B2B Differentiation-three things you need to know

Sea of Sameness shutterstock_212221846

So you reckon you stand out in your market sector? You are the biggest, the best, the most customer centric. The competition follow your lead, they languish in your wake, they simply aren’t as good as you.

Ever heard of differentiation? Well Hey!…here I am*…and it’s probably not what you are expecting. The fact is a huge number of B2B brands literally swim in a sea of sameness. This insight is dramatically brought home in our white paper on brand differentiation in the Global Telecoms Sector which you can download here.

Swimming in a Sea of Sameness

Even if you don’t operate in Telecoms the lessons from our research are worth looking at. It’s clear that from the buyers perspective many B2B brands simply look the same.

The classic approach to B2B differentiation

Look across any business and three things are commonly used to differentiate. Price, Product, People. These are the three P’s of B2B difference. The only problem with this approach is that it generates a massive ‘so what?’ Buyers expect your prices to be competitive, your product to provide a good solution and your people to be experienced, innovative and attentive. There is absolutely nothing that makes a difference here at all.

So What’s Going On?

Alot of B2B marketing fails to take account of the psychology of differentiation. Unless you understand these things then standing out in the mind of the buyer isn’t going to happen. To differentiate your b2b brand from your competitors you need to think about three things. These b2b brand differentiation essentials will have a massive impact on your sales and marketing effectiveness.

1. Noticing Difference

Differentiation is about ‘being separate’. It is also about how we notice something for being different in the mass of information that we receive on a daily basis. The scientist Gregory Bateson in his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind pointed out that we are mentally geared up to pay attention to ‘differences that make a difference’. This he describes as receiving a ‘meaningful signal’ from the samey information that surrounds us. Now this is central to marketing guru Ted Levitt’s idea of differentiation and something that has been lost in the wash in the decades since he published his seminal article ‘Marketing Success Through The Differentiation of Anything’. The key word in Levitt’s article is ‘meaningful’ and its been totally forgotten. Levitt urged the pursuit of ‘meaningful differentiation’ not just differentiation for differentiation’s sake. So ask yourself  do you really know ‘what  the buyer finds meaningful’.

2. Brain Short Cuts

Humans need quick and easy rules about how to operate in the world without having to re-learn responses to every situation we are faced with. Imagine having to start from scratch and learn the right the thing to do when you wanted to cross the road. Life would become unmanageable. Cognitive psychologists call the rules we use ‘heuristics’. These are brain short cuts that allow us deal with everyday situations. Psychologists Tversky and Kahneman classified several of these ‘rules of thumb’ as they are called. One type in particular is important for CEO’s, CMO’s and sales and marketing professionals and it involves self deception. In other words the way we fool ourselves into believing something that isn’t true. Technically called a ‘judgment heuristic’ and related to the ‘fundamental attribution error’ it is common for many marketers to assume that they are unique and different compared to their competitors. Just take a look at the ‘About Us/Why Us’ pages of your three nearest competitors and judge for yourself how different you really are!

3. Being Relevant

Relevance is yet another marketing buzzword. So buzzy that its lost its meaning. In social psychology and communications theory it is crucially important. Relevance is what B2B buyers  use to ‘select’ one supplier from another. It is a faculty of buyers mind that is impossible for the supplier to control. Relevance is all about what the buyer sees as their ‘matter at hand’, the most pressing, top of mind issue or problem they or their organisation is facing. Unless you understand this and show to the buyer you understand this then all you are is another grey fish swimming in the sea of sameness.

What do you think?

Do you think B2B marketers need to worry about differentiation? Does the cream always rise to the top anyway and discerning buyers who know their supply network will always pick the best?


*paraphrased from Falling Down when Michael Douglas’ character Defens buys a Wammy Burger – ‘ever heard the phrase the customer is always right, well hey, here I am…the customer’



Choosing A Good Marketing Masters Dissertation Topic


One of the biggest challenges masters students face is choosing their own research topic.

Typically the final stage of the masters degree journey, the dissertation represents the point at which students truly take charge of their own learning.

Choosing a masters dissertation topic seems deceptively straightforward and yet the reality often plays out very differently.

Part of the problem is deciding the general topic of interest. In my area of business and management and in particular marketing this always poses a problem.

That’s why from this post is the first in a new category of posts I’ll be posting on my blog called Marketing Dissertation Ideas. 

Posts that get categorised as marketing dissertation ideas will hopefully spark some interest for further research. 

Today I came across the  Brandalism campaign that is being run to coincide with the Paris Climate change summit. Basically they have hijacked the VW brand to run a series of anti-consumerism adverts. 

So how could this become a marketing dissertation ? The first question to answer is ‘does this topic interest me’? 

Next you want to consider what general areas of marketing it relates to. In this case Brand management, ethical marketing and consumerism and do some general reading around those themes.

The next trick is to try and define ‘what do I want to find out’. This is technically called your primary research question. This is not as easy at it seems so thinking through exactly what you want to research is time consuming and intellectually demanding.

Students who expect the tutor to do this for them are in for a shock. The ability to set your own question is a mark of an independent learner. 

So let’s say you are intrigued by brandalism you will need to have a general grasp of the field of branding and a detailed understanding of the principles and particulars of brandalism. 

You can then consider things such as:

What effect does brandalism have on consumer behaviour?

How do brand owners respond to brandalism

How does brandalism influence customer attitudes to original brand 

And so on. It’s brainstorming until to reach a point where you say ‘that’s exactly what I’m interested in and want to research’

So more posts to follow that will give you ideas for your marketing dissertation. Let me know what you think.

Brandalism in Marketing Week

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