If you operate in a crowded industry, you may find it difficult to compete on price. As more players enter the niche, competitors continue to drop their prices in order to attract customers.
At some point, though, you have to consider whether this is even a valid strategy anymore. Shouldn’t value be the focus of differentiation?
Content as a Differentiator
Unless your company has taken the steps to innovate its own product category or utterly unique business model, you operate in a marketplace where there’s significant competition. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling plastic widgets or diamond rings, food or financial advice — you’re not the only business of your kind.
Yet in order to build a successful business, scale up, and increase sales and revenue, you have to make consumers believe you’re different from the rest of the brands who sell similar products. You should differentiate.
The power of differentiation in a crowded Internet marketplace mustn’t be understated. It’s the key to unlocking growth and developing loyal fans of your brand.
It’s the way you fight against becoming a low price leader and watching your margins get smaller and smaller. Differentiation is the antithesis of the scarcity mentality that says there’s already a business doing what it is you want to do (and therefore you can’t).
There are dozens of dependable ways for brands to differentiate through marketing, branding, and customer service. But if your desire is to separate your brand cleanly from the online pack, content should be your focus.
It’s content that gives life to the Internet. That’s essentially the currency of online branding. If you can use content strategically, you’ll reap the rewards in more ways than one.
Five Ways to Differentiate via Content
Five to seven years ago, you could get away with posting a handful of keyword-stuffed, 500-word blog posts every few days. You’d see a small boost in SEO and your website would enjoy the image of being active and thriving.
But the days of shallow content are gone. If you want to differentiate your brand and reap all the benefits that come from setting yourself apart from the pack, you pretty much have to invest in the right type of content … and do it the right way.
Every brand is unique and will have its own flavor and flare, naturally, but here are some of the overarching principles that we believe will enable you to highlight your brand’s distinctive characteristics and personality.
1. Identify an Articulate Brand Voice
Articulate, well-differentiated content starts with developing a brand voice, which is rooted in your business value proposition. Your brand voice is essentially the personality and emotion that are expressed by your company’s content marketing and communications.
That should be consistent and unchanging. It could certainly evolve over time, much the way a person’s personality does, but it shouldn’t exhibit steep or sudden fluctuations.
2. Develop a Style Guide
The next step is to develop a style guide. This is a manual, spreadsheet, or Word document that clearly articulates your brand voice, goals, preferred word choice, and expectations for grammar and formatting.
The benefit of having a style guide is that you can hand it to any writer, whether that’s someone inside your company or a freelancer you hire over the Internet, and generate on-brand content with the initial draft.
3. Hire the Correct Writers
Even with a clear brand voice and complete style guide, it’s imperative for you to hire the correct writers that can help you execute and develop unique content that reflects your brand’s value proposition.
Skilled writers are a dime a dozen online. You can find talent wherever you look. The key is to find writers who are responsible, reliable, and trustworthy.
You need to know that you can send out an assignment and have it dependably in hand before the deadline. So much of content marketing is about being timely, so you need writers who grasp this. When you find good writers, hold on to them and pay them what they’re worth.
4. Use the Appropriate Publishing Platforms
At some point, you should have had a chance to create some reader profiles that help you understand to whom you are speaking in your content. With these in mind, think about where your average customer spends time online.
In other words, which websites and social media platforms do your fans and/or customers frequent? Half of the battle of content marketing is getting your content in front of the right eyeballs.
If your ideal customer is spending all of his or her time on Instagram, you don’t want to waste your resources primarily on Facebook. If your customers show an affinity for a particular blog, you need to find a way to become a guest author on that site.
The more strategic you can be in this regard, the better.
5. Focus on the Right Topics
Now that you have all the groundwork in place, you can turn your attention to individual pieces of content. You want to focus on the right topics, which means topics that your audience wants to consume.
If you’re unsure what these topics might be, try running a survey or email blast to gather ideas. You’d be surprised how eager customers will be to offer feedback when they have desires, needs, and pain points that have not been adequately addressed.
Final Thoughts: Embrace the Tension
Most brands choose to play it safe and develop generic content that resonates with the masses. They avoid anything that could be considered biased, preferential, controversial, or alienating.
Such brands hope to be everything to everyone, yet in effect they’re more likely to become nothing to everyone. Consumers are unable to connect with the brand so it’s impossible for them to develop an emotional connection which will take root and flourish.
These brands avoid the risk of taking a stance, and, as a result, too often find sustainable growth elusive. If you prefer to play it safe, then do so.
But if you want to build a brand that stands apart from the pack, you have to embrace a little tension and be willing to take an unusual stance (even when it means you risk alienating certain sectors of the market and limit your focus to a particular sub-segment).
There’s inevitable friction when you’re differentiating a brand, but there’s also remarkable freedom. It can give you the ability to know and engage your audience on a more personal level, build rapport, and generate a rabid customer base that races into action when you call.
And that, folks, is how successful brands are built.