How to Differentiate Your Company From Competitors

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This is a guest post by Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications.

Despite all the splashy branding, most prospective buyers think a company and its competitors are basically selling the same stuff. Ouch.

In a study Google conducted with CEB, 86 percent of B2B buyers perceived no significant difference between competing company products.

Meanwhile, PR professionals and marketers hawk products and services using phrases that imply a big difference. Words like “most comprehensive,” “complete accuracy” and “impressive scale.”

That language doesn’t cut it. It’s not that prospects think companies are lying. It’s just that they don’t perceive much difference between one company and another. In a buyer’s eye, business value doesn’t distinguish a business from its competition. To convert someone, you need to go beyond a product or service’s business value to tap into a person’s emotions.

Emotions in B2B?  You bet.

B2C marketers have always pulled emotional strings – appealing to someone’s desire to win, need to be hip, or to appear smart.

That same emotional tug is as important, if not more so, in B2B marketing.

The Google-CEB study found that “B2B purchasers are almost 50 percent more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value – such as opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice – in their purchase decision.”

Let’s think about that.

Business purchases typically involve a lot of risk. Buy a consumer product you don’t like and you make do or return it. Acquire costly software for your company that has bugs and you could jeopardize or even lose your job. The bottom line: A business customer won’t buy unless there is a strong emotional connection to compensate for the risk.

At the same time, you can’t ignore a buyer’s rational side of decision making.

You just need to do it in a different way than simply hyping features and benefits, which don’t cause someone to take the next step. Instead of selling, you need to educate.

According to Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group, that means reversing the typical marketing paradigm of beginning with the company’s product or service and starting with the customer’s needs and wants. “It’s a major cultural shift away from promotion and delivering what consumers want,” says Brenner.

Great marketers, according to Brenner, are passionate teachers, freely giving away insights to establish trust and engage with audiences. The trick, says Brenner, is to “create content that actually helps people.”

On the PR and marketing side, it means providing new frameworks beyond press releases and self-promotional articles – none of which emotionally engage a customer or educates them in a believable way.

Here are some other steps to take:

  • Tell a story that shows you understand your prospect. B2C companies do a great job at that. Check out this ad by Nike about women conquering their fear of the gym, which doesn’t even mention the company’s name till the end.
  • Provide content that impacts a person’s mindset. American Express is a master at this with its Small Business Open Forum that “helps you unlock your leadership potential,” and among other things, includes insight guides for CEOs of small businesses.
  • Use customer testimonials that inspire. SAS for example has its customers tell stories and even calls its testimonial section “customer stories.” Its testimonials hook you with their engaging “what if” questions such as “What if you water consumption data could help you detect problems – and save citizens money?”
  • Create white papers that inform. Instead of creating white papers that are promotional disguises for your company’s product or services, provide new knowledge and insights. Google does a terrific job with its research papers that break new ground.

If you truly want to differentiate your company from your competitors, stop focusing exclusively on your features and benefits. You need to give customers a reason to believe in what you’re selling and create an emotional tie that binds them to you. By doing that, you will create your own space in the marketplace and develop loyal fans. Isn’t that what marketing is about?

1fbd5a9Wendy Marx is a recognized B2B marketing expert. She is president of  Marx Communications, a PR and inbound marketing agency that specializes in turning SMBs into industry icons and increasing leads.

You can find Wendy on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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