoday.com/), my first publication, has a good strong name that differentiates it from other publications. As a domain name, webmarketingtoday.com is too long, but the publication name has served me very well and is widely-known.
Web Commerce Today [NOTE: since this article was written, Web Commerce Today has stopped publication] has been a tremendous success as one of the premier e-commerce publications. But the name hasn’t helped at all. Many months ago I was talking with Ken Evoy, author of the best-selling Make Your Site Sell . He told me, “Even though I’ve read your newsletters carefully for years, I still don’t really know what’s the difference between Web Marketing Today and Web Commerce Today.” I was stunned. Why not? It’s clear to me what the difference is! It’s all about e-commerce! But it wasn’t clear to Ken nor thousands of others. I had tried to create a “family” name that related Web Commerce Today to my flagship publication. But it wasn’t different enough. Once I realized this, I’ve worked to differentiate the two more clearly. You can see my attempt on the “thank you” page that subscribers find when after they subscribe to Web Marketing Today. The more clearly I am able to differentiate Web Commerce Today from its sister publication, the easier it is to sell. Naming has a lot to do with product differentiation.
Doctor Ebiz (http://www.doctorebiz.com) was selected on more mature reflection. The name plays off several factors, and broadens the product a bit to e-business, the direction I see things going in the future. My family liked the name “Doc Ebiz,” but when I asked my friend Michel Fortin, “the Success Doctor” (http://www.successdoctor.com), he observed that “Doctor Ebiz” has a kind of mnemonic, an easy-to-remember quality. It also has a kind of verbal rhythm that can survive being said ten times in rapid succession without turning into mush. I’ve also given Doctor Ebiz a different format than my other e-zines. WMT and WCT are longer, more comprehensive. Doctor Ebiz is short, and with a purposeful maximum of 750 words of content — a quick read. It’s focused squarely on small business owners who want to succeed online, a huge and growing market.
Distinctive Packaging. Many small business people cut corners on website design costs. The result is a same-old, look-alike website that you couldn’t remember an hour after you visited it. Like cereal boxes that vie for consumer’s attention, websites need strong visual images. Several of the marketing information sites listed above feature professionally designed logos that provide instant recognition. A small businessperson can get a logo designed for $200 to $500, though many companies spend several thousand dollars on the process, since it is so vital to the distinctiveness of their company and their products. Most graphic design companies offer this service.
Just as important as a logo is a distinctive design for the website. The site ought to leave you with an attractive visual memory. Take a look at several distinctive sites that achieve this; then look at your own. See Dan Janal’s site, for example. http://www.janal.com (The home page is 60K, a bit heavy, but very powerful.) Sometimes computer professionals double as designers. You need to realize that learning Photoshop is technology. Design is art. You want the artist to learn the technology, rather than try to teach the techie artistic taste and flair. Insist on a graphic designer who already has web graphics experience. Of course, the graphics need to be modest in file size and serve your marketing purpose, but they need to create an attractive look and feel, a distinctive ambience, a memory that lingers.
A Distinct Voice
Another way to differentiate your website is with a distinctive “voice.” What I mean by voice is interjecting personality and individuality in the website text. Now in many corporate cultures this is taboo. “We must use corporate-speak. No individual is important, it’s the COMPANY.” The problem is that the COMPANY isn’t very interesting by itself. So companies that are smart find spokespersons who pitch their products, i.e. a distinctive “voice.”
They aren’t trading just on the star’s popularity, but the star’s personality and likability. Companies even invent a distinctive “voice” with their logo or mascot:
|Kentucky Fried Chicken||“The Colonel”|
|Jack in the Box||“Jack” — Styrofoam head and all|
|Taco Bell||Talking Mexican Chihuahua|
What is your site’s “voice.” You might consider finding professional writers to help craft a clearly delineated point-of-view. Perhaps ghost-write for the CEO or someone else who can give the site personality and distinctiveness.
A Clear Focus
Part of making your business or product distinctive is narrowing. Some online businesses try to be everything to everybody and fail because they just can’t succeed in differentiating themselves as generalists. Actually, the larger the company, the harder it is to be distinctive. Marketers for a smaller, narrowly-focused company have a much easier job that those saddled with a lumbering giant. That’s why we see a trend to breaking up larger companies into smaller business units.
Look at your own online offering. Let’s say that in the “real” world you sell all kinds of insurance. That’s because what LOCAL businesses need is a generalist. But online if you bill yourself as selling “general insurance” products you’ve just signed your company’s online death warrant. Online you need to specialize into selling insurance for bungee jumpers or insurance for less-than-10-day trips to Mexico. Make it clear. Make it specific. Concentrate on a narrow area and you can become distinctive and able to differentiate yourself from all the other companies out there. There’s nothing that says you can’t start different websites to market different products. Just make each website focus clear and concentrated.
Exercise: Write down the 10 leading online businesses that are similar to yours. Then characterize the distinctives of each. Now look for ways to make your online business stand out from all the rest. Write a three-month action plan to make your site and online products or services distinctive.