Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie teaches consultants, coaches and other professionals to attract and win their ideal clients by becoming seen as authorities in their field.


More Clients TV

Everyday Difference: How to Differentiate Through the Little Things You Do

Posted on 28th April 2021.

If you want to stand out and be remembered, you need to be doing something different.

Typically when we think about differentiation we think about “big difference” – our value proposition, niche and service offers. But often that “big difference” doesn't actually make any difference to our day to day lives.

We disappear off to a retreat, brainstorm our difference, update our website, then move on and keep doing the same old things we did before.

Usually what makes the biggest impact on clients and potential clients isn't what we say about how we're different. It's what we do differently.

It's the little stuff we do every day they notice. This episode of More Clients TV explains how.

Click here to watch the video »


More Clients TV

The “Secret Sauce” That Makes Differentiation Pay

Posted on 3rd May 2016. The "Secret Sauce" That Makes Differentiation Pay

We all know that we need to differentiate ourselves. To stand out from the crowd. be seen as an expert or authority. Specialise. Do something different.

Otherwise, our potential clients don't have any reason to pick us over our competitors or to pay us premium rates.

That's why so much of marketing focused on proving to potential clients that you're different.

But there's an additional factor you need to show. Something often overlooked, but without which all your differentiation means nothing.

Find out what it is and how to apply it in this week's video…

Click here to watch the video »



Do you really need a USP?

Posted on 27th November 2010.

If you've been the recipient of any marketing advice over the last decade or so you'll no doubt have been told that you can't possibly succeed without defining your “Unique Selling Proposition”.

The concept was pioneered by advertising legend Rosser Reeves in the 1940s. Reeves' belief was that each advert should have a USP which:

  • Highlighted a specific and real benefit to the consumer of buying the product
  • Was one the competition could not or did not have
  • Was so strong it could “move the masses” to buy your product

There's a lot to like about this concept. It can be a powerful and succinct way of communicating with your clients – but unfortunately, since Reeves' day it's been mangled and misapplied repeatedly.

Note the order in which Reeves describes his points – start with benefits, then uniqueness.

Unfortunately, the very phrase “Unique Selling Proposition” tends to lead people to start off thinking internally about what's unique about them rather than thinking externally about the value or benefit they bring to clients.

If you start by focusing on what's different about you, you frequently end up with a proposition that just doesn't resonate with clients. There probably aren't many lawyers who wear clown suits – but I wouldn't recommend it as a USP.

For that reason, I sometimes prefer the phrase Value Proposition to USP. It forces you to think first about the value you bring – and then second about how it's different to what others do.

Being able to articulate the value your services bring is particularly important when that value is intangible.

If you help clients with leadership or team building or anything where there’s not an immediate dollar value associated with the results you get for them, then you need to find a way of making that value more tangible and visible. Because at the end of the day no matter how enthusiastic your client is to work with you, when they have to go and get the budget and compete against all the other people looking to spend that same pot of money, they need a really strong business case for why they should be spending it with you.

The first step in developing a powerful value proposition is to review your insights from your ideal client persona to identify their biggest problems, challenges, goals and aspirations that you can help them with. Choose the ones with the greatest financial and strategic impact.

If you end up with a long list, narrow it down to the ones where what you deliver is the most different to what your competitors offer. If needed you can do a simple rating of the value of each area and how different it is on a scale of 1-5 and select the highest scoring ones to explore further.

As you do this, remember that in order to win clients, you don't have to be completely unique and the only person in the world doing something. You just have to be unique in the eyes of your potential client.

In other words you have to be different to the other potential suppliers they're considering, not everyone else in the world. If you're a coach who works with small businesses based in Manchester, it really doesn't matter that another coach in New York does something similar to you. What matters is that you're different and add more value than the other coaches your client is considering in Manchester.

Next, you need to articulate your value in a way that's instantly clear to potential clients.

A good way to do this is to try to put your value into a series of value proposition templates:

  • I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] (or I help [target clients] [solve unwanted problem])
  • I help [target clients] get [functional value] which results in [bottom line/emotional value]
  • I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] without [undesired side effect]
  • I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] even if [typical objection]
  • I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] with [additional benefit]
  • I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] in [specific timeframe]
  • I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] using [unique approach]
  • The only [unique difference/outcome] designed specifically for [target clients]

The first template is one you'd use in a relatively new or immature market where clients know they have a problem they want to get rid of or an outcome they want to achieve, but there aren't a lot of alternative solutions for them available in the marketplace.

In that case, just telling them you can solve their problem is enough. If you have an issue that's causing a lot of pain but you've never heard anyone offer a solution before it's a huge relief when someone says they can help with your specific problem and you tend not to need a lot more persuading.

More usually though, there will already be people offering to help them with that problem. So you need to offer a solution they see as a better fit for them.

That might be a solution without some of the undesired side effects that normally go with it (e.g. “more sales without becoming a pushy salesperson”) or a solution that addresses some of the common objections your ideal clients have (e.g. “build your own website even if you can barely use Microsoft Word”).

Or it might be they get additional benefits from your particular service, or you get them those benefits in a specific timeframe or with a guarantee, etc.

Use the templates as starting points and triggers for your thinking – not a straightjacket. And get your ideas out on paper first before worrying about wordsmithing them. Once you've identified a value proposition statement that feels the most attractive to potential clients you can strengthen it by making it more specific, succinct and memorable.

In practice, you won't necessarily use the “I help…” format everywhere. It's just a good way of starting your thinking.

On your website home page, you'll probably want to word your value proposition more in terms of what your clients will get. For example “Rapid Sales Growth for Software Startups”.

In that case, you might use “I help software startups grow their sales quickly” in your Linkedin profile or on your About page. But on your home page, you want to make it more about them than you and use the “Rapid Sales Growth for Software Startups” version.

Follow this simple process and you should end up with a solid Value Proposition.

And if you want in-depth training and direct help to do this, Creating a Powerful Value Proposition, is one of the core modules in my Momentum Club Rapid Results Program. If you'd like to start getting better results from your marketing and business development then you can find out more by clicking the button below:



Vertical Differentiation

Posted on 19th April 2010.

You can't turn a corner these days without bumping into a marketing consultant banging on about the importance of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and differentiation.

I've written on the topic before – and in my view, for most service businesses it's actually far more important to focus on creating compelling client value than it is to worry about being unique or differentiating yourself.

However, it's a topic I keep coming back to and thinking about. For while clients buy based on the value you can bring, they may well initially notice you, and remember you based on your uniqueness or differentiation.

So there's a challenge here: being different helps you get noticed and get remembered. But if you're different in a way that doesn't add value to a client then you won't get hired.

Now you can try to find ways of being unique and different that are also valuable to clients – but it's difficult. Competition being what it is, if something is valuable to clients, other people will notice and create and provide that service too. Unless you're very, very smart or a great reader of early trends – the chances are if you spot something that no other professional in your field is doing – it's because clients don't value it.

But there is another way to think about differentiation.

Too often, when we think about differentiating ourselves we think of what I call “horizontal differentiation”. We want to be viewed as doing something different to our competitors. As not occupying the same space in our niche.

But think of some of the most successful professional service firms. Do they really do something different to their competitors?

Is McKinsey the only firm that does Strategy? No.

Do Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom* or other top law firms really do law differently? No.

Do AECOM design different buildings from the rest of the profession? Again, no.

What sets these firms apart is not that they are differentiated horizontally. They don't really do anything different to the other firms in their niche.

They do things better.

They're “vertically differentiated”. Clients perceive them to be in the same horizontal space as their competitors – but above them.

That's the perfect positioning for a professional service firm. Delivering the same services as their competitors (because they're the services clients need). But delivering them better.

How do you differentiate vertically?

Well to some degree, the perception of superiority comes from delivering great results.

But all professional firms have a truckload of testimonials and happy clients. It's difficult to differentiate on that.

What allows these firms to stand head and shoulders above their competitors is perceived authority.

Being a consultant, McKinsey is the firm I know best (in my career, I've had to come in after McKinsey projects and pick up the pieces on more than one occasion – yet their reputation is immaculate).

I've asked McKinsey clients about why they perceive them as being better than their competitors. And I consistently get two answers.

It's the quality and depth of their thought leadership – and the insights their partners share when they meet with them.

Clearly these two are related. Face to face insights come from personal experience – but also from the thought leadership the firm produces. Thought leadership is usually grounded in the personal experience of the team.

But perceived authority isn't the exclusive domain of global giants. At a local level, there are consultants, accountants, lawyers, many professionals who are viewed as authorities in their field.

They're the ones who “really know their stuff”. Who get invited to speak at events, and who are the first to get the call when there's a tricky or out-of-the-ordinary issue.

They get the best work, and they charge the highest prices.

So next time you're thinking about differentiation: think about up rather than sideways.


* I could have named a different law firm – but blimey, I love that name!



Do I really need a USP?

Posted on 4th June 2008.

UniqueIt's accepted wisdom in marketing and sales nowadays that every business needs a strong Unique Selling Point (USP).

“Differentiate or Die” has become the clarion call of consultants across the globe, urging their clients to (pay them to) develop clever positioning statements showing how unique and different they are to their competitors.

But does it work? Is a powerful, differentiated USP really critical for the success of every business?

Not in my experience.

The concept of a USP dates back to the 1940's and originated with consumer goods companies battling for advertising share-of-mind. And indeed today, for many consumer oriented products a strong USP is key to creating brand awareness.

But for many businesses – particularly service businesses and companies who serve a local customer base, the concept of a USP is not so important.

Think about it from the customer's perspective: when you're looking to hire an accountant, or you need a taxi, or you want a plumber to fix a leak – are you looking for someone who is unique and clearly differentiated from his competitors? Or are you instead looking for someone who you can trust to do a really good job at a fair price?

Differentiation is great to mark yourself out from the crowd – but in a great many businesses you already stand out from the crowd.

In my own consulting practice for example, I very rarely face direct competitors. My biggest competitor – as I pointed out in the post Beating Your #1 Competitor – is the status quo – the client doing nothing. And to beat that, I don't need a USP. I need to demonstrate compelling value to the client, not uniqueness.

Or take the taxi firm. What will make a potential customer call one taxi firm over another? Usually two factors: availability and perceived reliability. Most successful taxi businesses didn't become successes because they somehow offered something different or unique – they offered what every firm offers – available, reliable transport. The reason they get chosen is that they (are perceived) to be able to do it better than their competitors.

How about an accountant? Do you really want an accountant that does your books in a unique and different way? Probably not. Probably you want someone who does them well at a good price. The role of marketing for the accountant is not to communicate uniqueness, but to ensure the potential customer trusts that the accountant will do a good job.

I work with a lot of professional service firms – lawyers, accountants and consultants. And when we work together on clarifying their vision and goals I always introduce the concept from David Maister's classic book Managing the Professional Services Firm that all professional services firms have essentially the same mission: “To deliver outstanding client service, to provide fulfilling careers and professional satisfaction for our people, and to achieve financial success so we can reward ourselves and grow”.

The challenge for marketing and sales in professional services is not to create some clever, unique proposition – it is to take this great but common proposition of offering outstanding client service and to prove to clients that it's true.

To be continued…….