The Marketing Distinguo concept

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

By making Marketing Distinguo part of a defined marketing plan, anyone involved in communications can develop advertising strategies using a simple, useful process.

The new version of the Visual Communication Planner is out, get it for free!

The unique, distinctive way to sell a product or service

Edit: the Marketing Distinguo concept is now a card deck, overfunded on Kickstarter!

The glue connecting two concepts

Positioning and Unique Selling Proposition (USP) have been key marketing concepts since the ’60s. However, they are often confused or used incorrectly. On the one hand, Positioning refers to the “place” the brand occupies in the consumer’s mind. On the other hand, USP positions the product within a particular market in order to create the perfect advertising.

These concepts should be crystal-clear to entrepreneurs and marketing managers, particularly those competing in international markets. Unfortunately, many small and medium-sized enterprises – a fundamental part of the economy in countries like Italy and the backbone of the American and European economies – are run by entrepreneurs who often have no basic marketing training.

Brand Positioning should be developed by the marketing department, but is often an offshoot of the entrepreneur’s mission. When asking “How do you want your brand to be perceived by your potential customers?” – the key concept of Positioning – the answer is often “the best”, or “the market leader”. However, when a product has been on the market for some time, it has already been positioned in the minds of existing and potential customers – i.e. they know why they are buying the product, even if the company itself doesn’t. The company’s marketing may therefore be out of line with what customers think of the brand, without the company even realising. 

The USP however, should be devised by communications or advertising experts using the information provided by the company about the product or service being offered. In this sense, “We’re the best on the market!” has the same effect as “Passion, quality and reliability since 1978”. In both cases, no one will remember the advert given its similarity to millions of others. Furthermore, neither of the two slogans clarifies what the product or service being offered actually is.

At a time when the Internet has brought advertising within everyone’s reach, the need for a clear, simple concept is emerging, including among those lacking basic marketing or communications knowledge.

The gluebetween the concepts of Positioning and USP is essential as it not only simplifies the job of the marketing manager and communications agency, but is reflected in the product/service being offered and/or in the hallmarks of the company itself. Moreover, it is a concept which can be easily understood by entrepreneurs, craftsmen and freelancers, helping them create a defined marketing plan and communicate more effectively. It is a simple process anyone can apply.

Marketing Distinguo

The question every consultant should ask their client – whether it is the CEO, marketing manager, sales director or communications manager – should always be “Why should I buy your company’s product rather than your competitor’s?”

Unfortunately, the answer to the question is almost always “I don’t know” or “I don’t know how to determine it”.

Another common answer is “Because we’re the best!”, but it is often said in an ironic tone, demonstrating the lack of preparation on the issue.

Other typical responses include “We have no competitors”, or “The problem isn’t our competitors, but a market that doesn’t understand our product”, or even “We know our strengths, but potential customers don’t understand them”.

Each of these answers shares a common denominator: it always seems to be the first time they have been asked the question.

If the market doesn’t understand the product being offered, serious mistakes have been made with the marketing plan. Similarly, if the company enjoys a clear competitive advantage which isn’t being noted by their customers, the communications strategy also needs to be reviewed.

Many papers have underlined how important it is to diversify your product, brand and even business model. However, there is no concept that provides a method you can use to examine the actual characteristics of the product/service or company in order to identify its distinctive features. This concept is the glue holding Positioning and USP together, the combination of which forms the foundation of effective marketing and communications.

I have called this glue Marketing Distinguo: the unique, distinctive way to sell a product or serviceand the process used to determine it. 

In other words: how to find the factor which differentiates a specific product from its competition.

Marketing Distinguo is not just a theoretical concept, but is also a simple and effective way of understanding the strengths of your company and taking advantage of them to increase sales.

Firstly, you need to define your positioning. This concept is usually already clear to the entrepreneur, hidden in the marketing manager’s grey matter and crystal-clear in the mind of the CEO. But that’s where it often stays.

Once defined, your Positioning will lead to the development of Marketing Distinguo. However, it will need to be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains different from that of your competitors and convincing to your prospects.

Once you have found your Marketing Distinguo, developing a USP that beats your competition will be child’s play.

Communications can be an effective way of bringing potential customers to your company’s doorstep. But it is Marketing Distinguo which convinces people to buy, i.e. it is the reason why they choose your company over your competitors. 

How to define your Marketing Distinguo

The question to be answered is very simple: Why buy one company’s product over that of its competitors?

The answer isn’t always simple.

In some cases, Marketing Distinguo is easy and becomes clear as soon as the question is asked. In other cases, you need to look for it in features of the product or service that may always have been considered trivial. In yet other cases, the product or service must be changed to make it unique.

Some companies come to the definition of Marketing Distinguo having followed a very clear path. Typically, this involves creating a marketing plan,  defining or optimising the business model, or outlining Positioning. As a result, the company may have already gone through a process of improvement, which significantly assists in defining Marketing Distinguo.

To help define Marketing Distinguo, I have developed a framework that can be used to determine the distinctive characteristics of a product, service, company or market. This will help identify the concrete benefits that can help potential customers make their purchasing choice.

The foundation of Marketing Distinguo is the combination of one or more characteristics and benefits In order to complete the framework, you must list the strengths of your company.

It may also help to delve into the past; to go back in time and check the company’s first communications campaigns and brochures. This is where you will often find the company’s truly distinctive features, i.e. the moment the entrepreneur found the Marketing Distinguo used to break into the market, often without even thinking about it.

The framework deliberately omits characteristics like quality, flexibility, passion, speciality, leadership and reliability. These terms are often used, mistakenly, to define the Positioning or USP. However, they don’t actually clarify the benefits the customer may receive by buying the product or service offered.

You’ll also notice that none of the items indicated in the framework relates to price.

Price is rarely something that separates you from your competitors.

Price is only a factor when the company owns a proprietary technology or patent that allows it to obtain a product or provide a service at a substantially lower price than its competitors. In all other cases, the competition typically settles for the lowest price.

Marketing Distinguo is based on the real characteristics and benefits of the product/service/company.

Therefore, there is no need to define your Marketing Distinguo according to the perceptions, experiences or “dreams” the product or service evokes in potential customers. This is still the job of the USP, which enhances Marketing Distinguo through words and pictures which attract the customer’s attention.

The framework highlights certain characteristics the company already knows, but rarely describes in detail or writes down.

Once you have listed your distinctive characteristics, you should compare them with those of your competitors (Table 2). If the company operates across several markets, you should check your Marketing Distinguo for each of them.

If you find it difficult to determine your Marketing Distinguo and cannot get beyond the classic words of “quality”, “reliability” etc, you can use these words as a starting point to determine your concrete benefits, as shown in the example in Table 3.

The goal is to describe your strengths and define the real, concrete benefits that characterise them.

Marketing Distinguo within the marketing plan

A marketing plan is usually developed using SWOT analysis, segmentation, targeting and positioning, and includes a defined Marketing Mix (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) and finely developed business plan.

As outlined earlier, Marketing Distinguo is located between the Positioning and the USP and is a result of one of the Marketing Mix 4 Ps: Promotion.

By making Marketing Distinguo part of a defined marketing plan, anyone involved in communications can develop advertising strategies using a simple, useful process.

Communications departments and agencies often fail to take the marketing plan into consideration when drafting a campaign. In fact, they often lack the expertise to do so.

Conversely, Marketing Distinguo is a simple, easy to understand concept companies without a marketing department – or even a clear plan – can use.

For example, small and medium-sized enterprises can use the framework to determine their Marketing Distinguo, even if they don’t have a marketing plan or don’t know their Positioning. Communications agencies can also use the framework to identify an appropriate and effective USP.

Case studies – Marketing Distinguo in the real world

A mechanical workshop

A mechanical workshop includes this statement in its brochure: “Quality and reliability since 1970” – an appropriate slogan for any company in any sector.

The terms used are correct; the company does offer high-quality work and is well-known as a reliable partner. The Positioning is clear and already established in the minds of existing customers.

However, without explaining the characteristics that demonstrate the company’s quality and reliability, i.e., its Marketing Distinguo, they can’t attract new customers.

Working from Table 3, the company begins by identifying the generic strengths which describe the accompanying concrete benefits.

Quality: The company has the required quality certificates, and the products produced are all free-pass, so they can be assembled by the customer without any additional checks.

Reliability: The company has a vast fleet of machines and qualified staff who follow lifelong learning. This allows the company to deliver products on time, including for continuous production.

Since 1970: The company’s experience in the sector allows them to offer additional advice based on expertise developed over the years. This allows customers to optimise and improve their own production.

An international school

An international school is competing with other private institutions on the local market. The school has never drafted a list of its strengths to compare with those of its competitors and find its Marketing Distinguo.

At first glance, it emerged that the school is the only one in the district to offer a complete course for an international curriculum known and valued around the world. However, in the same district, a competitor school has the best results in Europe for the same curriculum. Compounding this issue, the target audience of international schools is unlikely to stay in the same city long enough to complete an entire course.

Therefore, the distinguishing feature – that they offer a specific curriculum – might not be enough to determine a clear, strong Marketing Distinguo and develop an effective USP. The school is also perceived by potential customers as the school for VIPs. Changing a deeply-rooted Positioning requires a great deal of time and money but, above all, a convincing Marketing Distinguo.

Upon further analysis of the school’s characteristics, other important factors emerged: its isolated position, which was initially considered a weakness, and the strict access checks performed by security guards. A single school where you can complete the entire course/curriculum and enjoy guaranteed privacy thanks to its location and focus on security, all make use of its Positioning, turning a negative into a positive and defining a strong, concrete Marketing Distinguo in the process.

A coffee roasting company

A coffee roasting company in Milan is competing on the domestic and foreign market and sells the most coffee of any supplier to bars in Milan. In this case, Positioning and Marketing Distinguo coincide.

The coffee roasting company wants to be known as “The coffee roasting company” of Milan. That 155,000 of their coffees are served every day in Milan puts them at the top of the list, heralding them as the coffee roasting company that sells the most coffee in Milan. These real, proven figures place the coffee roasting company in a leading position in the market, regardless of the type or quality of coffee sold.

This Marketing Distinguo can also be used in foreign markets as only this particular coffee roasting company can be known around the world as “The coffee of Milan”. However, to ensure success, that the company must define and check its Marketing Distinguo in any foreign market it decides to approach.

An armoured door company

A company making armoured doors uses the term “quality” in its communications in the conviction that it is a distinguishing characteristic. However, the term “quality” is used in every sector, regardless of the product or service offered, in the belief it’s the magic word that will reveal the treasure of the forty thieves.

Instead, “quality” should be presented to potential customers through Marketing Distinguo and used to enhance the product’s characteristics. The company uses the best materials, the most advanced locks, follows a strict assembly process and checks all the doors built, right through to their installation. However, there are no words that can describe all of these aspects in detail, and photos and videos of the door assembly process can’t be used without revealing their security features. This is particularly important as security is a direct result of the quality of the materials used in production and the attention paid when assembling the armoured doors. Certified classifications indicate the security level of an armoured door, but the end consumer is not au fait with these classifications and is unlikely to understand the corresponding benefits.

Another one of the strengths used in this company’s communications, like that of most SMEs, is “customisation”. In this case, the borderline between product and service is very fine, and it is only by studying cases of ad-hoc made doors that the design and special features of customised products becomes clear.

In this situation, various aspects of Marketing Distinguo must be combined to find an effective USP: the use of the best parts and raw materials, the company’s cross-sector skills (i.e. they are the only company in Italy to offer both carpentry and joinery), and the classic focus of Italian design. In this case, the factors are clear and distinctive, but the difficulty lies in being able to incorporate everything into a single, effective USP.

The company therefore decided to use one of their more recent success stories: an ad-hoc construction for a wealthy client who requested a designer armoured door that could withstand a bazooka. 

Thanks to their detailed Marketing Distinguo, they had no problem being creative, and used a photo of the stunning door in an incredibly luxurious setting, along with an equally simple but effective tagline: “Would you say it could withstand a bazooka?”

It was not possible to film or take photos of the construction process, which would have clearly conveyed the quality and security of the product. However, anyone can see that a door which can withstand a bazooka must be a secure, high-quality product. By starting with Marketing Distinguo, they created an advert that conveys “quality”, “security” and “design” without even mentioning them.

A cosmetics company

A cosmetics company wanted to carve out a position for itself as the best producer of creams for dry skin. Their products have an advanced formula, so much so that anyone who tries their line of creams is impressed and stays loyal to the company. However, creating an effective Positioning by using the word ‘best’ isn’t possible, as it doesn’t describe or demonstrate the specific characteristics of the product.

The company is however the only one to produce ten different creams for ten different types of dry skin. This feature of the product line identifies the company as a specialist in dry skin and therefore indicates strong Marketing Distinguo. By developing a communications plan hinging on this concept, the company will obtain its desired Positioning over time.

A personal trainer

A personal trainer operates on the local market. His gym can be used by clients who live in town or pass by for work. His services are aimed at people of a certain age, as well as athletes and managers who need to get back into or stay in shape. His experience includes cross-sector training, including [GC1] physiotherapy and holistic disciplines, but he has also helped a team win the women’s world volleyball championships. This has helped him create the “best” training method.

In this case, the characteristics of his Marketing Distinguo focus specifically on his experience. The training method, and therefore the service offered, also have distinctive benefits his workouts are not based on equipment like in a normal gym, but use the body as the main apparatus of movement.

The solution was ultimately found in the tagline used at the birth of his business: “Train where you want, when you want”. What allows you to do this? The experience of a world champion.

An engineering company

An engineering company makes machines used to produce transformers. It has been operating in Italy and abroad for many years and is now looking to reposition its brand and products at a higher end of the market. This requires a higher level of automation for the machines.

After checking each line of machinery with the Marketing Distinguo framework, sophisticated solutions that can solve specific problems emerged – solutions not offered by their competitors. These new solutions – some of which are already on the market, while others are planned for the next few years – underline the company’s innovative nature and define clear Marketing Distinguo. One of the basic headlines for their USP will be: “Enhancing transformer manufacturing productivity through innovation”.

A cosmetics company

This cosmetics company has no idea of its Positioning. More alarmingly, it can’t even answer the basic question of Marketing Distinguo: “Why do customers buy my products rather than those of my competitors?” Thankfully, their products are sold both through classic sales channels, i.e. agents and retailers, and online, where its e-commerce platform has a substantial, ever-growing sales base requiring minimal, if any, ongoing investment.

When the company opened, an industry-specific patent, combined with their great enthusiasm, allowed them to start selling before they launched production. This patent was the first in a series of specific characteristics for the product and is used to preserve the properties of the essential oils found in the company’s cosmetics. These characteristics led to the creation of the slogan “The essence of purity”, which was used in their adverts at the time.

However, when updating and renewing the company, they lost sight of their Marketing Distinguo and the company is no longer clear in its communications. In direct opposition, their products have maintained the same special features that set them apart, allowing them to generate such effective customer loyalty that their e-commerce platform was successful with no investment.

By analysing their current competitors, it turned out their Marketing Distinguo is still valid and they will use their old slogan to develop a new USP.

A financial consulting firm

A small consultancy firm for financial investments is competing on a national level with major industry giants. While the giants have formulas, methodologies and legions of consultants, the small firm has carved out a niche in the market using word-of-mouth. When the two consultants have the opportunity to explain their methods one-on-one, clients are persuaded of their expertise and stay loyal to the company. However, the firm finds it difficult to communicate its strengths on the domestic market and struggles to increase its market share.

Finding their Marketing Distinguo was easy when using the framework. The two consultants are among the very few in Italy who do not handle their clients’ money; they give their recommendations and clients make their own investments. However, this is a case when expertise makes a difference. To prove you have the expertise, you need to show results.

The Marketing Distinguo is therefore clear: they are the only ones on the market who don’t handle money and can deliver a return of up to +44% annually. This will make it easy to find a USP that will help them communicate more effectively on the market.

A fashion designer

An entrepreneur at the end of his career in the fashion sector has decided to invest part of his savings in launching his own brand. His company has been making puffer jackets for the most famous high-fashion brands for years and he has everything he needs to launch a product that stands out from the competition.

The line he has created combines design, quality and technology, and although it’s the best product on the market, it has no specific distinctive features. He is therefore focusing his communications campaign on generating brand awareness, with events, sponsorship and extremely costly outgoings on all media.

The initial idea was to stand out from his competitors by selling directly through an e-commerce platform. This would enable him to offer a high-quality product at a significantly lower price than the competition who have to take the margin of the entire distribution chain into account. However, when the technical characteristics of the product are analysed according to the Marketing Distinguo framework, the key features that emerge are not distinctive.

The inside is made from goose feathers – the best feathers available – but the company isn’t the only one to use them.

The puffer jacket is incredibly lightweight, but it isn’t the lightest on the market.

The design is nice and trendy, but isn’t made by a famous name.

The only truly distinctive feature is the price, which in this case, is lower thanks to the direct relationship between producer and consumer created via the e-commerce platform. In this case, it isn’t the USP that sells the product, but a commercial strategy designed specifically for this business model. Accordingly, the communications strategy must be very clear so as to hammer home the vast difference in price, – a difference derived not as a result of a discount, but rather an advantage acquired through word of mouth and the testimonials of numerous happy customers who have bought the product.

A publishing house

A publishing house uses the slogan “The great online book shop”. This Positioning was established in the early 2000s when its e-commerce site offered the largest number of books on the market. However, in recent years, Amazon has bullied its way into this Positioning and the publishing house has no way to fight back.

Thankfully, the company is a historical publishing house with a clear Positioning extending far beyond e-commerce. In the 1800s, the founder of the publishing house coined the Italian word still used today for technical specialisation books: il manuale. In fact, the publishing house is still known for its specialisation in professional handbooks.

This defines a clear, strong Marketing Distinguo, which is supported by an established Positioning and provides a cue for a successful USP.

A mechanical workshop

A mechanical workshop, which has been on the market for years, has not been able to stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, Marketing Distinguo analysis did not identify a specific feature that could be used to build an effective marketing plan. The only hope was to change and reposition while taking advantage of the technical expertise of its workforce in a fast-growing market.

The company therefore decided to focus on Rapid Prototyping and invest in specific machinery. Notably, one of the machines is so special that only three companies in the world have one, and one of these three is Tesla. This defines such specific Marketing Distinguo that the company no longer needs to advertise to find new customers.

A domain registrar

An Italian registrar records all known domain extensions and is the only one on the market. On the one hand, this is enough to set it apart from its competitors. On the other hand, valid and effective Marketing Distinguo is necessary for integration across all of the company’s target customers.

Although the product offer is specific and defined, the Marketing Distinguo framework is required for analysis of the specific characteristics of the related services, as well as the company itself.

Analysis reveals that the registrar relies on skilled professionals – all engineers – who offer a real-time service via Skype to all customers. Conversely, its competitors use call centres and ticket systems. Furthermore, the registrar’s specific expertise in specific international domains enables them to quickly resolve problems their competitors are not used to handling. These characteristics together define concrete, convincing Marketing Distinguo.

A fashion professional

A high-fashion professional has worked for many years for a famous haute couture brand. She decided to quit her job and focus on her own project: a collection of refined handcrafted bags. The primary difficulty of creating a brand in the fashion world is that reference points are well-known brands that make their own style. The brand itself is therefore the key feature of their Marketing Distinguo. 

A small handcrafted project cannot do this. The Marketing Distinguo process must therefore be used to identify the distinctive characteristics of the product or designer. In this case, the professional is not famous and can’t rely on her fame to launch her own brand. However, years of experience in the fashion world is a characteristic which leads to a specific benefit: the bags are made with the utmost attention and the best materials. This means they can go on sale to the public at a significantly lower price than the competition’s.

The designer’s experience helped create a product that conveys a precise concept: a luxury accessory which can be worn every day with peace of mind thanks to its affordable price tag. “Everyday luxury” is, therefore, the starting concept to define a successful USP.

Why should I buy your product? Here the analogue tool to help entrepreneurs, managers, consultants and freelancers to answer that question!

differentiation in marketing, my new podcast! listen on itunes.

Defined by Going Global UK: "LEADING EXPERT IN INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGIES". Among the 5 major Italian marketing influencers according to Digitalic. Coordinator of the Networking Club of Philip Kotler at the Italian Marketing Foundation. The only Italian who accomplished the MIT Digital Business Strategy Executive Program about Digital Transformation (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Co-founder of Weevo, co-publisher of Il Giornale delle PMI, author of "Strategie web per i mercati esteri", Hoepli 2016 (Digital Strategies for International Markets).

Leave a Reply