How to differentiate

An important factor in successful marketing is to make a unique claim, one that only you are making. Yet lack of differentiation is a problem I see in every B2B technology market from Business Intelligence (BI) to cloud computing to accounting to CRM just to name a few.

You can avoid this age-old problem by following the advice in this article. It introduces you to perceptual mapping, which shows you how you are positioned in relation to your competitors.

Even today in highly competitive markets, not many marketers pay attention to their competitors’ positioning strategies. The problem was first identified by Ries and Trout in the early 70s.

In their marketing classic, “Positioning: The Battle for your Mind,” Ries and Trout lament that “… too many companies embark on marketing and advertising as if the competitor’s position did not exist. They advertise their products in a vacuum and are disappointed when their messages fail to get through.”

Ironically, it is easy to determine how your competitors are positioned. They do it in public. You can uncover their positioning strategies by reading and analyzing web sites, promotional e-mails, banner ads, press releases and marketing collateral.

A positioning statement frequently appears in the first or last paragraph (or both) of an advertisement, or in a prominent place on the home page of the web site. For product positioning go to the product page; for company positioning go to the about page. You’re looking for a reason the audience should care about the company, product or offering. You’re looking for what it delivers; ideally a benefit.

A good positioning statement should be a focused benefit idea or concept underpinning the executional theme of the advertisement, web page, brochure, etc. For each competitor, analyze as much of their marketing material as possible although if pressed for time, an analysis of web sites should be sufficient.

You’ll probably find that a lot of the marketing communications put out by your competitors aren’t backed by a real position. Often, they’re just a brain dump of product features/advantages or vague platitudes. They lack the heart and soul of good positioning: a meaningful benefit statement that addresses the target audience’s No. 1 problem.

Once you have determined competitors’ positioning statements, you can use an application we developed in Excel to create a perceptual map like this one for the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) market:



Here’s how the application works. You organize the ideas or themes in a table according to the conveyed benefit statement. Some competitors are likely to have similar or identical positioning statements. Other competitors may publish many claims, making it harder to determine how they are positioned, if at all. It is common — and a mistake — for companies to make more than two benefit claims of equal importance. Check those too. Once you have input all the positioning concepts, you’ll have a table that looks like this:


Testing your positioning statement for uniqueness is a critical step in the positioning process, but one that many B2B marketers overlook. Recently I did a competitive assessment of the workplace services market – eight of 20 competitors were making the same claim. I call it “me-too” marketing, and you can steer clear of it by paying close attention to your competitors’ positioning strategies.

Failure to differentiate creates market confusion that inevitably leads to longer sales cycles, a problem that’s all too familiar in B2B technology and software. You’ll be one step ahead of the competition by using perceptual mapping to know that you are making a unique claim, one that sets you apart from the competition.



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