3 Strategies to Differentiate Your Brand

  Why should you differentiate yourself in a competitive market and how do you do so? Michael Sandman explains 3 strategies to differentiate your brand from the competition.

How can you
compete in a marketplace knowing that competitors all act somewhat differently? I’m Mike Sandman and we’re going to be talking about the strategies that companies adopt in order to compete and how they differ and why they differ.

Strategies for Marketplace Differentiation

There are really just three generic strategies. You can differentiate, you can be low-cost, or you can focus by picking out a market niche or going for a geographic segment. And still, competitors in the market, even though there are only three generic strategies, may follow very different strategies. For example, if you look at three or four automobile companies, you have Volvo which differentiates itself, and so just think about what it is that Volvo does to separate itself from its competitors. What do you think of when you hear the name Volvo? You probably think of safety. In fact, Volvo, when it first entered the US market, was a much safer vehicle than was required by government regulations. And its maintained that differentiation. Kia is probably right now the low cost producer in the automobile market, because of it’s position in the Korean manufacturing environment, but that will be a hard thing for it to maintain, and there’s a lesson there:  it’s very difficult to maintain a low-cost position. And Porsche and Smart obviously have niches that they focus on.

Focus Your Business

Let’s take another example of that, let’s look at a couple of companies in the brokerage industry: Charles Schwab and Merrill Lynch. Schwab has offices in the suburban ring around cities, they’re typically on the second floor or above, the brokers sit in open bullpen, the buildout is not very extensive and clients are assigned to call center teams, and brokers are on salary, they get modest and modest annual commission, and client walk-ins aren’t encouraged. On the other hand, Merrill Lynch encourages people to walk in, and their offices are in the Center City, they’re built out nicely, and brokers have private offices. These are two companies that you think are competing head-to-head, but they have very very different strategies, and they’re really focusing on different segments in the market. One thing that you can learn from these examples is you too can decide what piece of your market you want to focus on and how you’re going to separate yourself from your competitors.

How Does Future Strategy Affect Current Strategy

Future strategy, what companies it into the future is really driven by four factors: company’s goals, what it’s doing currently, what it believes about the market, its assumptions, and its capabilities in management abilities. How will the company compete in the future? What will it do with regard to product, price, promotion, position? Those things are largely determined by the company’s goals, current strategy, capabilities and assumptions. This model that we’ve just shown you is the four corners model, and it’s very useful, especially if you think carefully about the assumptions that you and your competitors might have about the market. Understanding how competitors are going to act in the future depends an awful lot on your willingness to have an open mind.

About Michael Sandman

Michael Sandman is Executive Director and founder of IFCIP, the International Fellowship of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.  Prior to forming IFCIP, he was Senior Vice President of Fuld & Company, preceded by a career of over twenty years as a senior operations manager of the composites industry, industrial textiles, and industrial process control systems. Mr. Sandman also has an extensive background in international business, including the transfer of technology to licensees and joint venture partners in the Pacific Rim, Switzerland, England, Mexico and Brazil.

Mr. Sandman started his career with a privately held composites manufacturer, and he subsequently became chief operating officer of a division of the Dexter Corporation, a multinational producer of specialty materials. At Dexter, he had responsibility for operations in North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim. He joined Fuld & Company in 1991, where he  was the managing partner until his retirement in 2014. In addition to his current role at IFCIP, he continues to do consulting in the field of competitive intelligence.

He is an adjunct faculty member at University of California-Irvine’s Paul Merage Business School and he has been a guest lecturer at Columbia University Business School’s advanced management program for senior executives, the University of Wisconsin’s Management Institute, the Boston University School of Management and Harvard Business School.  Mr. Sandman developed CI 101® and CI 202®, the courses he taught and were sponsored by the Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). He has served on the peer review board of the Competitor Intelligence Review, and he is the author of the chapter on competitive intelligence analysis for Millennium Intelligence, edited by Professor Jerry Miller and published in 2000. He was elected to be a Fellow of the Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals and received the prestigious Society’s Faye Brill Award in 2012.

Mr. Sandman received his B.S. (Economics) from Clark University in Worcester, MA and a M.B.A. from the Johnson School of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.